One of the consolations of old age is the Federal Senior Pass, which like most Federal entities has undergone a name change – it used to be called the Golden Age Pass. All US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for this pass, which will greatly reduce your expenditures for visiting and camping in National Parks. Here’s how to get one, and where to use it.
There’s a mail-in method of obtaining this pass, but the extra fee and processing time make this really unnecessary, especially since they’re sold at all National Park entrances, national monuments, many National Forest ranger stations, Bureau of Land Management field and district officers, and numerous other places. Here is a listing of all the locations where you can buy yours. As soon as you turn 62, just show up with documentation that you’re either a US citizen or permanent resident (driver’s license, US passport, birth certificate, or green card) and that you’re 62. Pay the fee ($10), and you’re literally set for life. Since the replacement charge is the same as a new card, if you lose yours the procedure is just to get another one.
Most people are familiar with using the Senior Pass to get free admission for the bearer and everyone in their party at national parks – well, up to four adults, plus all the kids under 16 you care to haul along with you. However, there are many other uses more important to fulltimers and others who spend more than the usual two or three weeks a year touring our country. Five federal agencies – the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation – all honor the Senior Pass at sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged. “Standard amenity fees” is governmentese for campsite fees, which is where the pass comes into its own.
Look on the envelope you use to pay your camping fee at National Forest and BLM campgrounds. On the bottom line there’s a place for your Senior Pass number, and a 50% discount on the camping fee. Army Corp of Engineers campsites also honor this 50% discount for card holders. Even the Tennessee Valley Authority will give you 50% off of the campsite fees. Knock that exorbitant $10 nightly camping charge down to $5 – and remember, many of these campgrounds also take personal checks, so save your cash for the store. Look on the envelope or the sign at the pay station for whom to make it out to.
The card will also save you the trouble of going into the ranger station or store to get a permit for National Forest dispersed camping – just display your card on the dash in lieu of the permit. The only fly in the ointment are concessionaires – private companies that contract with the Federal government to manage campgrounds in national parks and forests. They aren’t required to accept the pass for a 50% discount, although all the ones I have had experience with do – and I’m talking about three years of fulltiming experience. It’s just bad business not to honor this pass, so almost all the concessionaires do so.
If the campsite has “improvements” – water and/or electric hookups – expect to pay full price for the “improvements”, and get 50% off the basic campground fee only. Most Federal campgrounds don’t have hookups, though, so if you have solar or just like to boondock, a Senior Pass will come in handy – you get your money back the second time you use it. There’s just no downside to getting this card – even if you don’t camp at all, you’ll be able to drive through national parks without getting gouged for an entrance fee. The pass is like Social Security for those of us who have labored long and hard supporting the Federal government, and can now enjoy a little return on their investment in their retirement years. I like to think of it as sticking it to the man, myself Power to the geezers!