Why You Will No Longer Be Able to Afford a Visit to 17 U.S. National Parks

I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s going on?

In October 2017, The National Park Service proposed a fee increase for 17 national parks in 2018. The parks are the following:

Acadia National Park (ACAD)

Arches National Park (ARCH)

Bryce Canyon National Park (BRCA)

Canyonlands National Park (CANY)

Denali National Park (DENA)

Glacier National Park (GLAC)

Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA)

Grand Teton National Park (GRTE)

Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR)

Mount Rainier National Park (MORA)

Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO)

Olympic National Park (OLYM)

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI)

Shenandoah National Park (SHEN)

Yellowstone National Park (YELL)

Yosemite National Park (YOSE)

Zion National Park (ZION)

 

How much is the proposed increase?

For vehicles the fee will go up from $25 to $70. This is a 180% increase!

For bikes the fee will go up from $25 to $50. This is double the current price!

Per person the fee will go up from $15 to $30. This is double the current price!

For some parks, the bike and pedestrian fee will increase by a higher percentage. For example, the current per person fee at Joshua Tree National Park is $12. An increase to $30 would more than double the current entry fee. The same applies for the motorcycle fee at Joshua Tree National Park, which is currently set at $12 and would increase to $50 if the hike is approved.

 

Why is there a proposed increase in the first place?

According to the NPS fact sheet, the fee is necessary to “improve visitor experience and increase revenue to help address the deferred maintenance backlog.”

 

Who is affected by this increase?

Anyone who does not have the following passes:

The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass

Free Annual Pass for U.S. Military

Annual 4th Grade Pass

Access Pass (for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with disabilities)

Volunteer Pass

Senior Pass (U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are 62 years old or older)

 

Is there a fee increase for The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass?

No. The current $80 fee for this pass will remain as is.

 

Does this increase apply for peak and off-peak seasons?

This increase is only for peak season. Nonetheless, the peak season for each park varies. The peak season for Joshua Tree National Park is from January 1st to May 31st. Most of the parks on the list start their peak season in May or June because most visitors go during summer break.

 

When will the proposal be approved? Can I do anything to stop it? Is this really happening???!!!

The NPS has allowed for a “public comment” period before a final decision is made. You can click on this link to tell the NPS what you think about the proposed fee until December 22, 2017. Click on COMMENT NOW.


 

As soon as I heard about the proposed fee, I reached out to some of my favorite bloggers and asked them what they thought about this proposal. They are as baffled about this dramatic change as I am, and we wanted to let others know how this whopping increase could price us and many others out of the national parks. Read below to find out why we think this fee increase is counterintuitive and an abhorrent injustice.

 


Joy from Part Time Exploradora

part time exploradora

As if this administration could not offend another part of my existence, parks are now under attack as well. I shudder at the thought of parks being charged, because this puts a barrier on those who can enter. Those that would suffer the most are lower income families and persons. Parks are where my immigrant Latino family would go to celebrate parties, reunions, and enjoy our community in create a home in our new land. It is where in my darkest times, I connected back to myself.  It is where in my most depressive states, I learned to be present and grateful for. I fell in love with hiking and felt a deeper connection to the earth, reminding me that we are stewards. Parks connect us to our ancestral roots. In the United States we have taken the parks for granted in our busy cities, they have allowed us to escape and remember to come back to ourselves. Having parks remain free is essential to give access to those who cannot afford to do so have the benefits and connection by raising it we are essentially causing a greater rift in socioeconomic inequality.

I fell in love with hiking and felt a deeper connection to the earth, reminding me that we are stewards.


Kiona from How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch

When people think of Texas, they think of cowboys, tumbleweeds, and a dusty flat desert. What most people don’t know is between Texas and Mexico lays a green, mountainous area where mountain lions, bears, and wild boars roam. In the morning as the sun rises, the rock lights up in every shade of pink and orange, peaking through abandoned adobe houses, and warming up the mud banks of the Rio Grande river. At night, the critters come out and hum to every single star in the sky. With no cell phone service, no light pollution, just pure nature, humans can revel in the connection we have with mother earth. But that’s not what makes Big Bend National Park America’s greatest treasure. Waking up to crystals and dolls placed around $7/night campsites by Mexican fairies before the sun wakes up, in a friendly cultural change that has existed in this area before there were borders is what truly makes this place special. This sacred ground, void of the animosity that exists only in the media, demands peace. Because here, everyone is the same, everyone is important, and we are all connected as one. There is no price for this.

