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US veterans and gold star families can now enjoy a lifetime of free national park access

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In honor of their service to the country, the government announced this week that US military veterans and gold star families will enjoy a lifetime of free access to national parks, national wildlife refuges and federal recreational land.

The news came ahead of this year's Veterans Day, a day when all visitors across the country can access national parks without paying an entrance fee – saving up to $35 (€31.36) per vehicle in the case of popular parks like Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park. Active members of the military already qualify for free annual park passes which cost $80, but this year the government said it wanted to extend the offer to US military veterans and gold star families (those who lost a family member in military service), granting them a lifetime of free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal recreational land.

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"With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting Veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter," said Secretary of the Interior, David L Bernhardt.

Denali.jpg
You can see caribou in Denali National Park © Martin Capek/Shutterstock
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The access pass is called America the Beautiful and in order to avail of it, veterans must present a form of identification that proves they served in the arms forces of US National Guard and Reserves. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands. The pass doesn't cover user fees for activities like camping, boat launches and transportation. Though veterans with disabilities qualify for the Access Pass, which gives them free admission and a 50% discount on some costs such as camping or boat launch fees.

Looking upwards in a forest of seqouia trees. The reddish-brown trunks reach towards a clear blue sky, visible through the leafy green canopy.
You could visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks for free on select days © iStock / Getty Images

There are currently 419 parks available to visit in the US and only 111 charge an entrance fee. This year the National Park Service offered five free entry days to the public, including on January 20; April 18; August 5; August 25; September 26; and today, November 11, Veterans Day.

For those who plan on spending a lot of time in parks, the National Park Service is part of an Interagency Pass Program that offers various passes, including one called America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass costs $80 (€71.68) and offers unlimited entrance to more than 2000 federal recreation areas, including entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges.

For further information, please see the National Park Service's website here.

This article was first published on January 6, 2020 and updated on November 11, 2020.

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