National Parks and the Military: Benefits and Services for Active Duty Military and Veterans

How Tos & Tips

The national parks of the United States are some of the best things about our country. Everyone deserves to explore and enjoy these amazing places, but some of the people who deserve it most are the past and present members of our military. 

These people work hard and sacrifice a lot for our country. The least we can do is offer them an escape into the natural beauty of the nation they’ve dedicated their lives to. Fortunately, the NPS recognizes this and does everything they can to make sure veterans and active duty military members receive the special treatment they deserve when visiting the national parks.

They do this in a variety of ways, including free admission, special programs, and even special events like the upcoming Military Monday celebration that is happening on April 19th, 2021 as part of National Parks Week. 

In this article we will discuss the many benefits the National Parks System has to offer members of the US military and their families. 

Soldiers Getting National Parks Military Passes
Image source: Grand Canyon National Park

Free Passes and Special Dates

One of the questions many people ask is, “Are there military discounts at national parks?” The answer? Yes! 

Free Passes

First, let’s discuss annual passes. The NPS offers military members (as well as veterans and Gold Star Families) free national parks military passes, giving them free day-use admission to all NPS sites, as well as lands run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers for the entire year.

The benefits can be used by the passholder along with the people in their vehicle. In parks that charge admission per person, the pass will cover the passholder and 3 additional adults. The pass cannot be used without the named passholder present. 

Where to Go and What to Take 

Wondering where to get national parks passes for military members? In order to receive this benefit, eligible individuals should head to the admission desk or station at any national park that charges entry fees, ask for the pass, and present proper identification. 

Active duty military members will need one of the following: 

  • Common Access Card (CAC) 
  • Military ID (Form 1173)

For veterans identification could be one of the following:

  • Department of Defense Identification Card (CAC Card)
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
  • Veteran ID Card
  • Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card

Gold Star Families must print a voucher that can then be presented in exchange for an annual pass. The voucher certifies that the signing family is eligible based on the criteria outlined here

Other Passes

It should be noted that senior veterans and military members might be eligible for the Senior Pass, which costs $20 annually or $80 for a lifetime pass and comes with some additional benefits, such as camping discounts and discounts on other services.

Likewise, those veterans and military members with disabilities might look into the free Access Pass that gives these same additional benefits to permanently diabled individuals. 

Read more about all NPS passes here.

Special Dates

In addition to the free passes mentioned above, there are a few days a year when NPS admission fees are waived for everyone. 

These include the following dates for the remainder of 2021:

  • April 17th
  • August 4th
  • August 25th
  • September 25th
  • November 11th

Health Benefits

It’s no secret that spending time outdoors offers some incredible health benefits. Considering the intense physical, mental, and emotional toll that military life can have on an individual, a peaceful retreat into nature can do wonders for these folks. 

Because spending time in the national parks can be so good for the health of military members and veterans, the NPS has made a point of offering special healing activities for these individuals. These include therapeutic horseback riding, the Vets of the River program, and more. 

Check out stories of these healing times in nature here. Then, create your own healing experience by planning a peaceful and relaxing hike or kayaking trip of your own. 

American Flag in Grand Tetons National Park

Ceremonies and Memorials

In addition to offering a peaceful retreat for healing, the national parks can also be wonderful places for ceremonies and memorials. For this reason, there are often military events at national parks. Usually, these are oath ceremonies that individual military members choose to carry out in the beauty of a national park.

If you want to hold a military ceremony in a national park, contact the park in question to find out what you’ll need to do to make it happen. You won’t be sorry you did!

As you can see, our country’s national parks have a lot to offer past and present members of the military. Which benefits are you going to take advantage of first?