The Federal Senior Pass – Good All Over

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.

Here's ours - a little the worse for wear and tear, but it probably saves us $500 a year in campground fees.

Here's ours – a little the worse for wear and tear, but it probably saves us $500 a year in campground fees.

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.

This is a BLM envelope- Forest Service ones are similar. The bottom line- box 11 - is where you put your Senior Pass number in. Also in the fine print is who to make your check out to.

This is a BLM envelope – Forest Service ones are similar. The bottom line – box 11 – is where you put your Senior Pass number in. Also in the fine print is who to make your check out to.

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.

A nostalgic photo from our first Roadtrek journey - Santa Fe National Forest up by Los Alamos, NM. $5 a night.

A nostalgic photo from our first Roadtrek journey – 2007, in Santa Fe National Forest up by Los Alamos, NM. $5 a night. We were the only people in the campground.

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!

There are

86 comments

  1. Laura HughesPostema

    We have our calendar marked! Ken turns 62 next year…we’ll have one of these cards the next day! Thank you for all the links you provided, too. Happy trails!

  2. The version of this card for the rest of us folks that are under 62 costs $80 a year – just a few visits to the $25 parks like the Tetons, or several campground stays will pay for it – plus not having to always check in as noted above just makes life easier. The cards encourage visitors to our national lands and are a great deal for sure. THANKS go to our government for having this program!

  3. Lisa

    Tim- I didn’t realize that was another one for those of us under 62. What’s it called so I can look it up? That would come in handy for when I get to solo camp!

    • Campskunk
      Author

      here’s some annual pass info: http://store.usgs.gov/pass/annual.html it can be used in some, but not all, of the places the senior pass can be used. for instance, corps of engineers campsites honor the senior pass but not the annual pass. i think the park system, the BLM, and the national forests consider the passes interchangeable, though.

  4. Hey Lisa, the official name in red on the back of the card is “America The Beautiful – The National Parks And Federal Recreation Lands Pass” – on the front it just says “Annual Pass” – the photo changes each year, and the one I bought in January has a red kayak on it. Not all federal campgrounds accept this for 1/2 price camping, but most of them do, and most accept it for free entry. You can also get a hang tag with it so you can display the card on your mirror for dayuse parking, etc. Even at $80, this card usually saves us at least a couple hundreds bucks a year, sometimes a lot more…

  5. Jim Diepenbruck

    To put it in perspective. On our trip west last year, we visited and camped at Little Bighorn, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The Senior Pass saved more than enough to get a FREE tank of gas. 🙂

  6. Hello.

    I am Brazilian and I live in Brazil, I am interested in buying a motorhome on a shared basis for use in period of 30 days per year, someone is interested in selling a motor home?
    Moses Pontes Lima

  7. shari groendyk

    It’s great advice, RT. DH and I both bought the Senior Pass last fall and it allowed us free entry this summer to the Badlands National Park, Yellowstone NP, and Grand Tetons NP this summer. DH was in one van with 2 adults and 2 gkids and I was in another van with 2 adults and 2 gkids. Had we not had the Passes with us, we would’ve paid $65 per van, a total of $130. I figure it’s either in Uncle Sam’s pocket, or in my pocket, so for very little effort, we kept it in our pocket. Were we smiling at every entrance booth? Oh. yeh.

  8. Bill Sprague

    We’ve been loving ours for the past 7 years! Oh and you can take your Roadtrek full of folks with you and just flash one card! What a bargain!

  9. Jane McArdle

    sadly neither dear hubby or my self qualify for the Senior card but I understand there is a disabled card I just have to keep searching for the site or where it get it from thanks

  10. Also, if you have handicapped license plates or window tag you can get free admission to all national parks and monuments. They will issue the pass at any of the parks.

  11. Yes, I got mine too now for several years and it definitely is the best investment in being able to see our beautiful country at a bargain… not only to mention all the senior discounts along the way… remember to always ask wherever you go… some have really surpised me!

    • Campskunk
      Author

      it’s available to all canadians with green cards (permanent residents). my wife is canadian, and it’s her card.