You can’t really charge for the experience of human and earth connection. There is not a defined monetary value on nature. In addition, America is a melting pot of people that all should have access to these national parks. With an increase in yearly dues, we counteract what America stands for, a land for everyone. Do we really want to send the message that nature is now a privilege for the rich, not a right to the human soul? My answer is no. I’d take humanity over money, any day, but that’s just basic common sense.

You can’t really charge for the experience of human and earth connection.


Jessica from The Walking Mermaid

My family and I were planning on going to a few of these National Parks in the near future. As a family of 4 we were planning to drive as it is cheaper than flying and also renting a car. Now having to pay this steep increase in park fees our trip is going to be much harder to plan and take longer to save up for. Just getting in would be $70. Camping is even more on top of this entry fee. I don’t think it matters how beautiful the park is or the views but a family can’t afford to pay so much for one trip on top of all the other expenses such as gas, food, overnight stays, pet boarding, etc. especially when traveling across so many state lines just to reach one of these beautiful National Parks.

I think we should try other options first before thinking of charging such a steep cost to those who love the great outdoors and actually care and preserve it. Increasing the cost to these 17 National Parks will not increase the money coming in by a whole lot as many won’t be able to do the trip due to this steep fee. On the contrary, it will discourage many of even going to these parks due to the cost. I understand that they want to further care and preserve the parks for future generations but instead of increasing the cost of the park entrance and fees, maybe do an educational class or course as a requirement for everyone to be able to visit the park. Raising awareness will have more of an impact than discouraging our public of even going to these parks by overcharging them. The parks can even do fundraisers, pledge drives, gather donations, etc… to help reach any extra expenses that they may have for the year or even for any new plans for the park.

Raising awareness will have more of an impact than discouraging our public of even going to these parks by overcharging them.


Isabelle from Dominican Abroad

Photo taken by Isabelle at Zion National Park in Utah

Although a steep fee increase would help preserve and maintain our beautiful parks while alleviating their crowdedness, I think a 180% price increase is exorbitantly high and would go against the very purpose and essence of national parks: an opportunity for every American to enjoy their country’s nature. This includes Americans of all economic backgrounds. And the cost of $70 a day would simply be unreasonably high for a day or afternoon visit to a park.

Since the parks are for the American people, perhaps our government should alleviate the park’s budget deficit in order to ensure that Americans from all economic backgrounds can still access our natural wonders. Perhaps the increase could be more gradual to $30 a day, instead. Or maybe they could raise that price to tourists like many other countries do so that the local residents can still partake in their community’s nature. If these options aren’t possible, then perhaps they can enact a fee waiver program for individuals of lower economic means, assuming that the implementation of this type of program wouldn’t be too costly.

I think a 180% price increase is exorbitantly high and would go against the very purpose and essence of national parks: an opportunity for every American to enjoy their country’s nature.


A Traveling Translator

View from Acadia National Park. One of the parks set to have a fee increase in 2018.
Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park

I went to Acadia National Park in June 2017. I borrowed my father’s car, booked a camping site outside of the park in order to save money, brought my own food and paid the $25 fee to enter the park. I didn’t purchase an annual pass because I knew I would only be visiting one national park this year. Next year, I plan on visiting one too. But $70 to enter by car? Yes, I can afford it. Would I have been able to afford this fee 3 years ago when I was first introduced to hiking by a friend and I was a college student? Not at all. It would have been a valid deterrence and I simply wouldn’t have had the money for it. That’s why when I heard about the 2018 fee increase, I didn’t think just about me.

