Your whole family can get free access to National Parks by taking advantage of this unique program.
The National Park Service operates 419 different locations in the United States. Each park or National Monument offers unique insights into the history of our nation or the great outdoors in general. From the awesome wildlife of Yellowstone to the gorgeous vistas of the Grand Canyon, there is a lot for families to see and learn in these locations.
But did you know there's a program out there that grants free admission to these awesome locations for 4th graders and their families?
It's true. This relatively unknown program is called "Every Kid in a Park Program" and it's a great way to see America's public land gems and enrich the school year for children at the same time. Here's the lowdown on this awesome nationwide program.
What is the "Every Kid in a Park Program?"
If you haven't heard of this free pass program before, we're not surprised. It is still relatively new, having only been introduced in 2015. Every Kid in a Park was originally only supposed to run a few years but was signed on for another seven last March.
Basically, the idea is to give access to federal lands to students regardless of their family's financial situation. It's a one year-only deal for fourth-grade students. The program begins every year on September 1 and the passes are good for one full year until August 31st.
It's also not just NPS properties that participate. Other agencies that accept the pass include the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When you start looking at all the federal lands in your area, it's likely that opens a ton of recreational opportunities for kids and their parents! Here's hoping everyone's ready for some hiking!
There are a few catches to the program. Most notably, the child MUST be present WITH the voucher or pass to use it. In other words, no "borrowing" your kid or grandkid's pass for a weekend trip without them. You also can't lend it out to other children. The pass will cover a single vehicle with up to three adults.
The program also only covers entrance fees. That means if you want to take your child fishing at a paid boat launch, you'll still have to pay those launch fees. The Every Kid Program doesn't cover amenity fees, camping fees or special tours either. If you already have an annual National Park Pass, this program doesn't refund the cost of that pass.
How does a child get this pass?
It's very simple for children to get this pass. Fourth graders and home-school equivalents can start by visiting everykidinapark.gov. Once there, they simply must complete a short online activity.
We ran through it quickly just to see what it was. It was just an "adventure diary" that asks the child four short questions on what type of outdoor activity they'd like to participate in. It will probably take most kids less than three minutes to complete.
Once the student has done that, the free entry voucher can be downloaded and printed. It's important to print it because digital versions on a phone or tablet will not be accepted. The program's website also includes a section for educators where teachers can help generate passes for all their students. It's a great idea for a field trip to get kids participating in outdoors if you ask us.
In locations that require the National Park pass to be displayed in the vehicle, they specify to have the child's pass on the dash or hanging from the rearview mirror. The program's official website also says you can exchange the paper passes for more durable plastic ones at some participating locations. That's helpful if you're planning on visiting a lot of parks and National Forests with your child this summer.
Extension to 5th graders through 2021.
In 2020, we saw the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that caused many of our nation's National Parks to open later than normal. In late October, the Department of the Interior announced that Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed an order to allow 5th grade students and their families to have free access to National Parks through August 31, 2021.
This was to make up for the fact that many students may not have gotten a chance to fully take advantage of the benefits of their pass.
"Programming was limited at times for last year's fourth graders through the Every Kid Outdoors program, so we're allowing this year's 5th graders free access to our public lands throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. We hope these kids and their families take advantage of the incredible physical and mental benefits of getting outside and visiting a park, refuge or campground near them," Bernhardt said in a press release.
A great educational opportunity for kids
We love the idea behind this National Parks Pass. It's more than just a paper voucher for free entry to the best parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas out there. It's an opportunity for some real educational activity and a chance to instill a sense of wonder and appreciation for the outdoors in young people who may not have had much exposure to it previously.
Anything that gets more people exploring nature and away from TV and computer screens is a win in our book.
See the Every Kid Outdoors website for more information on this program, and to start planning the most epic summer vacation ever.