America has 61 protected areas known as National Parks and over 2,000 protected areas.
Yosemite is a National Park, as is the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and Zion. Those are probably the more famous parks, but the National Parks include caverns, the redwood forests in Northern California, and the Volcano National Park in my current backyard.
Islands in American Samoa are included, as are areas in the United States Virgin Territory.
A complete list of all of the National Parks is linked here.
The Free National Parks Disability Access Pass (Military & 4th Grade Too Passes Too)
When we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, we used to drive down to the hot springs around Mammoth Lake. The fastest way to Mammoth Lake was through Yosemite. We’d drive through Yosemite just to get to Tioga Pass, and then head over to all of the hot springs around Mammoth Lake.
Each entry through Yosemite was $35; to and from Mammoth Lake for the hot springs was $70.
With us being so broke, that really added up!
So I asked at the entrance gate about any kind of disability access pass, or disability discount for the National Parks.
How We Got Our Free Lifetime Disability Access Pass at the National Park
Like I was saying in the video, the National Park ranger at the gate told me that there was indeed a free lifetime disability access pass, and that, as a deaf individual, I could apply.
He said that in order to apply, I would need to fill out the application and send it in, along with certification from my audiologist. Alternatively, I could bring certification from my audiologist with me and get the access pass at the gate.
We wanted the discount immediately of course (no more $70 to and from the hot springs!), so I told him that my daughter has Down syndrome; would it count for him to give her the pass, based on her visible disability?
He said, “sure!” He took at look at her, saw that she has Down syndrome, and gave us the free lifetime disability access pass then and there.
So How Do You Get Your Pass?
You can get your disability access pass in person at a national park that issues them, or through the mail.
Did you notice that I said, “at a national parks that issues them”?! I said that because not all of the National Parks issue the them.
Check first to make sure that the national park that you want to visit actually issues the passes! Click here to check the list here of the parks that issue passes, or click the button below:
What Kind of Disability Documentation Do You Need?
You do need to prove you have a disability in order to qualify for the access pass.
If you are either getting this pass for yourself or for your child, you need to prove that the disability exists and is bona-fide (so, fakers, beat it!)
How Do You Prove You Have a Disability or How Do You Prove That Your Child Has a Disability?
You need a photocopy of PERMANENT disability documentation issues by Social Security Disability, Office of Veteran Affairs and/or a licensed physician (you can only get the pass if your disability is permanent! Spraining your foot won’t qualify!)
In my own case, we showed up at Yosemite National Park and I asked if I could apply by dint of my deafness. My hearing aids would not qualify as proof of disability; I needed something from my doctor.
Getting my own qualification would have meant a 4 hour drive back to the Bay Area, a pop in to the doctor, and 4 hour drive back, which is why we went with applying for the pass through Moxie. That they accepted her without any documentation was great, but only because Down syndrome can be such a clearly visible and recognizable disability.
For FAQ on the disability access pass, visit the USGS website linked here.
Free Annual 4th Grade National Parks Access Pass
4th Graders can access all National Parks for free over the duration of their 4th grade school year through the following summer (so, the pass runs from September-August).
It’s available for ALL 4th graders in a school in the U.S., including home-schooled and free-choice learners who are 10 years of age, with a valid Every Kid Outdoors Paper pass.
How to Get the Free National Parks 4 Grade Annual Pass
- Visit the Every Kid Outdoors website and get a paper pass.
- The paper pass can be exchanged for the Annual 4th Grade Pass at federal recreation sites that charge Entrance or Standard Amenity fees (Day Use Fees). The PDF list of the national parks that issue passes is linked here.
- NOTE: Be sure to print your paper pass! Digital version of the paper pass (such as on your smartphone, or tablet) will NOT be accepted!
- More information, details and a fun website: Every Kid Outdoors
Free Annual Military National Parks Pass
Current U.S. Military personnel and their dependents can get a free annual National Parks Pass.
They must present, in person, a U.S. Department of Defense CAC identification or DD Form 1173 dependent identification and are in the following military personnel classification:
- Currently serving US Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard
- Dependents of current US military
- US Military Cadets
- US Active Reservists
More details and FAQ about who can get the pass is linked here.
Other Benefits for the American the Beautiful Passes
The Disability Access Pass, the Military Pass, and the 4th Grade Pass – all of the America the Beautiful Passes- provide access to the National Parks and also to the 2,000+ federal recreation sites.
They cover entrance fees, day fees and other related standard amenity fees.
This pass saved us $70 for one trip alone!
Now that we live in Hawaii and the Volcano is in our backyard, the pass provides an awesome way to go regularly, hike, and have some fun at the crater.
Another totally random benefit I’ve found with the pass? While traveling in Europe this past summer, I needed some kind of card or proof of disability to get the Legoland Disability Pass – the only thing I had was the America the Beautiful Disability Access Pass – which they accepted!
Helpful ResourcesDisability Related Resources
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.