I’m worried about all the prospective lower-middle class families (and individuals) who see the national parks as accessible and educational become completely out of their reach. If you already have an annual pass, that means that you most likely go to different parks throughout the year and that you can afford to get this pass while traveling from state to state. The point of an entrance fee for non-annual pass holders is to allow for people to make a day trip or a trip for up to a week to see one park and the natural beauty of the United States. It’s for people like me, who don’t see the need of buying an annual pass because we can’t afford to go to more than one park per year. If this change is approved, the annual pass will remain $80 but it will cost $70 to enter ONE park by car if you are not a pass holder. How does this make sense? I hope the NPS reconsiders such a dramatic increase by maintaining the current fee. Pricing people out of their country’s national parks by raising the fee 180% will mean they won’t step into them or even get the opportunity to value them.


Don’t forget to write to the National Park Service by December 22, 2017.

You have a voice. Make it heard.


 

Victoria Alicia

52 comments

  1. Price hikes seem to be steep although you mention it would be relevant only for peak seasons. I think it would keep the crowds limited and that would improve the experience overall for visitors.

    I like the idea of getting a view on a policy change from various bloggers. It is a great way to give feedback to the authorities. Kudos to you for doing that.

  2. When I spent time in the US I was astounded that you have to pay to visit National Parks at all. Ours are mostly to visit here in Australia. Thanks for sharing this information.

  3. Wow that’s ridiculous, almost double the price? It’s a pity, I always think people in the US are so lucky they have all these amazing National Parks to go to, at stone’s throw from where they live (well, figuratively). We do not have such great nature anywhere close to where we live (Dubai). We wanted to visit the US and make a trip to a few of these parks next year. Seems like that’s going to be one expensive trip now.

  4. I think Joy and Jessica hit the nail on the head when they say that these price increases will hit low income Americans the most, those who can least afford expensive holidays, and who therefore benefit hugely from affordable options for getting back to nature and finding places to relax as a family. And for anyone, that resource of getting back to nature is restorative for the soul, and has been one of America’s great assets in my opinion as an outsider – it blows me away how extensive the network of national parks is and how accessible they are.

  5. 🙁 This is 100% a move to privatize our national parks. The NPS absolutely needs more money, maintenance needs to be done, and the parks listed do get too much traffic. But the answer is not a price hike. Fund our parks adequately with the federal budget and put an annual cap on visitation to the most popular parks to decrease erosion and the need for maintenance. Charging different prices for locals, nationals, and foreigners like Isabelle mentioned also makes sense.

    1. Totally my sentiments ! That’s what scares me the most, that it’s a first step to privatization by pushing the fee to such a high cost deters those that this would be a bigger price for from even trying to go!

  6. This is so upsetting. In my opinion, the National Parks Service is still America’s best idea!

    OK, let’s be real, nothing is free and parks do need funding — that’s for sure. However, it sucks that certain sectors are getting so much massive funding increases while worthwhile causes such as NPS and education are the getting huge cuts. Sounds unfair to me. It’s the low-income families who will really be affected by this.

    I have been buying the annual passes for sometime now and will continue to do so to support the NPS. I even have a badge on our website to direct people to donate to the National Parks Foundation. Victoria, I applaud you also for going the extra mile and getting other travel bloggers in on your advocacy. Please reach out to me if you need more people to help 🙂

  7. Thank you for bringing this to light!! I had no idea.

    You know what would be awesome? If the Republicans eliminated those ghastly tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and instead made National Parks affordable to all…

  8. So sad when these kind of changes affect low income households the most. I think it’s fine to let foreigners pay as I understand there is a cost to keep the parks open. And educating people on good behaviour in the parks is a good idea as well, although it would increase the costs

  9. I had heard about this as Rocky Mountain National Park is near where I live, and included in the listing of those impacted. Do you know if the free military pass is only for active duty, or for veterans as well?

  10. I had no idea that the fees were increasing in the parks. Some of those fee jumps seem quite substantial as well. There needs to be a way for people to enjoy these without fees – getting people outdoors is so important.

