Fourth-Graders and Their Families Get in Free to U.S. National Parks

24 Jun Fourth-Graders and Their Families Get in Free to U.S. National Parks

Rivoli-Yosemite-view-every-kidIf you have a fourth-grader in the house, or a future fourth-grader in the wings, you may want to revisit your family’s travel bucket list to see the national parks left on it. Thanks to the new “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, all fourth-grade students—along with anyone in their car (or traveling party)—can get into all U.S. national parks for free from September of their fourth grade year through the end of August in the summer that follows.

Better still, the “Every Kid in a Park” pass gives fourth-graders and their families free access to all federal lands and waters as well. Historic sites and monuments, volcanoes, natural arches, swamps, mountains, geysers and waterfalls await. And registering for the pass is quick and easy at

But will the Every Kid in a Park pass really get more kids and families into our national parks than would go otherwise? It’s debatable. Many of our national parks and monuments charge no entrance fees to begin with. And of those most popular parks that do, what is a $30 entrance fee to Yosemite ($25 in winter), for example, compared with the costs of gas, food and lodging that may be needed for the trip there and back?

There’s also the not-so-minor detail that several national parks can be accessed only by a third party’s transportation, which is not covered by the Every Kid in a Park pass. Paying for all members of a family to get to Alcatraz, the Channel Islands, or Dry Tortugas by ferry is not exactly cheap.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing like the power of suggestion—and a firm timeline—to prompt those with good intentions to get an actual game plan together. Once I explained the new pass to my fourth-grader, who already has a shining collection of Junior Ranger badges from many of the National Parks she’s visited, it was clear that I’d better get to work on that next summer road trip to make the most of it.

With any luck, others in the travel trade may take note of the free-park-pass-toting fourth-graders (and their cash-wielding families) and we’ll see additional incentives from beyond the National Park Service. Just a few months into this new initiative, the Badger Pass Ski Area at Yosemite National Park has already jumped on the bandwagon by offering a free lift ticket and 25 percent of rentals and ski lessons to all fourth-graders who present their Every Kid in a Park pass. Their families will also receive a 25 percent discount on lift tickets, lessons, and rentals.

For more details about the Every Kid in a Park pass, visit And for help deciding which parks you most want to visit before your kids leave the nest, take a look at

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Shelly Rivoli is the Adventure Collection’s Family Travel columnist. She has traveled with young children by airplane, Metro, ferry, train, elephant and long tail boat. Her revised and expanded guidebook “Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler” received both a Lowell Thomas Award and a North American Travel Journalists Association Award. Shelly founded a decade ago and has blogged there since 2007, receiving many accolades along the way. Recently, she created a second site,, which focuses on travel with school-age children, of which she now has three.
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