Veterans and Gold Star Families Will Soon Have Free Admission to All National Parks

Soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard hike in Acadia National Park.
Soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard hike down Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park for physical conditioning during the first week of the Soldier Wellness Education and Training (SWEAT) program, July 14, 2017. (U.S. Army/ Spc. Jarod Dye)

National Parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands will all be free for veterans and Gold Star family members to use starting Veterans Day, Interior Department officials announced today.

The change extends to veterans and Gold Star families the existing free admission policy already in play for active-duty troops and their families, as well as Guard and Reserve members. It waives both entrance and day use recreation fees for lands managed by the Department of the Interior nationwide.

While not all of the system's 2,000 public recreation areas charge entrance fees, many of the more popular destinations do, such as Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. The fees vary by location. Instead of paying individual entry fees, visitors can purchase an annual "America the Beautiful" pass for $80. Seniors over age 65 can purchase a lifetime pass for $80.

Disabled veterans qualify for the Access Pass, which gives free admission and a 50% discount on some costs such as camping or boat launch fees. Other passholders pay out of pocket for those costs.

The new program expands free park access to millions of honorably discharged veterans. To gain access, veterans can present a DoD ID card; a Veteran Health Identification Card; a Veteran ID card; or a state-issued card displaying veteran status, according to the release.

Related: How to get veteran discounts

While the free pass for active-duty troops can be used by their dependents, the new free-access rule for veterans does not extend to their immediate family members.

That means that at parks where entrance fees are paid per vehicle, veterans and their families will be able to enter free using the veteran pass. At parks where admission is paid per person, however, only the veteran will be able to enter free.

Free entrance for Gold Star family members is limited to those designated as "Gold Star" by law. To meet the definition, families must be the "next of kin of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a 'qualifying situation,' such as a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces," according to the release.

But Gold Star family members will not be required to produce proof of qualification -- at least for now. 

"For the time being, we will be using an honor system," Ben Goldey, a spokesman for Interior told in an email. "An individual who identifies themselves as a Gold Star family member at an entrance facility will be thanked for their service and sacrifice and admitted free of charge."

Read next: 2020 Veterans Day Deals, Discounts and Freebies

This story was updated Oct. 29 to reflect a clarification to admission rules for Gold Star family members.


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