How Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Kids Can Score a Free National Parks Pass for the Whole Family

by Natasha Gabrielle | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on June 1, 2021

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An adult and three kids wearing backpacks and hiking through a sunny forest.

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Fourth- and fifth-grade kids can explore the outdoors with this fun, free pass!

As the world begins to open up more, you may be looking for some outdoor family fun in the spring and summer months. The good news is you may be able to take advantage of some free outdoor adventures -- that is, if you have a fourth- or fifth-grade child.

Through the month of August, fourth- and fifth-grade kids can score a free national parks pass to visit all federal parks, lands, and waters for free. Keep reading to learn more about this program and how it can help you have some fun without depleting your bank account.

Every Kid Outdoors wants more kids to adventure among nature

Every Kid Outdoors is an initiative put together by various national organizations, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The program urges more kids to get outside and explore the country's varied landscapes. Encouraging kids to play outdoors not only keeps them active but provides a unique learning experience.

Each year, Every Kid Outdoors offers free passes to fourth-grade students and the equivalent homeschooled kids. These passes give them access to federal parks, lands, and waters. That includes national parks. All kids have to do is complete a short activity online, and then they can request a pass. Educators and parents can also request passes for their kids.

Once a student has a pass, they can present it to get free access to federal lands. These passes are available at the start of every school year. The current program runs from September 1, 2020, through August 31, 2021.

Why is the program aimed at fourth graders? According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, research indicates that children ages 9-11 are at a developmental stage that allows them to better understand the world around them. The Every Kid Outdoors program wants to ensure every child in the United States has the opportunity to visit Federal land and waters by the time they reach 11 years of age.

This year, fifth graders can get a pass too

While the program is usually only open to fourth graders, many kids now in the fifth grade didn't get to use their passes last year due to the pandemic. For that reason, Every Kid Outdoors is offering the pass to both fourth- and fifth-grade kids through August 31, 2021. Students of all ages faced challenges during the pandemic, so this is an excellent way for some kids to get back out and have some outdoor fun.

This year's fifth graders will receive the same benefits as fourth graders and can use the pass to get into federal parks, lands, and waters.

Here's how the pass works

Here's how entry will work:

  • If you visit a site that charges entry per person, this pass will admit all children under the age of 16 and up to three adults for free.
  • If you visit a site that charges a vehicle entry fee, the pass admits all children under 16 and all adults in one passenger vehicle. Commercial vehicles can't use the pass.
  • If you arrive by bike, all children under 16 and up to three adults on bikes can get in for free.

When you show up to a federal park, land, or water, show your pass to a ranger. If there is no ranger, leave your pass on the dashboard of your car.

Since the pass covers other children and some adults, this provides an easy way to make your summer more fun. Plus, you can take advantage of savings for the whole family. Many parents are looking for family-friendly frugal activities to enjoy during the pandemic. Family vacations and trips can quickly become expensive, so this is a nice way to save on summer travel costs. And check out this resource for four more options to help you plan an inexpensive summer vacation.

Important details about the free pass

The pass does come with some rules and exclusions:

  • You must present a paper pass. No electronic copies will be accepted.
  • The pass can't be transferred to anyone else.
  • No refunds are offered if you forget your pass and need to pay the park entry.
  • Only fourth and (this year only) fifth graders are eligible for a pass.
  • For the year 2021, the pass expires on August 31, 2021.
  • The pass doesn't cover parking or camping fees, or boat or tour costs.
  • Some privately operated sites may not accept the pass.

This pass offers an excellent opportunity to have fun as a family. Get outside this spring and summer and adventure with your kids. You can create unforgettable memories while soaking up the sun and exploring new places.

And if you're looking for more ways to stretch your dollar further and put your money to good use, check out our personal finance resources.

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