Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Travel Hacks : Federal Land Pass

There are many things you need while traveling that can be bought for cheap with the thought you can just beat them up along the way. But every so often you need to pay more to gain more. This is true of all sorts of equipment, many of which we'll get to later, but definitely includes passes.

One of those passes is the Federal Lands Pass. The $80 price tag might make you balk but it quickly saves you money, especially if your traveling out west. 

What this pass does is it gives you free entrance into any federal property that charges a fee. This includes US Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, Bureau of Land Management and others. It also gives you a discount on camping at many sites. 

At first that might not seem like a big deal, but if you look at the cost of just going to a few parks, it quickly pays for itself. Most national parks charge an entrance fee that covers you (or your vehicle depending on the park) going in and out for seven days. For many parks that fee is $20 if not more. If you plan to be there for a week then thats not a big deal, pretty low cost per day. But lets say you're planning a week in Utah and want to hit all the national parks in that beautiful state

Not everyone wants to spend seven days in
Death Valley, but it's well worth exploring
for at least a few hours. 
Just the entrance fees for all the national parks in Utah is $80, right there you could already break even just buying the pass. The pass also gets you cheaper camping at many federal campgrounds and it gives you the ability to go in and out of however many parks you like.

This lets you decide to pull into Mount Rushmore for fifteen minutes as you're driving through South Dakota or spend a Saturday afternoon at a historic battlefield near home without having to worry about staying in your budget. 

If most of your traveling during the year is going to be east of the Mississippi River getting a federal lands pass might have be the correct choice. There are less national parks in the east and some of them (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Great Smoky Mountains National Park) don't charge entrance fees. There are many national historic sites though, so if you're a history buff or if you live near one of the parks that does charge entrance fees it can still be worth it. It's all about making it easier to decide to go explore somewhere.

Since there are more national parks out west and lots more federally owned land (national forests, national wildlife refuges, etc) having the pass can make travel much simpler since you get to make the fun decisions (where) instead of the hard decisions (how much your willing to spend). You can buy a pass online or at most National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks. 

State Parks With/Without Entrance Fees
Green = With
Gray = Free
Orange = Depends
(Arkansas varies by park,
Montana is free to residents)
Chances are that having a state parks pass has the same, if not more benefits then a federal lands pass. State parks are probably your best bet for local camping, hiking and learning about local history. While not all states charge entrance fees for their parks if they do picking up a pass makes taking advantage of these parks much easier to do on the spur of the moment. If you don't have to pay that entrance fee every time you're much more likely to come back to the same parks and get to know your local area better, which is fantastic! If you're a birder this can be a big deal as well, since you might not spend a lot of time in any one park, and will want to visit several in the same day or weekend. If you don't have a pass this can add up quickly. So support your local state parks and grab an annual pass if your state offers one (most of them do, more details on individual states here).

All of this comes down to the fact that passes make travel an easy decision, which makes exploring easier. Easier exploring is the ultimate goal so you can spend as much time as possible out enjoying the outdoors. 

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