Free National Parks Annual Pass. If you like combining doing something good with your time and a freebie valued at $80 (or more) this one’s for you.
What is a Volunteer Pass
A “Volunteer Pass” is an Annual Pass awarded to those individuals who volunteer 250 hours at one or more recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies as a way to say “thank you!”
Volunteer hours may be accrued on lands managed by the following:
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
- Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation)
- Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
- USDA Forest Service (USDA FS)
- National Park Service (NPS)
- US Army Corps of Engineers
This option may not be possible for people who work full-time or have extensive commitments but it could work for people who retired early (and are not eligible for the Senior Pass), singles, the self employed and students.
The thing is there is no specific time frame in which volunteer hours must be accrued. Hours can be accrued over one, or several, calendar years. So if you’re planning a big trip well in advance you could help out and save $80 and more. Entrance fees to some national parks range from $20-$30 per car so depending on how many parks you visit using your annual pass you can really save a lot of money.
You can find volunteer opportunities here. I searched by state and it came up with a bunch of opportunities nowhere near Chicago.There are however regular opportunities at the Indiana Dunes. However, once you pay the round trip tolls on the Indiana Toll Road it would be cheaper to just buy the pass.
For giggles I checked Hawaii -they’re looking for a mapping intern for four months starting in January at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island which includes housing and a tiny food stipend. Of course you’ll have to get yourself to HI.
Other ideas are CO, UT, WY anywhere out west – volunteer by day ski or hike the rest of the time. Also some locations, including several in Alaska, are looking for summer Campground Hosts where mostly you provide assistance to campers. Or be a Canyon and Floating Campground Host where you live aboard a boat in Lake Powell in AZ. Denali National Park is currently looking for an Administration Assistant and Winterfest Event Volunteer. Winter living accommodations don’t include water! Some really do sound like fun!
Eligibility for a Volunteer Pass
- Who qualifies for the Volunteer Pass?The Volunteer Pass will be issued free of charge to volunteers who accrue 250 volunteer hours.
- Do I have to accrue the 250 hours in one year?No. There is no specific time frame in which volunteer hours must be accrued. Hours can be accrued over one, or several, calendar years.
- How will volunteer hours be recorded and tracked? Work with your local Federal recreation site supervisor or Volunteer Coordinator/Manager to track your hours. Whatever format you use to track your time, be sure to keep copies for your records.
- What happens when a volunteer reaches the 250 hours? Once the 250 hour requirement is reached, a pass is issued, and the volunteer’s “pass hours”; are reset to zero and the count begins again.
- Can I accrue hours on lands managed by more than one Federal agency, or am I only able to accrue them by volunteering with one agency? You can accrue 250 hours by volunteering on Federal recreation lands managed by one or all of five agencies – NPS, BLM, USDA FS, FWS, and Reclamation. For example, you can volunteer 100 hours for each of the five agencies and earn a pass.
- What type of volunteer activities/projects count towards my 250 Volunteer Pass hours? All activities that have been pre-approved by the Volunteer Coordinator count toward the required 250 hours. Remember to get your record of volunteer hours signed by applicable Volunteer Coordinator(s).
- If a person volunteers more than 250 hours in one year, do they receive additional passes? No. If a volunteer works more than the 250 hours a year they still earn only one pass per year.
- Are campground hosts eligible to receive a Volunteer Pass?Yes. Campground hosts are eligible to receive a Volunteer Pass once they have completed 250 hours of service.
- Who will issue the Volunteer Pass?The Federal Volunteer Coordinator/Manager who authorizes that a volunteer has accrued 250 hours.
Volunteer Pass Use
- When does a Volunteer Pass expire?The Volunteer Pass is valid for 12 months from the month of issuance, expiring the last day of that month.
- Who is admitted with a Volunteer Pass?Each Annual Pass admits pass owner/s and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas; and pass owner + 3 adults, not to exceed 4 adults, where per-person fees are charged. (Children under 16 are always admitted free).
Note: Photo identification will be requested to verify pass ownership.
- If I have more than four people in my car, how many passes do I need?
- One pass covers the vehicle at sites that charge “per vehicle”.
- At “per person” sites, the applicable fee will be charged for each additional person.
- My family is traveling in two vehicles; will one Volunteer Pass let all of us into the site?No. Only the vehicle with the pass owner is covered. The second vehicle is subject to an entrance fee, or must have (or buy) a second pass.
- What if I have a motorcycle?A Volunteer Pass permits entrance for one motorcycle.
- What is NOT covered by the Volunteer Pass?The Volunteer Pass does not cover Expanded Amenity fees such as camping, boat launching, parking, special tours, special permits or ferries.Also, some facilities and activities on Federal recreation lands (including those mentioned above) are managed by private concessionaires. The concessionaires charge for their services as any private company does and the Pass is not valid for their services.
- How do I show my pass at a site that doesn’t have an entrance station? At Federal recreation sites that don’t have entrance stations you need to display your pass or show proof of pass ownership to compliance officers via one of the two following methods:HANGTAGS
A pass can either be displayed on your rearview mirror using a free hangtag or on your dashboard with the signature side showing. Remember, the hangtag itself is only a way to display your Pass, and is not valid for entry unless it holds a valid Pass.DECALS
If you own an open-topped vehicle (jeep, motorcycle, etc.) you may obtain a free decal to attach to your vehicle that will serve as proof of payment at sites that don’t have a staffed entrance station.
- Decals are issued on annual basis, even for owners of lifetime Senior/Access passes
- Decals are NOT valid for entry at staffed entrance sites – you MUST show your pass
- Decals must be obtained in person and you must show the following: your Pass, driver’s license and vehicle registration. The name on all three documents must match.
- All sites that issue passes issue free hangtags
Volunteer Pass – Further Information
- Does the Volunteer Pass include any discounts at Cooperating Association bookstores, or at gift shops that are located in the Federal Recreation sites?No. The Volunteer Pass does not provide discounts at Cooperating Association bookstores or on-site gift shops.
- Does the Volunteer Pass provide any discounts on Expanded Amenity or Concessionaire (Concessioner) Fees?No. The Volunteer Pass does not cover discounts on any Expanded Amenity or Concessionaire (Concessioner) Fees such as: camping, RV hook-ups, boat launching, backcountry permits, parking at Mount Rushmore, guided cave tours at Wind Cave National Park, or parking at some historic monuments or homes.