  11. Wow – that’s really enlightening. I grew up going to National Parks – and my experiences have indelibly been imprinted in my upbringing. I can only assume that the NPS needs the funding to pay staff and maintenance upkeep. However, one would think that the various government subsidies out there would support such an important American institution. Not everyone can afford these prices, esp. young families. Not being able to visit these American lands would be a shame. Thank you for sharing the link. Glad we still have a little bit of time to provide feedback.

  12. Cripes that is some serious inflation. I am already a little put off visiting the States currently because our pound is not exactly going very far, so the US is already more expensive for us than I am used to. I love visiting the NP too as that is one of the big draws for me and this might put me off visiting some of the parks….at least until the exchange rate improves

  13. Of course only people with less money and more kids will feel this the most. Maybe your government could invest less on other….plans and subsidize places like these so that everybody has the opportunity to enjoy the country 😉

  14. Wow, I’ve never been to any of the national parks but didn’t realize they are so expensive. I can’t blame them thou, maintenance must be crazy expensive…

  15. I guess that since the government has continued to cut funding to national parks, they don’t really have a choice but to recoup maintenance costs etc elsewhere. It’s such a huge increase though, and it will definitely mean that I’ll have to whittle back the list of parks that I can visit.

  16. I visited all 59 national parks in a year, ending our trip in 2016. I do fear that low-income, local families may be negatively impacted, but I think the fee increase is unfortunately necessary. Our national parks are very affordable. Of our 417 parks, only 118 charge an entrance fee. The 17 parks in question generate 70% of entrance fee revenue, and the proposed hike is aimed to increase revenue by 34%. It would make a huge impact. According to a law, 80% of entrance fee revenue must be used for maintenance inside that park (20% goes to maintaining parks that do not charge an entrance fee). And the maintenance of our parks has been a huge struggle with the extreme overcrowding in the last few years. There is a $12 billion maintenance backlog. When you compare visiting a national park to visiting a museum, or Disney World, or other travel ventures, it is extremely affordable. For families visiting from out of town or out of the country, I can’t imagine a $40 increase in entrance fee will be the determining factor – transportation and pricey lodging surrounding the parks are much bigger budget-breakers. Of course, it would be MUCH better if policies would change faster, the parks could receive more funding, and everyone could enjoy the most popular parks for free. The outdoors are a fundamental part of our country, and enjoying them has been made accessible through our 417 cheap or free national parks. I think this solution is an unfortunate but necessary one.

    1. Elizabeth, that’s so cool that you were able to visit all 59 parks! Congrats. I, on the other hand, don’t have the budget to do that. Since I live in the East Coast of the US, it would mean flying out to the West to where the majority of the parks are and renting a vehicle. What I did this year is drive 7 hours to Acadia National Park. I don’t see the point of having an annual pass fee that remains stagnant and increasing the entry price for people that go to one park per year or that already don’t have the means to get the annual pass….
      I think there are many solutions that could be done instead of pricing American families out of the parks. I responded to Caitlin’s comment below and don’t want to copy and paste, but in sum, there are many ways that we can conserve the parks and not increase the entry price so much. Hope you get a chance to read my thoughts below…

  17. Double the price seems like too much to ask for. Authorities must really think through before doing this. At one side we are promoting eco-tourism and wildlife tourism and on the other hand fee hike is not acceptable!

  18. Oh my. That’s a huge increase. But, I think it’s worth it. Hope that the prices go down after a while. But, also, aren’t National Parks supposedly funded?

  19. That is a huge price increase! When I did a US road trip, I got the annual pass for $80 which was good for four people in the car. Definitely worth it as we went to several parks. It’s strange how much it cost per day but there is no increase for the year. The US National parks are a treasure and should be accessible for all.

  20. These prices are really high!
    Imagine a low-income family with several kids… they will never be able to afford it!

    While I understand the need to preserve them, I think a bit more innovation is needed in order to come up with sustainable tourism plans.

  21. From what I have read it has been since 2006 for a lot of Parks to have any increase. The increase is high I agree, but what should of happened is a gradual increase throughout the years and maybe the work needed would of had the funds to fix before things got bad and more costly. You can’t just ignore something like the National Parks needing repairs and other work. It’s a shame that it has come to this.

