us national parks for free

How to visit the US National Parks for free if you’re disabled

The United States has some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the world, many of them housed within the National Park system. Getting out to see the Grand Canyon or Yosemite can be an expensive endeavor. However, if you suffer from a permanent disability, you’re entitled to a free lifetime pass to all National Parks in the country.

How the National Park Access Pass Works

The National Park Access Pass is designed to give those that are permanently disabled the opportunity to take advantage of the nation’s most spectacular natural wonders for free. The pass is available to US citizens and permanent residents. It is a physical card that you can take with you, granting free access to any and all national park lands in the country. Not only that, it allows everyone in your car to enter for free as well. So even if only one person in the family or the group is disabled, everyone gets free access. Along with free entrance to National Parks, discounts are available at many sites on fees for camping, swimming, boating, and guided tours.

To obtain the Access Pass card, you can visit any of the federal recreation sites that issue passes (listed here), or you can submit an application online. If you apply in person, there is no processing fee. The processing fee if you apply online is $10, which is still a small price to pay for unlimited access to all of America’s purple mountain majesties for the rest of your life.

Documentation needed to apply

There are two primary forms of documentation required to obtain the Access Pass. The first is proof of citizenship or permanent residency. This could include a passport, green card, or state-issued driver’s license. The second is proof of disability. This can be furnished with a signed statement from a physical that attests to your condition; a federally issued document, like Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI); or a state-issued document that demonstrates your eligibility to receive rehabilitation benefits due to a permanent disability.

Who qualifies for the National Park Access Pass

The only question is: what qualifies as a permanent disability? According to the Access Pass application, you must have a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment and it must substantially impair one or more major life activities. Since it has to be a permanent disability, you wouldn’t qualify if you broke a leg. But if you have a musculoskeletal disease that makes you wheelchair-bound for life, you qualify.

You also don’t need to be 100% impaired. So for instance, if you’re partially blind or deaf, you would still qualify under these guidelines as long as you can provide documentation of it.

To get a better idea at who might qualify for an access pass, I took a look at the listed disabilities on the Social Security Administration website. There are 14 broad impairment categories that include autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disorders, neurological disorders, mental health disorders, and sensory disorders. Technically, it could be almost anything that causes an impairment to daily functioning from diabetes to anxiety.

If you’re not sure whether you qualify, bring the necessary documentation to the nearest federal recreation site, and at least you won’t lose the online application fee if your application is rejected. If it’s approved, congratulations! You now have unlimited free visits to all of the US National Parks for the rest of your life.


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