Government Provides Free Outdoor Recreation and Sightseeing for Disabled

by | Sep 24, 2014

Last Updated December 20, 2023
Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Disability Benefits

As summer ends and fall’s cooler weather approaches, federal workers, veterans and other U.S. citizens who have a medically determined disability should keep in mind that one of the many federal benefits they are due is free access to national parks and other federal recreation lands across the country.

After all, a day or long weekend out in nature during the crisp autumn days ahead may have therapeutic benefits for those who are dealing with the challenges of a disability.

Places an Access Pass Holder Can Visit

The Access Pass provides access at no charge to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by six federal agencies across the country. This includes 23 National Park Service properties in Washington, D.C., 13 in Texas and four in Kentucky – homes to the Harris Federal Law Firm’s three offices.

Pass holders also get free access to recreation sites operated by the:

This pass provides access to public lands for sightseeing, hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing and many other recreational pursuits.

Even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not issue the Access Pass, it does honor it, allowing pass holders to enjoy boating, fishing, camping and other activities at 422 Corps-managed lakes in 43 states.

How to Get an Access Pass

If you are an eligible disabled citizen, you can get the Access Pass in person, with proper documentation, from most federal recreation sites or offices. You can also apply for the pass by mail.

Some examples of acceptable documentation include:

  • Statement by a licensed physician
  • Document issued by federal agency, such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income
  • Document issued by a state agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

In addition to entrance fees, Access Pass holders get discounts on other recreation fees such as for camping, swimming, boat launching, guided tours and more.

Fees vary among the 2,000 sites covered. For example, entrance fees are charged at approximately one-third of the units administered by the National Park Service and range from a few dollars to $25, depending on the park.

Larger parks, like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, charge more. Smaller parks or parks that receive fewer visitors charge less.

On the other hand, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, which is the most heavily visited national park, has no entrance fee.

In most cases, the charge is per vehicle, but at some parks that must be entered on foot, the charge is per person.

The Access Pass admits the pass owner and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas and the pass owner plus three adults, not to exceed four adults, where per-person fees are charged.

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