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It sounds cliché, but one of this nation’s biggest treasures are our National Parks. They are not only beautiful, awe-inspiring, and majestic, but also affordable and attainable. It may cost over $100 per person per day to get into Disney World, but it is currently just $30 for a private car full of people to visit Yellowstone for up to seven days. Heck, if you are 62+ and were lucky enough to get in on the lifetime $10 Senior America the Beautiful Pass then your deal is even better than that.
However, that may be changing a bit as the National Parks Service has proposed a fee increase, reportedly to address maintenance backlogs.
The NPS has proposed peak-season entrance fees at 17 of the national parks during their busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation. During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.
In essence, during peak season, this means that a family visiting a park like Yellowstone would have to pay double what they pay now to get into the park. The new fee structure would apply to Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.
You could avoid this proposed increase as the cost of the annual America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which provides entrance to all federal lands, including parks for a one-year period, would remain $80. Entrance fees are not charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes. The majority of national parks would also remain free to enter; as only 118 of 417 park sites charge an entrance fee.
Of course, I don’t love the idea of a family having to pay 2x or more of the current rates to get into one of these parks during peak season, but it is hard to argue with their need for more funding. If they aren’t going to get it from one source, they have to find it from another. Even at $70 for a car, these parks are still a deal for a family to visit compared to many other popular events and attractions. Heck, if a family of four wanted to go up the Empire State Building to get a good view of New York City it would cost $122 for four standard tickets. Not to knock the Empire State Building, but $122 for a family to go up a building and look around for a few minutes vs. $70 for a family to enjoy a National Park for up to a week makes the National Parks a pretty good deal even at an increased price point.
I also have to imagine that even if you use miles and points to cover a chunk of your trip that a $35 – $40 difference in the cost of admission is still a very modest increase in the overall trip cost. Still, if they can find another way to do the necessary upkeep without passing the cost on to visitors then I’m all for it. I would hate to see families forgo a trip to the Grand Canyon because of the entrance fee. I would also hate to see families skip a nearby National Park on a big road trip because they couldn’t keep paying entrance fees at each park. In that case, they would probably be better served with an annual pass at $80.
If you want to pass along your thoughts on this proposed increase, there is a public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal open from October 24, 2017, to November 23, 2017.
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.