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If you or someone in your family has served our country in the military, it’s time to book a trip!
There are typically several dates when anyone can visit the national parks for free throughout the year. But a new law provides permanent access to the nation’s protected outdoor spaces for a specific, extraordinary group of people.
Lawmakers rolled the Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act into the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law in December. This new law provides free lifetime access to national parks and federal recreational lands for veterans and Gold Star Families.
The National Park Service announced in 2020 that veterans and Gold Star Families, who have lost an immediate family member in the line of duty, would have free access to the park service’s 423 sites around the country. The new law makes this action permanent and includes free annual passes for active-duty military. Currently, a one-year parks pass is available; the lifetime pass will be made available by the end of 2022.
“When you take your oath, if you go into the service, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, you really are protecting the homeland,” the National Park Service’s new director and Navy veteran Chuck Sams told USA Today. “I think this is a great recognition of that responsibility you took on to serve your nation.”
How To Access Free National Park Admission
To take part, veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, must present one of the following forms of identification or the Interagency Military Pass when entering a national park:
- Department of Defense Identification Card (non-expired CAC Card)
- Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
- Veteran ID Card
- Veterans designation on a state-issued US driver’s license or identification card
A Gold Star Family member must download and print a voucher from the National Park Service website and either present it to park staff, exchange it for an Interagency Military Pass or place it on their vehicle dashboard at unstaffed sites.
The rules stipulate that free access will be given to the veteran or holder of a Gold Star Family voucher, plus traveling companions who are occupants of a single, non-commercial vehicle. Where per-person fees are being charged, the veteran may get free admission for three persons 16 and older.
The program waives entrance or standard amenity fees for sites run by the following agencies:
- National Park Service
- Bureau of Land Management
- Bureau of Reclamation
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
What Is Not Covered
The free access does not cover expanded amenities such as camping, tours and special recreation permits, although discounts may be offered. In addition, fees for reservations, organized groups, concession-operated facilities or activities may not be covered.
Visit the National Park Service online for more information.