It’s an interesting question, being that boondockers typically don’t camp in national parks. This is because national parks can be costly, costing between $5.00 to $40.00 just to enter the park, and then another $10.00 to $30.00 a night to camp. Moreover, national park campgrounds tend to sell out early making them difficult to get into. And another big reason is that national park campgrounds are crowded, tend to have smaller campsites, and are noisy at night.
Is a National Parks Pass Worth Buying for a Boondocker?
First of all, they are called “America the Beautiful” passes, or also known as the “Interagency Pass”. They are good for all federal agencies that operate campgrounds, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and even the Tennessee Valley Authority.
This pass costs $80.00 a year…
- The pass gets you free access into all such areas. Keep in mind however, that most of these areas (the large majority of them) are already free to enter. It’s largely the National Park Service that charges an entrance fee. There are a handful of National Wildlife Refuges that charge access fees.
- The pass gets you 50% off on all camping. This is largely where boondockers can get value from an America the Beautiful pass. However, it’s highly unlikely you can get availability at a National Park campground, unless you book well in advance, or are just looking for a single night. The U.S. Forest Service does charge camping fees for most of their campgrounds, but these fees tend to be less costly than National Parks, typically ranging between $5.00 to $20.00 a night. But, U.S. Forest Service campgrounds are much less in demand and easier to book longer stays. Campgrounds run by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife, are often free, or even less costly than the other two agencies.
- Most National Park campgrounds have RV dump stations, and are generally free to use. However, you still have to pay the entrance fee to get into the park. So, having the America the Beautiful can be a cost-saver if you dump at a lot of National Parks.
So, Is the Pass Worth Buying?
Yes, if you prefer to camp in developed campgrounds offered by federal agencies, or disperse camp (boondock) close to developed campgrounds. Those who disperse camp close to federally owned developed campgrounds will still be able to enjoy free entrance into fee-areas for hiking and visiting interpretive areas.
No, if you prefer to disperse camp (boondock) in areas well away from federally owned campgrounds. This would apply to boondockers who don’t plan to enter into fee-areas, nor plan to use RV dump stations inside fee-areas. Note, there are still many federal recreation areas that are free to enter, and often times free to camp. If you’re good at finding these places, then you probably have no need for an America the Beautiful pass.