With prices on the rise, free and discounted passes can help ease the cost of travel.
There are several options, including the Every Kid Outdoors Pass, The America the Beautiful National Park Pass, and the Michigan Activity Pass.
Permit for every child in nature
The Gawel family of Monroe visited several national parks with the Every Kid Outdoors Pass, provided by the National Park Service.
The program saved the family about $200 in admission fees. The free pass is available to all fourth graders.
Steve and Laura Gawel and their children, Alex, 16, and Bekah, 11, learned about the Every Kid Outdoors Pass years ago, but qualified again last summer when Bekah was in fourth grade.
“I first heard about it when my son was in the sixth grade. When we were looking for a family vacation a few years later, I remembered the program and went looking for more information,” said Laura. “Applying for the program was really easy.”
Bekah just had to answer a few questions online about the places she would like to visit.
“It allowed her the ability to feel like she had a role to play in planning these vacations, which made her more interested in what we saw,” Laura said. “At the end of the survey, you get a page to print that has the entry coupon for the program. We presented that voucher at the first park we visited and they gave us an ID card that worked at all the other parks we visited.”
The pass provides free admission to the fourth grade student. In some cases, the entire family was admitted to the park for free, Laura said.
Gawels went to the Great Plains with the passage.
“We decided to take advantage of several national parks in the Upper Great Plains. We started by visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, then spent a few days in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We drove south from Yellowstone and spent a day and a half exploring Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. After that, we headed back east, visiting Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It was a really special time for our family,” said Laura.
She said the family only took the trip because of the per-kid outdoor permit.
“We wouldn’t have gone on this trip. Having the pass gave us the incentive to go and it was fun planning a trip seeing how many national parks and monuments we could visit in one trip,” said Laura. “This was a great way to get our family to visit the country national. park and give our kids a chance to see some of the amazing gifts nature has to offer.”
The Every Kid Outdoors Pass is accepted at 2,000 federal recreation areas. Next year’s season starts in September.
“No matter where you live in the United States, there is a place within two hours of your home,” the National Park Service said.
America’s Beautiful National Park Pass
The McCarty family of Monroe saved about $100 this summer with The America the Beautiful National Park Pass, also offered by the National Park Service.
The pass costs $80 a year and provides free entry for up to four adults to more than 2,000 national parks and federal recreation sites. Children aged 15 and over are admitted free.
Scott and Jenn McCarty bought the permit earlier this year. They have two sons, Brian, 10, and Harrison, 8.
“We actually just finished a two-week trip to Utah and Arizona where we visited Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Capital Reef, Canyonland and Arches National Parks,” Jenn said.
The family has a fourth grader, but chose the America the Beautiful National Park Pass instead of the free Every Kid Outdoors Pass, as it offered free admission to more family members and lasted longer.
“Even by buying the permit, we saved money. We visited six national parks this summer. Entry fees for all six would have cost us about $185, so we saved about $100 by pre-purchasing the annual pass,” Jenn said.
Michigan activity permit
Anyone with a Monroe County Library System library card can check out a Michigan Activity Permit.
The pass offers discounted admission to museums, theaters, historic sites, science centers and other sites in the state, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Yankee Air Museum, Hidden Lake Gardens and the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills.
Some attractions offer free admission, while others offer free admission or gift shop discounts.
“Now they also offer portable permits,” said Barbra Krueger, community outreach coordinator for MCLS.
MCLS has offered the permit since 2013. It is available through the Library Network.
“I’ve always believed that your library card is the key to unlocking a world of adventure. Our partnership with Michigan Activity Pass is just another example of the unlimited potential of your library card,” said Krueger.
The Michigan Activity Pass is a well-used program. In June, 864 reservations were made by Michigan library patrons.
For more information, visit https://mymcls.com/michigan-activity-pass/.
National Park Service Junior Ranger Badge
Visitors to US national parks can participate in the Junior Ranger Badge program.
“Participants in the program can receive a free brochure with information and activities. The materials are aimed at children ages 5-12, but anyone can participate, even adults,” reported a recent Gannett story.
To receive a badge, participants must complete the activities in the booklet. Activities can include puzzles, collecting information from a landmark, or doing a good deed.
River Raisin Battlefield National Park in Monroe began its Junior Ranger Badge program in 2013, during the bicentennial of the January 1813 battles, said Jami Keegan, chief of interpretation, education and volunteers.
“The program builds on our exhibitions and programs,” she said. “Anyone who visits the Battlefield Visitor Center can participate and earn a badge.”
Since 2013, more than 6,500 have completed the program.