Visiting National Parks for Military Families
Nothing brings more pride to our country than our service men and women. To celebrate those that give of themselves to protect our freedoms, military families can receive a free annual pass to 59 National Parks and more than 2,000 federal recreation areas in the United States.
Getting your pass is easy at any federal recreation or National Park sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged. Just present your proper military ID (CAC Card or DoD Form 1173), and you and three accompanying adults (age 16 and older) will be covered at all fee-incurred sites. No entry fees are charged for children 15 and under.
The annual pass is available to current US military members and the dependents of deployed military in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Most members of the US Army Reserves and National Guard are also included. One pass covers everyone in a non-commercial vehicle at sites that charge “per vehicle.”
With so many National Parks and federal recreation areas to visit, it may be hard to decide where you’ll go first with your free pass. Here are a few suggestions that will make you want to sing, “America the Beautiful!”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee; North Carolina
America’s most visited National Park boasts wildlife like black bears, gorgeous wildflowers, and Southern Appalachian mountain culture. Visit the valley of Cades Cove for a scenic tour on the 11-mile one-way loop road. White-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, groundhogs, turkeys, and other animals are often seen on the loop. Both hiking and biking are very popular in this part of the park, and no motor vehicles are allowed until 10:00 a.m. every Saturday and Wednesday morning from early May until late September.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Where can you experience snow in the summer and see a moose sip from a stream? Travel Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park and your trip will be positively picturesque. The road spans 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake. The highest point of elevation at 12,183 ft. allows you to see alpine wildflowers and snow-capped mountains above the treeline. It’s quite likely that you’ll spot a herd of bighorn sheep along the mountainside, and no doubt you’ll glimpse hundreds of plant species. There’s plenty of places to stop along the road for photo opportunities. Although camping fees are not included with the pass, Rocky Mountain offers several campgrounds in the summer months.
Considered one of the nation’s most diverse national recreation areas, Lake Mead gives visitors a view of the Hoover Dam and access to the stunning Black Canyon Water Trail. Take a walking tour of the Historic Railroad Trail once used to build the Hoover Dam. See area wildlife like bighorn sheep, ravens, owls, lizards, snakes, scorpions, and antelope ground squirrels. Explore the five tunnels, each built for a specific purpose and each 25 feet in diameter. While you’re there, check out Grapevine Canyon at the southern end of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and delight in the beautiful petroglyphs, rock art made by the Yuman-speaking tribes of the lower Colorado River. This is sacred ground for the tribes and their ancestors, so it is important to not touch the art. Just enjoy the beauty with reverence.
If you would rather check out some sea life than bears, Everglades National Park is the perfect destination to see manatees, alligators, turtles, and crocodiles. The park covers 1.5 million acres of protected wetlands, so there are different places to access the park throughout Southern Florida. At the Miami entrance, the Shark Valley 65-foot observation tower gives a scenic view of birds along the sawgrass marsh.
Wherever your adventurous spirit takes you, your free “America the Beautiful” annual pass will give you the chance to experience America in all its glory. The free admission for military members and their families is just one way to show our service men and women how much we appreciate what they have done and continue to do to protect our freedoms. Thank you for making America truly beautiful.