    1. It is a shame that it has come to thus, but I do think there are other solutions. Hope you can contact the NPS and let them know what you think!

  22. I do understand where you are coming from, but personally, I think these price increases are needed.

    The entire park system in the USA saw a record 330 million visitors in 2016. And yet, most of our major parks, included the ones that are proposing price increases, need so much maintenance and repair. Trails that we hike, bathrooms that we use, and the work that goes into preserving a National Park (such as cleanup of foliage in the fall and controlled burns in the summer) all require so much money. And unfortunately, our country is in so much debt, there is no way our government can fund that.

    Other options I can think of are: keep the responsibility on the states that house these national parks. But even that would require state tax increases to fund the parks. So truly, that wouldn’t help either.

    Those like myself, and obviously you, that love visiting National Parks most often choose to get the $80 annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, and that price is not changing.

    The big issue I see here is that our National Parks are facing an $11 billion maintenance backlog. How are we going to get money to deal with the maintenance backlog? By upping the prices. It’s really not that huge of an increase.

    But! We all have different thoughts! Great post, Victoria!

    1. Hi Caitlin, thanks for commenting! I appreciate that we can respectfully disagree on this… Because I’ve had some nasty comments. So thank you for that, really!

      I completely understand where you’re coming from in regards to funding for the parks. And I’m all for funding them. But if the $11 billion maintenance backlog is going to be addressed by this increase, which the NPS mentions it will bring $70 million per year, the backlog will be addressed 160 years from now…. Also, the increase is actually a response to the budget cuts this administration announced not too long ago: $297 million.

      Like I mentioned in the article, I didn’t buy an annual pass this year and didn’t plan on buying one for next year. It’s not that I can’t afford the pass, it’s that I can’t afford to go to many national parks every year. I try to go to one per year based on my budget. Both you and I can afford $80, but not a lot of people can. I’ve reached out to those who live near Maine that have tweeted out that they won’t be able to drive out to visit their nearest national park because an additional $45 just to enter would be hard on them. Heck, it would mean more sacrifices for me too. But instead of increasing both the annual pass and the daily fee, they only targeted the daily one… It doesn’t make sense to me that they would limit those who might be going to a park for the first time or that already don’t have those yearly $80 to shell out. I didn’t have this money some years ago, and I don’t think that people should ever be priced out of their national parks. They are all Americans’ land and many won’t be able to afford them. Here are some ways that sites around the world make sure they don’t price out the people from their OWN country:

      You were in Costa Rica recently! If you go to Bahia Ballena National Park, locals pay $2 to enter and foreigners pay $6. In the Galapagos Island the cost breakdown is as follows: Ecuadorians pay $6, citizens of countries from the Andean Communities pay $25 and all other foreigners pay $100. I think we can learn from national parks around the world and how they make it a priority to make sure their citizens can enjoy it. A fee based on state residents, US residents, and one for tourists from other countries would be a way to prevent American families from being priced out.

      Like you mention, conservation is a huge factor. Many sites around the world, like Machu Picchu, focus on preserving lands in other ways, simply by limiting the amount of visitors altogether. I know that Dubrovnik is looking to do the same thing because it has become so popular…

      Like you mention, putting some of the responsibility on states could be part of the solution too! I honestly believe it can be a mix of things that don’t mean an 180% to daily entrance vehicle fee.

      I also think it’s funny that $20 billion will be spent in creating a wall in the next few years. A wall! We could just funnel those $20 billion in the parks instead. We’d actually have more than 8 billion left over. But of course, that’s another story…

      Again, thanks so much for respectfully disagreeing! Let’s hope that the NPS can come up with a solution that focuses on conservation and inclusiveness.

  23. I would not mind paying the higher fees if the money is actually reinvested into the conservation of he parks. How to ensure that though? Is there a way to track the financials anywhere?

