Before nearly any patriotic holiday, the phrase “land of the free because of the brave,” starts popping up on your Facebook feed laden with red, white, and blue imagery. Once Independence Day or Veterans Day passes, those posts slowly give way to the usual updates: pictures of what your friends are eating for dinner and their kids doing adorable things…and political rants. But, whether it’s Memorial Day or just another regular day, the National Park Service offers a military park pass that gets all current military service members and their families through the gate for free.
Getting the Free Military Park Pass
Anyone can score an annual national park pass, but only a select few are eligible for a free park pass. To get your free America the Beautiful pass, take your military ID to a federal recreation site. Your dependent ID card works, and your service member does not need to be present (because you know they would be deployed the day you decide to do this anyway). The park pass is available for current U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard members and their families, as well as Reserve and National Guard members and their families.
Not all recreation sites or national parks offer the pass, but the National Park Service provides a list of all the sites that do. If you’re hoping to visit a site that does not offer the pass, you can still just show your military ID at the gate or ticket window and enter for free.
The entire process takes less than five minutes, and you’ll be through the gate with your cash in your pocket where it belongs (that is, until your kids lock eyes with the gift shop).
Using the Military Park Pass
From the date of issue, you have one year to use your park pass. So, if you get it in November, don’t worry, it doesn’t expire on January 1 of the next year; it expires the following November.
To use your park pass, all you do is show it at the entrance of any national park, monument, or historical site operated by the National Park Service (it will not get you into state-run parks). It isn’t unusual for a park ranger to also ask to see your military ID for verification, so keep that handy just in case.
When your card expires, you lose it, or you (sigh) leave it in the console of your car which is a mile and a half down the road from the park entrance, you can just apply for a new one. The National Park Service really does make it that easy.
There is no limit on use. You can go to the national park near your duty station 45,000 times in a month (which would be impressive) and not pay a dime. You could visit all the national parks in a year and not open your wallet once. The America the Beautiful park pass makes it possible for military families to visit one-of-a-kind places all over the country, delivering nature and history to even the youngest military kids. Weave a few free pitstops into your cross-country move, plan a park vacation, or find one nearby — just take advantage of this benefit because, like many of the natural landscapes in the country, this offer may not be around forever.
Photo Credits: Renee Slusser