Every Kid Outdoors: Family Guide To The National Parks

If you have a fourth-grader you likely understand the need to get them out into the great outdoors. Thankfully our National Park System agrees and has created the Every Kid Outdoors program. This past year we took advantage of this program and visited 15 National Parks in a month. We were so thankful to get into all of them for free due to the Every Kid Outdoors pass. It was an amazing experience and we hope to encourage other families to do the same.

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How Does Every Kid Outdoors Work?

Originally referred to as Every Kid In A Park, the program name was changed to Every Kid Outdoors in 2019. Every Kid Outdoors is a National Park System program that provides 4th-grade students free entrance into over 2,000 federal lands and waters. The pass provides fourth graders the opportunity to explore and learn about US wildlife, history, and resources. The pass admits all children under 16 and all adults in up to one non-commercial passenger vehicle. It also covers standard amenity fees at National Parks, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers sites. The pass is valid for the school year and expires at the end of August. So for the 2021-2022 school year the pass is valid September 1, 2021-August 31, 2022.

Who Qualifies For The Every Kid Outdoors Pass?

The Every Kid Outdoors Pass is available for all 4th-grade students (homeschool and free-choice students included).

Boy holding Every Kid Outdoors 4th grade National Park pass
Our son with his fourth-grade pass

Why Fourth Graders?

When we took our trip out West I joked that the park service must know how interesting (and I use that term loosely 🙂 fourth graders are and that is why they chose fourth graders for this honor. In reality, a study was done that showed that children ages 9-11 are at the prime age to begin learning about the world around them. It was thought that this openness would provide the perfect opportunity for students to explore and learn more about our nation’s history and connect with nature. We found this to be true with all of our children. The opportunity to explore the parks was something I think they will never forget. They learned so much not only about the sites we visited but they also made beautiful connections with nature and the people they encountered.

How Do You Get a 4th Grade National Park Pass?

To get the pass for your child head over to everykidoutdoors.gov. Next, there will be a short activity for your child to complete and then they will be presented with a printable voucher. Print the voucher as electronic versions will not be accepted. Finally, head out to your favorite park. Once you arrive at the park show your printed voucher to the ranger. In our experience, the ranger typically asks to see the fourth-grader. Have your fourth grader give a little wave. Depending on which park you attend, on your first visit they may replace your paper pass with a plastic Every Kid Outdoors pass as pictured above. You may now use this plastic card to get into the other parks you visit. If there is no ranger present simply place your pass on the dashboard of the car.

Who Gets In Free With The Pass?

If you enter a park that charges a per vehicle fee, the pass covers all children under 16 and all adults in one vehicle. If your party happens to be arriving in two vehicles, sorry you are a little out of luck. Only the vehicle with the pass holder will be admitted free. The other vehicle in your party will need to pay the standard admission fee. Commercial vehicles cannot use a pass to get in.

For parks with a per person fee, the pass will cover all children under 16 years of age and up to three adults. The same is true if you are entering a park by bicycle.

What Is Not Included In The Every Kid Outdoors Pass?

The Every Kid Outdoors pass will provide huge savings for your family. However, please do not assume everything is included in the pass. The pass does not cover things such as camping, special tours, boats, and parking fees. Some parks are managed privately and therefore they may not accept the pass. It is best to always check the park website or contact the park before visiting to see if they honor the Every Kid Outdoors pass. In addition, the pass cannot be used at local, city, or state parks and recreation areas unless they say they accept the pass.

What If I Lose 4th Grade National Park Pass?

If you or your child losses their pass you can simply go back on the Every Kid Outdoors web page and complete the activity to receive your new voucher.

What If I Don’t Qualify For The Every Kid Outdoors Pass?

If you don’t have a fourth grader never fear there are other options for you to receive a discounted pass as well. There is an annual pass available for $80 which will provide significant savings for your family. You can purchase an annual pass in person at many of the National Parks (you can check where by visiting this website). You can also purchase an annual pass online at the USGS site. Finally, you can call 888-ASK USGS at extension 2 to purchase an annual pass.

The Military Pass provides a free annual pass to current US military members and their dependents, US military veterans, and Gold Star family members. Be sure to check the requirements before going to pick up your military pass to be sure you have the necessary proof.

For residents 62 or over there are two choices: Senior Annual Pass and Senior Lifetime Pass. The Senior Annual Pass can be purchased for $20 and the Senior Lifetime Pass can be purchased for $80.

The Access Pass is a free annual pass available for US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.

