Lifetime "Senior" and "Access" Park Passes Now Available By Mail

The Senior Pass (top photo) and Access Pass (below). Images from USGS.

The popular Senior park pass and the Access Pass (for Americans with disabilities) can now be obtained by mail. Both passes cover admission fees at most federal recreation sites, including national parks, as well as discounts on some other fees.

Until recently, it was necessary to apply in person at parks and similar sites for either pass …but that's now changed.

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said the Senior Pass and the Access Pass will still be available at national parks, “But the option of receiving a pass by mail may better suit some people and any change that makes it more convenient to prepare to come to the parks is a change for the better. We want everyone to experience the amazing places in our care."

“National parks have a lot to offer,” continued Jarvis. “They are places to share with children, grandchildren, and other family members. They facilitate recreation and healthy living. Many parks, including Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Denali, have trails that are accessible to people with limited mobility and to wheelchair users. We also have many accessible camping and picnic areas.”

Both the “Senior” and “Access” versions of the America the Beautiful Pass—the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass—are good for the lifetime of the pass holder. The Access pass is free and the Senior pass (formerly known as a "Golden Age Passport) costs $10. If you want to receive either pass by mail, there is a $10 processing fee.

If you have one of the previously issued Golden Age Passports, fear not, it's still valid—only the name has changed, and it's still a great bargain. According to an agency website, "The Senior and Access passes provide admission to, and use of, federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees."

It's possible that a few readers may be a bit uncertain about the meaning of the term "amenity fee," so here's the official definition, at least as applied to federal recreation sites: "Amenity fees are those charged for use of Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, and Reclamation sites that have a combination of basic amenities - picnic tables, trash receptacles, toilets, developed parking, interpretive signing, and security."

Holders of both types of passes also receive a 50% discount on some (but not all) "Expanded Amenity Fees," which "cover 'the extras' that aren't basic entrance or standard amenity fees. Examples include camp grounds, boat launches, cabins, and guided tours."

Senior passes are available to citizens and permanent residents of the United States age 62 or above. You'll find details about what fees are covered by the Senior pass, and locations where it's accepted, on this webpage.

To obtain a Senior pass through the mail, submit a completed application, proof of residency and age, and $20. The fee covers the cost of the pass and a document processing fee. You can print an application and explanation of the required "proof" at this link. Once the application package is received and the documentation verified, the pass will be mailed to you.

Access passes can be obtained by U.S. citizens or permanent residents of any age who have permanent disabilities regardless of age. Details about those passes are available here, and the application for the Access pass is available at this link.

To receive the Access pass, mail the completed application along with proof of residency and documentation of permanent disability plus the $10 document processing fee. Once the application package is received and verified, the pass and the documentation of permanent disability you provided will be mailed back to you.

Here's one additional tip for holders of either pass: You can obtain a free "hangtag" to display your pass below your vehicle's rear view mirror or on the dashboard. The tag verifies that you have a pass when you're using an area that requires a fee but which doesn't have a staffed entrance station. If you order a pass by mail, a hangtag will be included, or one should be available at locations where passes are issued.

If you have an open-top vehicle, such as a jeep or motorcycle, you can also obtain a decal that serves the same purpose. Decals are only valid on an annual basis, even for holders of lifetime passes. Decals can be obtained in person—not by mail—at parks and other federal recreation sites that issue the passes. You'll find details at this link.

Finally, the decals and hangtags are not valid for admission at areas with staffed entrance stations. At those locations, be prepared to show your actual pass and ID (such as a driver's license) to prove you're the pass holder. The reason is simple: to prevent someone from simply "passing the hang pass" around to friends and relatives who don't qualify for one.

Annual passes for anyone who doesn't qualify for a Senior or Access pass also continue to be available by mail or at most federal recreation sites where they are accepted.

If you still have questions about either pass or the application process, you can phone (888-275-8747) and press option "1."