johnny November 9th, 2008
I know a lot of fulltimers swear by various camping club memberships to keep their camping costs down throughout the year, but at Hitek Homeless, our focus is on avoiding camping fees altogether. That being said, sometimes it is just more practical to stay in an established campground overnight and some sort of discount card sure would be nice.
Recently, we stopped over in a national forest and it was getting too late to be out looking for a campsite in the dark. The fees posted for this campsite were $5/day. You can’t beat that with a stick, right? Wrong! For the first time, I noticed that our America the Beautiful pass would allow us to camp for HALF PRICE somewhere.
Now, I happen to think this interagency pass is an excellent deal for folks that want to check out the national parks as they travel, so we picked one up while visiting the Wright Brothers memorial in Kitty Hawk, NC. At the time, we joked about buying an $80 pass to avoid paying an $8 entrance fee. But, you’ve got to remember that the interagency pass takes an all you can eat approach to entrance fees. It will get you and up to three other people into just about every federal area where they charge an entrance fee for free. This includes national parks, monuments and historic sites, forestry service, bureau of land management, bureau of reclamation and fish and wildlife sites as well as federal recreation lands.
The pass is good for a year, but try to buy it at the beginning of the month rather than the end as we did. I was a bit annoyed to see our pass punched to expire thirty days earlier than it would have if we’d bought it the following day. If you happen to be sixty-two or older, you qualify for a Senior pass which is $10 and does not expire. If you are permanently disabled, you qualify for an Access pass which is free and never expires.
You could buy a pass on the internet, but if you’re going to buy a pass with an expiration date, why bother when you can buy one from so many places where you’ll begin saving money immediately? Actually, if you’re planning to use it primarily as a camping discount card, go ahead and buy it on the internet, as many of the places where you can receive a camping discount do not sell passes.
Oh, yes, I did mention camping discounts, didn’t I? Here’s a treat for those of you that like camping on the water. All Corp of Engineer campgrounds accept the interagency passes and give a 50% discount on their camping rates. I was a bit disappointed to see that the COE had raised their rates significantly since our copy of Camping With the Corps of Engineers: The Complete Guide to Campgrounds Owned and Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was published. The COE is starting to approach the price of commercial campgrounds in a lot of cases, but 50% off puts it back in the bargain bin.
As long as we’re talking about federal lands, here’s a fun link to maps of the various federal lands. Pity they don’t cover state forests, parks and wildlife management areas as well, but at least the federal lands have more or less similar policies from state to state.
Oh, and lest I be castigated by completeists, I’d better mention the Volunteer pass. If you’re the kind of person that likes doing volunteer work, you can earn a ‘free’ Interagency pass by volunteering 500 hours to the federal agencies in the America the Beautiful program. Now, if you’re like me, 500 hours really seems like a lot of time for a pass with an $80 value. The one bright spot in this otherwise dismal news is that you could potentially volunteer these 500 hours as a campground host and get a free campsite and perhaps a small living stipend while working towards your ‘free’ interagency pass.