Park Service Wants to Raise Entrance Fee to $70

The cost to enter top 17 national parks would in some cases more than triple

National parks have a maintenance problem. There’s a backlog of $11.3 billion in fixes to roads, trails, and other infrastructure that the National Park Service wants to address. The solution, says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is to charge more at the premier parks, and the NPS is proposing raising the entrance fee to $70 in the high season. This would double the cost at some parks and more than triple it in others.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” said Zinke. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting. We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today. Shoring up our parks’ aging infrastructure will do that.”

The price jump would be applied to Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion national parks beginning May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah national parks on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park “as soon as practicable” in 2018.

$11 billion is a lot of money, but that figure is misleading. The actual cost of critical, truly needed maintenance, according to NPS and an analysis in late 2016 by the Center for American Progress, is only $1.3 billion, about one-tenth of that. More than half of the $11 billion comes from road repair—$5.9 billion—and just four roads make up nearly 10 percent of the total. Finally, the $11 billion also includes facilities repairs of $389 million that must be paid for by concessionaires, not NPS.

The lead author of the CAP report, Nicole Gentile, said at the time, “Too often, anti-conservation members of Congress argue that the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog is insurmountable, and they use this flimsy talking point to argue against protecting other at-risk lands and wildlife. Congress should focus its infrastructure and maintenance investments on helping the National Park Service protect the natural and cultural resources in our parks, and force for-profit companies in the parks to pay their fair share for upkeep.”

The Park Service collects $200 million a year in entrance fees, 80 percent of which are legally required to stay within the park that generated them. Raising the price would increase revenues by $70 million a year, the agency says.

Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association, said, “We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit. The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors.”

The debate of funding comes at a time when the most-visited parks are straining from their popularity. In 2016, the NPS centennial year, more than 331 million people visited parks. The 2017 total is expected to be at least that. Parks have already implemented efforts to reduce the impact—witness the permits required to hike Half Dome in Yosemite or the use of mandatory shuttles in Zion—but more is needed. In Zion, for example, visitation has exploded, increasing by 60 percent since 2006, to 4.3 million visitors a year, and officials are considering limits on how people are let into the park, along with mandatory reservations.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has proposed cutting the National Park Service budget by $1.5 billion—more enough to fund the most critical maintenance needs—or about 13 percent of the total. Also lost in the discussion is the fact that national parks are one of America’s best investments: Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on parks, more than $10 is added to the economy.

The comment period on the proposed NPS fee increase is just 30 days, ending on November 23, 2017, so if you have something to say, get on it: Comment here.

Photo of Grand Canyon maintenance by National Park Service


Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.
Showing 15 comments
  • Aditya Mohan

    Can they at least extend the length of the enternce fees pass to a month? From the current week??

  • Scott Weisgerber

    This is pretty sad. Yes there’s a funding short fall, and not to get political, but this can be addressed in the federal budget. What’s more important…keeping our parks current and well maintained, or a new tank?

    I fear that the rising cost will limit access and make it average and low income family will no long be able to afford to see the wonders our of great country.

  • Matt

    It looks like the annual parks pass is still $80 though so I wonder how many people will just buy the annual pass instead. I guess that would still generate a little more revenue but it eliminates the repeat fees from people going multiple times and paying the standard rate.

  • Laura

    I’m a bit torn on this issue. I’m in no way a huge fan of Zinke, but there are a few issues going on at the moment. One is potentially funding the parks and the other is increased numbers (and complaints of crowding, infrastructure maxed out, and degradation of the very nature we are trying to protect. $70 is a bit, steep, but it is also one way of crowd controlling. Disney currently uses dynamic pricing, it means that crowds get spread more evenly and on less popular days you can go for cheaper and on higher use days, its more expensive, but the overall actual experience is better.

    Again, there is no perfect solution and the prices hikes sound a bit steep, but it may not be the end of everything and it could help with some of the crowds.

  • Bette Lou

    While I’m sure there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, $70/person is cost prohibitive for most people and families will be especially hard hit. Perhaps a small fee at all the parks would make more sense. For-profit companies operating in the park should certainly be providing income towards the upkeep and maintenance of their park.

  • M.V.

    I’m ok with paying more, but I think $70 may be a little steep if someone is only hoping to visit a park for a single day.

    I really think they should charge international visitors a higher admission fee at all parks at all times. Our federal tax dollars are used to finance the park. It is not uncommon for State Parks to charge more to out of state visitors.

  • dave parker

    Trillions spent in Iraq, Afgan.

