The National Park Service’s Senior Pass is one benefit of getting older. If you are over age 62, the pass allows holders to enter parks free of charge. If you drive a car, the whole carload gets in without paying. So youngsters, make friends with the elderly! Currently the pass costs $10 and is good for your lifetime. Effective at the end of this month, August, the price is scheduled to go up to $80.
Because the price is going up dramatically, so has demand, as seniors flock to buy the passes before the increase. You can buy passes online for an additional $20 processing fee, but it is unclear what price you will pay if your request isn’t processed until after August. With the defunding of government and parks, staff is struggling to keep up.
You can also buy a pass in-person by proving your age with a driver’s license at a park that sells the passes. Problem is, not all parks sell passes, and many of those that do are sold out.
I stood at one such sold out park and watched a senior citizen berate a poor park ranger for not having the passes to sell. His diplomatic skills got a good workout. “The government ought to send out extras when they know the demand is going to go up drastically!” “You should take names and keep a list of those requesting passes before Aug. 31 so they can get the $10 price once cards are re-stocked.” Shout as much as you will, park rangers cannot sell you what they don’t have.
I personally wanted to buy passes for my wife and myself, although it is probably not necessary as we usually travel together. Still, if I were to die first, my card would no longer be valid. Armed with my wife’s proof of age, I found out the hard way that she has to be there personally to get a pass. I went looking for a place to buy the pass in the Dallas area. There are lists online of parks that have the pass. I called ahead to get directions. Of the first three parks that I called, two had recordings which said they were out of passes. The third directed me to one of the first two.
Information on the web about where to buy passes is unreliable. Call ahead. Chances are good the park will not have passes.
I finally found a pass for sale at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, a great park outside Sherman on Lake Texoma. Plan to spend time to see the park if you go.
That left getting a card for my wife still on the to-do list. On a recent trip southward, we headed to the Mammoth National Monument outside Waco, just a little way off I-35. We were disappointed to learn that they do not sell the pass. Even if you have a pass, this park still charges, as their fee is for a tour and entrance to an exhibit hall, technically not to the park, which is open to all.
The Mammoth Park had a brochure and directions to a nearby park that was supposed to have the pass. I called ahead; the phone was answered! They did not have passes, but directed me to yet another nearby park. We got the pass, but it took about an hour longer than we had planned.
It may be hard to find a $10 pass available for sale. But patience and persistence will likely pay off, especially if you are willing to go the extra mile.