Picture of National Park sign at Mount Rushmore National Memorial park

Planning A Trip To A National Park With Kids

You have the voucher and now it’s time to start planning. It can be a little overwhelming to plan a trip to the National Parks due to there being so many to choose from. Here we will share the tips and steps to help use your Every Child Outdoors pass to the fullest extent.

Which parks to visit?

So before you can get into the nitty-gritty of your planning you definitely will want to do your research and learn more about the National Parks. A great site to help you plan is findyourpark.com. This site allows you to sort results by state, activity, park name, or zip code. Another great resource to look into is books made about the National Parks. We suggest Moon USA National Parks or National Geographic National Parks of the US to help you plan. If you are looking for some humor along with helpful information, Amber Share’s Subpar Parks might be right up your alley! Another great book that would allow your kids to help in the planning is America’s National Parks.

Once you have decided which parks you would like to visit it’s time to do a little more research. While I would normally suggest flying by the seat of your pants like our family did on our trip out West, things have changed with some of the National Parks. Depending on when you are reading this, you may need to see if you will need tickets to get into the National Park of your choice. Currently, some of the parks are so overcrowded that they are requiring reservations some are using a lottery system. Each park is different in how they handle this so it is best to do your research before you make any kind of reservations.

Another thing to take into consideration is the season you are traveling in. Some parks are only open at certain times of the year or on certain days of the week. Be sure to research online or contact the particular park you are looking into visiting to be sure they will be open when you plan to visit.

Picture of tent in sunset at Craters On The Moon

Where will you stay?

In the past, unless you were traveling in the high traffic season of the parks you didn’t necessarily need a hotel and or camping reservation ahead of time. However, we have seen this year how different events can change the way people travel. COVID brought about an influx of visitors at the National Parks and therefore the necessity to plan ahead. Of course, there are a lot of options to consider when choosing the best accommodations for your family.

Our family traveled in our van and did a lot of primitive and National Park camping. If I had to do it over again I would make the same choice. It was such an amazing way to experience the National Parks. It was also a way to not be so rigid in our planning. If you are interested in this type of travel be sure to check out our article, Top 30 Best Family Camping Gear. If you’d rather watch a video about it check out our video here.

Most National Parks have camping available right at the park. Of course you will need to inquire ahead of time to see if it is first come first serve or if a reservation is required. We were used the app ioverlander which was a great resource to find free primitive camping spots. There are several apps available that will tell you where local paid RV and tent camping options are available. Some of these apps include the dyrt, hipcamp, and recreation.gov.

If hotel stays are more of your jam then I highly recommend TripAdvisor. Trip Advisor is my go-to for researching the best hotels for the most reasonable prices. While I typically choose to book directly with the hotel, I use TripAdvisor to help me determine the best stay for our family.

Once You Arrive

You printed your Every Kid Outdoors pass, you planned the trip, and now all that’s left is visiting the park. The following are things you will want to take into consideration when visiting a national park.

Proper Shoes & Clothing

One thing we learned during our time in the National Parks is the necessity to have proper shoes and clothing. Many of the National Parks (especially out West) include hiking on some slippery and rough terrain. In my research for the perfect shoes for our trip I found Altras. I purchased the Women’s Altras as well as Youth Altras. We were really impressed with how light the Altras were and the traction they provided.

The clothing you will pack will depend on the park you are visiting and the time of year you are visiting. I would definitely recommend having a lightweight jacket that can double as a raincoat as well. This is the jacket I had for myself and my children had one similar to this. Socks are a really important part of your wardrobe as it can determine the difference between getting blisters or not. I purchased the smartwool kids light for my kids and my children had no complaints.

Snacks & Water

Anyone that has kids knows that this is probably the most important thing you will bring with you. Staying hydrated is important and especially if visiting during the summer months. We recently purchased Takeya water bottles and we have really enjoyed them. I purchased the 16 ounce for the kids and I carry the 40 ounce.

One thing you don’t want to have when visiting a National Park is a hungry child. Here are some great snacks that will not only satisfy hunger but also provide energy to help you make it through the day. Trail mix is an all-time favorite of our family. My children and husband are also big fans of beef jerky. Finally, you might consider some dry fruit as a tasty snack for your family.

Visit The Ranger

The ranger station and/or visitor center is a great way to start your visit to the park. They will provide you a map of the park and often give you special tips of must-see places. While visiting the ranger be sure to ask if they have a Jr Ranger program. My children really loved the Junior Ranger Program and the opportunity to earn badges at the different parks. It is also a great opportunity for them to learn more about the park they are visiting.

Now you know how to get your Every Kid Outdoors pass and tips for visiting the National Parks what are you waiting for? Sign up today and start exploring! If you enjoyed this article we’d love for you to share it with your friends! Stay Peachy!

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