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America The Beautiful: The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass

This article provides a detailed overview of the America the Beautiful Pass, which grants pass-holders access to recreation areas managed by federal agencies such as the National Park Service.

What is the America the Beautiful Pass?

The “America the Beautiful Pass” is what is formally known as the “America the Beautiful, the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.” It is often called the “ATB Pass” for short.

The ATB Pass is an interagency pass which grants the pass-holder access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks, national forests, and national monuments, at which entrance fees and/or standard amenity fees are charged.

When was the ATB Pass established?

The ATB Pass was established by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) of 2004. The REA permits the federal government to charge a fee for the recreational use of public lands managed by each of the following agencies:

1.  Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

2.  Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)

3.  National Park Service (NPS)

4.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

5.  U.S. Forest Service (USFS)

6.  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

Although the federal government has been charging recreation fees since 1906, the REA was enacted in part to address concerns about how the revenue generated by those fees was being spent. Under the REA, at least 80% of the fees collected at any particular site must be devoted to expenditures at that site related to repair, maintenance, and facility enhancement; visitor access; visitor enjoyment; visitor information; visitor health and safety; interpretive signs; recreation-related habitat restoration; recreation-related law enforcement; and direct operating and capital costs. No more than 15% of the fees collected at any particular site may be devoted to expenditures at that site related to administration, overhead, and indirect costs.

What does the ATB Pass cover?

The ATB Pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The ATB Pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle containing the pass-holder at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults, depending upon which pass is presented, at sites that charge per person).

Children 15 years and younger are always admitted for free.

What does the ATB Pass not cover?

The ATB Pass generally does not cover fees charged by private concessionaires who manage their own facilities and activities (e.g., hotels, campgrounds, parking lots, food stands, boat launches, and guided tours) within participating federal recreation areas under a permit or contract.

It also does not cover entrance fees at select sites managed by federal recreational agencies that do not participate in the program.

The ATB Pass is valid at federal recreation areas only. It is not valid at Arizona State Parks. To learn more about the kinds of passes that grant visitors access to Arizona State Parks where fees are charged, please read the separate article on this website on that topic.

Are there different kinds of ATB Pass?

Yes. The ATB Pass is in fact a “suite” or “family” of different passes:

1.  Annual Pass

2.  Annual Senior Pass

3.  Lifetime Senior Pass

4.  Access Pass  (Lifetime)

5.  U.S. Military Pass  (Annual)

6.  Fourth Grade Pass  (Annual)

7.  Volunteer Pass  (Annual)

1.  Annual Pass

Who qualifies for an Annual Pass?

Anyone 16 years or over may purchase and use an Annual Pass.

What does an Annual Pass cover?

An Annual Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

An Annual Pass does not cover expanded amenity fees. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

How much does it cost to purchase an Annual Pass?

As of 2019, an Annual Pass costs $80.

When does an Annual Pass expire?

An Annual Pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchase and expires on the last day of that month.

How many people may sign an Annual Pass?

Up to two people may sign an Annual Pass and therefore be the pass-holders. They do not need to be related or married.

2.  Annual Senior Pass

Who qualifies for an Annual Senior Pass?

U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are 62 years or older may purchase and use an Annual Senior Pass.

Owning property or paying taxes in the U.S. does not qualify a person to purchase an Annual Senior Pass. The purchaser must be a permanent U.S. resident, or a U.S. citizen with identification such as U.S. Driver’s License, Green Card, or U.S. Passport.

What does an Annual Senior Pass cover?

An Annual Senior Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

An Annual Senior Pass also covers some expanded amenity fees at certain sites. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

How much does it cost to purchase an Annual Senior Pass?

As of 2019, an Annual Senior Pass costs $20.

When does an Annual Senior Pass expire?

An Annual Senior Pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchase and expires on the last day of that month.

How many people may sign an Annual Senior Pass?

Only one person may sign an Annual Senior Pass and therefore be the pass-holder.

3.  Lifetime Senior Pass

Who qualifies for a Lifetime Senior Pass?

U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are 62 years or older may purchase and use a Lifetime Senior Pass.

What does a Lifetime Senior Pass cover?

A Lifetime Senior Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

A Lifetime Senior Pass also covers some expanded amenity fees at certain sites. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

How much does it cost to purchase a Lifetime Senior Pass?

As of 2019, a Lifetime Senior Pass costs $80.

When does a Lifetime Senior Pass expire?

A Lifetime Senior Pass does not expire. It remains valid for the length of the purchaser’s life. A Lifetime Senior Pass is not transferable, even between spouses.

Before the ATB Pass was introduced, senior citizens could purchase what was called a “Golden Age Passport.” Any Golden Age Passport held by its original purchaser remains valid and provides the same benefits as a Lifetime Senior Pass. 

How many people may sign a Lifetime Senior Pass?

Only one person may sign a Lifetime Senior Pass and therefore be the pass-holder.

4.  Access Pass

Who qualifies for an Access Pass?

U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been medically determined to have a permanent disability may obtain an Access Pass.