    1. I can afford paying more too. But I know that a lot of families around the US wouldn’t be able to like us. And it doesn’t seem right that they would be priced out of public lands. And you’re right, even the Red Cross “loses” money sometimes…

  24. At first this sounds ridiculous, why double the price?
    I mean… yeah, I get it – parks need the money for maintenance and all, but as someone who has recently visited Ecuador & Galapagos (on a budget) I have observed a similar method there. Masses will be kept out by high prices to preserve the nature – that’s the plan at least. But I don’t think thats the way it works: Simply the less wealthy folks will be kept out… And this doesn’t mean that richer folks care that much more about nature… I’ve seen a lot of obviously liveaboard-folks on Galapagos litter. Damn, I really wanted to choke them back then… Also: What about folks from abroad wanting to visit the States? I don’t care about cities. I want to see nature. I always thought people in the US are lucky to have all these amazing national parks to go to – almost next-door.

    Yet: I can somehow understand WHY this is somehow nessesary: As someone reading up on foreign politics, I can remember that Trump administration did a very very low blow on national park funding… Not only that, they intend to shrink national monuments for (mining) business. Being pushed into a corner, national parks have to look desperately to get their money elsewhere… that is the visitors.
    Check out: https://www.google.de/search?q=national+parks+trump

    1. Hi Mario, I know a lot about the politics surrounding this, but I didn’t want this to be the focus of the post. I honestly just believe there are other ways to go about it than to price out American families. As a foreigner you had to pay $100 to visit the Galapagos, right? How did this fit in your budget? Did you know about that ahead of time or when you arrived? I would only pay $6 since I’m Ecuadorian. It’s how they make sure the residents of the country can catch a glimpse of the natural wonder of the islands… I would hope that the US would implement some type of plan along these lines…

      1. Hey again – I didn’t want to drag politics into this, but the article (and the commenting folks) saw the problem mainly in the NPS raising prices to keep the parks maintenance working – but the part about them having a hole in their budget that wasn’t caused by themselves was left out.
        About Galapagos: Indeed. Even the plane-ticket was more expensive than for an Ecuadorian who can get one for a fraction of the price I had to pay (at least that is what I heard of). A similar thing was on Java (temples Borobudur and Prambanan) where locals could get in for a far cheaper price than foreigners. And I can understand and support both cases fully – national parks and world heritage sites shouldn’t be only for “the elite”.
        The 100$ entry fee hit my budget really hard, and scuba diving on Galapagos isn’t cheap at all either – but as you can do lots of activities for free and you can spend less money on other things it kinda played out… (and you can do some free activities on the mainland – Quito seemed to me like an open-air museum, full of murals & graffiti 😉 )
        But I don’t think raising the prices just for foreigners will play out in the US, as the States as a whole isn’t much of a cheap country to travel to – travellers might think twice before visiting more than one national park.

  25. This is just as bad as colleges and universities increasing their tuition rates for low-income families. I was affected by this and I will never forget it. Now, facing an astronomical fee increase for a DAY pass is just too much. I understand the need to keep our parks well maintained and cared for but its also the duty of those entering the parks to keep it that way as well! While I agree there should be a fee increase, I do not agree for it to be 180% and it being the deciding factor whether people will visit the parks in the future. Theodore Roosevelt wanted to preserve, teach and enable everyone to enjoy our land and keep it from disappearing. By increasing the prices, it might as well disappear from the minds of many people. I’m shocked and angry that the NPS has proposed such a preposterous fee increase.

  26. I would never set foot in a national park at those prices, and i love exploring all that nature provides us as much as anyone else. I’m not buying the relationship between such a huge increase and their explanation of why …

  27. Wow that is quite a large increase. I wonder how this will affect attendance of the parks or if it will solve their maintenance issues. It a shame because visiting parks is usually a pretty inexpensive holiday that lots of people can afford.

  28. There has to be a cut off to the amount that can be increased. 180%is way too much. Hope they hear all the peoples pleas and take into consideration the amount to be increased.

  29. So my understanding is they have to increase the price. The trump administration has set up a committee to research how to sell the national parks to businesses for them to keep up and maintain.

    This increase is the national parks way of fighting back so that doesn’t occur.

    Also those 17 out of the over 400 national parks are the ONLY ones you pay to enter. The rest are free.

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