    We can find 1.3 billion?

    This idea that for every 1 dollar spent on parks adds 10 bucks to the economy is the same idea about arts and educational spending. From 1 buck magically comes 10. We could pay off those war expenditures if we only had more spending in our national parks, arts communities, and educational institutions….. bs. 1 buck improving an attraction may add 10 bucks to a local economy but it has little effect on the national economy.

    The national parks are overcrowded with the middle class. Let them pay more income taxes if they want better roads and facilities and services. Fees and concessions are unaffordable and over priced as it is for most of the working class.

    What the parks really need is fewer people. Stop spending money promoting them. Communities like Jackson Hole should be paying the NPS money since they are most likely to get the financial gains from any new park spending. They beleive in the magical spending theory so having Jackson give millions to GTNP will put millions more into their economy….

  • Matt

    Get used to this. The government owes $20 trillion and has many trillions more in promised in benefits and entitlements so money for the fun and cool stuff will be a casualty. We can only hope this money goes to the parks instead of being side tracked to other stuff!

  • Jake

    We must not compromise when it comes to maintaining both the parks themselves and the access to them for all who may wish to visit.

    The National Parks are intended to be enjoyed by all. Increasing fees creates barriers for certain demographics to experience these public goods. Making comparisons to Disneyland when attempting to justify this increase is completely off-base. Disneyland is a privately held amusement park with the purpose of creating profit for Disney. By comparison, “The National park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”

    Overcrowding needs to be seen as a completely separate issue from funding when discussing the national parks. I agree we may be reaching a point where a daily visitor cap needs to be placed on many of the parks, but that cap cannot be implemented monetarily for risk of blocking certain demographics.

    Bottom-line: The parks need money to catch up on a backlog of maintenance. We should have no problem finding the 0.2% of the federal budget for a single year needed to do this.

    If we get nothing else right for the future, let’s at lease get the National Parks right.

  • Jon

    Big surprise from this administration, this is just being used to reduce attendance, and then in 2019 that will be used as justification to reduce the size, number, or preservation of national parks. #RESIST!

    • Hardy

      “The parks need money to catch up on a backlog of maintenance. We should have no problem finding the 0.2% of the federal budget for a single year needed to do this.”

      EVERYONE thinks their favorite budget line item is ONLY 0.2% and thus can — and must be — funded. We currently BORROW MONEY to pay for your, and everyone’s, 0.2% wish list. EVERY community in America is asking for handouts for EVERYTHING from the Feds. The best thing for the health and welfare of the national parks would be to shut them all down for several years and let the neighboring communities learn to embrace a new economic model. Ain’t going to happen, of course.

      If you value the national parks, pay more in entrance fees. That way, the people who don’t use the parks won’t be responsible for their “maintenance”. Go visit a wilderness area if you want a great experience in the great outdoors. Most wilderness areas don’t need maintenance, lack crowds, and are just as interesting and beautiful as most of our national parks.

      Zion, Yellowstone, etc are nightmares to visit during the peak season when the fees will be higher. Perhaps those fees will keep some of the crowds away, and even save many from the nightmare they never expected or wanted.

  • Ellen Rosenberg

    The national parks are supposed to be preserved for all! Not just the upper classes! I think a price raise of this magnitude is crazy. We should be funding nature not wars.
    Permits are a good way to limit access and impact to specific areas, but we also need a way to encourage visitation to areas that can withstand the traffic. I’d make the parks bigger (therefore, more back country) and have a well established visitor center and handicapped access paved trails through interesting and educational landscapes…then day hiking routes and finally back country. This “graded system” with permitting, would limit access to the most at risk areas and keep the visitors coming.
    Eliminating car traffic would be outstanding!
    The government (our taxes) should be supporting this!

  • Hope

    I’m sad that many families and individuals will no longer be able to be inspired by these stunning national treasures. Our parks should not be so expensive that they are virtually impossible to visit for so many.

  • SW

    I hope those of you who took the time to comment here took the same time to comment in the public comment section at the NPS (Link is in the article).

  • JAK

    Higher pricing, $70.00 per visit, will only mean fewer people and raising less money than they hope. Our parks need to allow every citizen to visit. I like someone’s comment about raising the fee for non-citizens. I like the idea of raising funds for our own parks, in our own state, and not all the parks in the system. Donations, fund raisers, go-fund me. More of a donation on the driver’s license maybe. Maybe a donation on the federal income tax form could go to all the parks. Increasing the fee for the life time pass you can buy when your reach 62 years of age.

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