The applicant must provide documentation confirming that their disability is permanent and limits one or more major life activities. Examples of accepted documentation include:

1.  detailed statement by a licensed physician

2.  relevant document issued by a federal agency (such as the Social Security Administration or the Veteran’s Administration)

3.  relevant document issued by a state agency

What does an Access Pass cover?

An Access Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

An Access Pass also covers some expanded amenity fees at certain sites. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

Does it cost anything to obtain an Access Pass?

No. An Access Pass is free.

When does an Access Pass expire?

An Access Pass does not expire. It remains valid for the length of the pass-holder’s life.

Before the ATB Pass was introduced, individuals with permanent disabilities could obtain what was called a “Golden Access Passport.” Any Golden Access Passport held by the original applicant remains valid and provides the same benefits as an Access Pass.

How many people may sign an Access Pass?

Only one person may sign an Access Pass and therefore be the pass-holder.

5.  U.S. Military Pass

Who qualifies for a U.S. Military Pass?

Current U.S. Military personnel (including current members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard), the dependents of current U.S. Military personnel, U.S. Military Cadets, and U.S. Active Reservists may obtain a U.S. Military Pass.

A U.S. Military Pass must be obtained in person by presenting a U.S. Department of Defense CAC identification or DD Form 1173 dependent identification.

What does a U.S. Military Pass cover?

A U.S. Military Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

A U.S. Military Pass does not cover expanded amenity fees. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

Does it cost anything to obtain a U.S. Military Pass?

No. A U.S. Military Pass is free.

When does a U.S. Military Pass expire?

A U.S. Military Pass is valid for 12 months from the month it was issued and expires on the last day of that month.

How many people may sign a U.S. Military Pass?

Up to two people may sign a U.S. Military Pass and therefore be the pass-holders. Both must be current U.S. Military members or dependents.

6.  Fourth Grade Pass

Who qualifies for a Fourth Grade Pass?

U.S. fourth grade students (including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age) with a printed voucher from the federal government’s Every Kid in a Park website may obtain a Fourth Grade Pass.

The Every Kid in a Park program is run by the National Park Service. For more information, please visit the Every Kid in a Park website, at https://everykidinapark.gov.

What does a Fourth Grade Pass cover?

A Fourth Grade Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

A Fourth Grade Pass does not cover expanded amenity fees. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

Does it cost anything to obtain a Fourth Grade Pass?

No. A Fourth Grade Pass is free.

When does a Fourth Grade Pass expire?

A Fourth Grade Pass is valid for the duration of the pass-holder’s 4th grade school year through the following summer (September to August).

How many people may sign a Fourth Grade Pass?

Only the fourth grade student may sign a Fourth Grade Pass and therefore be the pass-holder.

7.  Volunteer Pass

Who qualifies for a Volunteer Pass?

Anyone who supplies more than 250 hours of volunteer work in recreational areas managed by the federal government may obtain a Volunteer Pass.

What does a Volunteer Pass cover?

A Volunteer Pass covers entrance fees and standard amenity fees. Standard amenity fees are charged for the use of sites that have basic amenities such as picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security.

A Volunteer Pass does not cover expanded amenity fees. Expanded amenity fees are charged for the use of “extras” such as camp grounds.

Does it cost anything to obtain a Volunteer Pass?

No. A Volunteer Pass is free.

When does a Volunteer Pass expire?

A Volunteer Pass is valid for 12 months from the month it was issued and expires on the last day of that month.

How many people may sign a Volunteer Pass?

Only one person may sign a Volunteer Pass and therefore be the pass-holder.

Where may I purchase an ATB Pass?

ATB Passes may be purchased at any of the federal recreation areas and agency offices on the following list: https://store.usgs.gov/s3fs-public/PassIssuanceList.pdf. Here in Arizona, this includes, among many other sites, the Arizona BLM State Office in Phoenix, the Tucson BLM Field Office, Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, Coconino National Forest, Kaibab National Forest, Prescott National Forest, and Tonto National Forest.

With the exception of U.S. Military Passes, ATB Passes also may be purchased on line, at https://store.usgs.gov/pass. Physical passes are mailed to purchasers after online orders are received. Neither order receipts nor scanned images of physical passes are valid for use.

Certain ATB Passes also may be purchased through the U.S. Geological Survey by telephone, at 888-275-8747.

Sources and further reading

National Park Service – “Plan Your Visit: America the Beautiful Passes”: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm

U.S. Department of the Interior – “Every Kid in a Park”: https://everykidinapark.gov

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act”: https://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/REA.html

U.S. Geological Survey – “America the Beautiful, the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass”: https://store.usgs.gov/recreational-passes

U.S. Geological Survey – “America the Beautiful: Federal Recreation Areas Where Interagency Passes are Issued”: https://store.usgs.gov/s3fs-public/PassIssuanceList.pdf

U.S. Geological Survey – “Frequently Asked Questions: Recreational Passes”: https://store.usgs.gov/faq

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This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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