Gold Star Families know the pain of Memorial Day, having lost an immediate family member in the line of duty to this nation.
The National Park Service and Defense Department’s Live Well Initiative are honoring these military families and their fallen loved ones with a lifelong gift: free admission to all national parks and many more of America’s federal recreation areas.
The Interagency Annual Military Pass was already available to active duty military members and their dependents. Last Veterans Day, the benefit was extended to veterans and Gold Star Families, indefinitely.
“With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting Veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veterans Day and every single day thereafter,” said then-Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.
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How to get free admission to national parks
Gold Star Families simply need to download and print a free access voucher, which they sign and either present upon arrival or place on their dashboard at unattended sites. By signing it, they self-certify they are “eligible next of kin (NOK) of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a qualifying situation, such as war, an international terrorist attack or a military operation outside of the United States while serving in the United States Armed Forces.”
The nearly full Flower Moon rises in the middle of the North Window Arch in Arches National Park in Utah on May 24, 2021. (Photo: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY)
Veterans can receive a pass by presenting one of the following forms of identification at a host of designated locations:
- Department of Defense identification card
- Veteran Health Identification Card
- Veteran ID card
- Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
The passes are nontransferable, but they cover admission for anyone traveling with pass holders in the same car or up to three other adults at sites with per person admission fees. Details can be found on the NPS website.
Admission to national parks is always free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have permanent disabilities. Fourth graders and their families can get in free through the NPS Every Kid Outdoors program. Through August, that program also covers fifth graders who may not have been able to visit last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Note, free admission does not guarantee entry, as some of the most popular national parks now require reservations.
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