For a number of years, we’ve been privileged to purchase a National Parks annual pass. That means that for $80, we can visit any national park site as often as we’d like for a whole year. Since we have a 9 year old this year, we were super excited to get a free 4th grade National Parks pass for the first time!
The way the program is set up can be a bit confusing, so here’s how we got our free pass. We want as many people to take advantage of this free National Parks pass as possible, so if you haven’t already, go get your 4th grade pass ASAP!
This post about the 4th grade National Parks pass contains affiliate links, but all opinions are 100% my own. That means I earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, but doesn’t change your price.
What is the 4th Grade National Parks Pass?
The National Park Service defines the program as, “A federal public lands youth initiative to get all 4th graders and their families to experience the places that are home to our country’s natural treasures, rich history, and vibrant culture.”
Basically, the Every Kid Outdoors program is a way to provide free access to National Parks and other federal recreation sites to every 4th grader in the country, along with their families. It removes some of the financial barrier for learning about natural resources and taking advantage of the gift of federal lands and recreation and opens up the option to more children and families.
Especially as many students learn about state history during 4th grade, it’s an opportunity to dig into outdoor resources, conservation, indigenous usage, and to especially welcome more Black and brown families to the outdoors. We’ve loved recently exploring Big Bend (we loved the Fossil Bone exhibit!) and Gateway Arch, both of which have fee areas that we could enter for free.
Who Can Get A Free Every Kid Outdoors Pass?
Any 4th grade student in the U.S. (including homeschooled students and free-choice learners who are 10 years old). The pass is good for the student plus any others in the same (private, non-commercial) vehicle. At sites with a per-person fee, the pass covers the child and up to 3 accompanying adults (no fee for kids 15 and under).
Just make sure that the pass owner (the 4th grade child) is present – he or she must be there in order for you to use the free National Parks pass!
How Long Is the NPS 4th Grade Pass Valid?
The pass is valid from September 1st of the 4th grade year through the following August. However, we’ve also had rangers who didn’t question giving the pass a few weeks early (since our school had already started and our child was already a 4th grader). Either way, it’s at least a year of visiting National Parks for free!
Where Can We Use National Parks Pass for 4th Graders?
The pass is valid at any NPS sites. You can also use it at Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and BLM sites. This doesn’t apply to “expanded amenity fees” – things like camping, boating, etc.
How Do I Get My Free 4th Grade National Parks Pass?
Finally and most importantly, here’s how to get your pass! It’s a pretty straightforward process.
- First, head to the Every Kid Outdoors website.
- On the website, fill out a very quick activity with your child. Even if you haven’t visited any NPS sites previously, you can fill in what your hopes are for using the free National Parks pass.
- Fill out your child’s information.
- PRINT OUT the confirmation. You WILL NOT be able to get an official pass with a digital confirmation. The rangers must mail in the confirmation, so they must have a printed copy. Print it right away and stick it in your wallet so you don’t forget!
After you’ve printed out your confirmation, you can take the printout with you the next time you visit any of the sites on this list. It’s huge, so the site you’re visiting can likely issue a pass, but it’s always helpful to double check.
Once you’ve handed them your confirmation, the ranger will likely ask to see your child. Then they’ll give you a physical 4th grade annual pass card and have your child sign the back of the pass. You’ll need to bring this physical card with you any time you’d like to enter a site for free – a copy or photograph won’t work (and you won’t be able to get reimbursed if you forget it), so make sure you keep it with you. We like to leave ours in the car so we don’t forget it!
From there, you’re free to use the pass as much as you’d like for the next 365 days! It’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the natural resources, history, and culture of our country.
Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments!
Types of Sites with the Free National Parks Pass for Kids
Here are some of our very favorite parks!
- Rocky Mountains National Park – see elk, bears, and incredible mountain lakes and vistas
- Glacier National Park – see the glaciers before they recede too much, see glacial lakes and historic lodges
- Yosemite National Park – iconic views of Half Dome and El Capitan (here’s our ultimate guide to Yosemite with kids)
- Haleakala National Park – nothing quite like the views from this Hawai’ian National Park (here’s how to spend a day on the road to Hana with kids)
- Zion National Park is one of our all-time favorites. The vistas cannot be beat. (Here’s a winter visit to Zion.)
- Indiana Dunes National Park – one of the newest and so fun with beautiful beaches on Lake Michigan
- Congaree National Park – incredible swampland and creatures
- Acadia National Park is a perfect mix of water/beach and mountains/hiking. Something for everyone!
- White Sands is the newest National Park and the sand dunes are nothing short of spectacular. So fun for kids!
- Arches National Park has unbelievable natural formations
- Big Bend National Park has rock formation and desert colors like nowhere else
- Death Valley National Park sounds like it wouldn’t be fun at all but there are SO many things to do with kids and there is stunning beauty all around
Parks We’re Anxious to Visit
- Olympic National Park has been on our list for a while – it looks stunning!
- Everglades is top of our family’s list
- Denali National Park may be our #1 National Park we’re hoping to visit – such a different world
- Virgin Islands National Park – my little swim lovers would be in heaven here!
- The San Francisco Maritime site is one of our favorite things to do in San Francisco with kids
- Here’s a full list of sites where you can use the pass
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