An America the Beautiful Annual Pass (also known as the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands, or interagency pass) covers your vehicle when you park and kayak from the sites along the Lower Salt River. And because it is such a great deal, it’s a common
Unfortunately, there are scant few places in metro Phoenix where you can physically buy an America the Beautiful pass in person. It’s not uncommon for locations to be sold out of the passes—especially during peak travel times—so be sure to call and verify before you count on picking one up.
|REI Paradise Valley||Phoenix||602-996-5400|
|BLM Arizona State office||Phoenix||602-417-9200|
|BLM Phoenix District office||Phoenix||623-580-5500|
|Tonto NF – Cave Creek District office||Scottsdale||480-595-3300|
|Tonto NF – Main office||Phoenix||602-225-5200|
|Tonto NF – Mesa District office||Mesa||480-610-3300|
Other Arizona locations
If these locations are sold out, you can always purchase one at one of the other sales locations in Arizona, which includes most national park sites where admission fees are charged. I prefer to buy mine at one of these sites, as the site gets to retain of portion of the sales price for its local operations.
You can also order passes online at USGS or REI. Keep in mind that there is no digital download available and an order confirmation is not considered valid proof. So if you order online, you’ll have to wait for your pass to be physically delivered to you before you can use it.
How to get free passes
You can get a free annual pass if you are:
- currently serving in the US Military (or a dependent of someone who is)
- a 4th grade student in the US
- a federal public lands volunteer who has contributed at least 250 hours
What the America the Beautiful pass covers
It’s hard to overstate how great of a deal this pass is—for $80 a year, it covers the pass holder and accompanying passengers (in a single, private, noncommercial vehicle) to enter all participating Federally-operated recreation sites across the country. That includes, notably, virtually every National Park unit in the country, where admission fees can cost as much as $30 per vehicle. At sites where per-person admission fees are charged, the pass allows for free entry for the pass holder and three accompanying adults age 16 or older (no entry fees are charged for those under 16 years of age).
Take special note that this pass does not cover additional fees, such as camping, guided tours, motorized boat launches, concessionaire fees, or some recreation sites with so-called “enhanced amenities,” so be sure to research ahead on recreation.gov before relying on the pass. In spite of these exceptions, this is an excellent way to save money while recreating on federal public lands.
Also keep in mind that this pass covers federal public lands only, so it doesn’t cover admission into any state parks. Similarly, Arizona State Park or Maricopa County annual passes do not cover parking at any of the recreation areas along the Lower Salt River.
This pass, like the senior and access passes, is nontransferable and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen. There are two signature blocks on the backside of the card, and photo identification is often required when you show the pass (but the two signors do not have to be related or married to share a card). If you’re parking in a recreation area along the Lower Salt River, you’ll simply need to hang it from your rearview mirror with the back side visible (which shows the expiration month), so no identification is required. A card hanger is included with purchase, but if you lose yours, I recommend sticking it at the base of the driver’s side window, with the back side facing out.
In previous years, there was substantial confusion, even among some Tonto National Forest rangers and staff, on whether the America the Beautiful pass covered kayakers on the Salt River. As a result, quite a few kayakers had been mis-told (and some even ticketed) for using an America the Beautiful pass in the past. However, that confusion was finally remedied and everyone now seems to be on the same page—the America the Beautiful annual pass is indeed accepted at all the Lower Salt River recreation sites.