Pay to play
Last updated 5/30/2023 at 11:44am
As spring arrives, more and more of us are putting away our skis and snowshoes and storing away our snowmobiles. Out come the hiking poles, kayaks, and backpacks. It’s time to head to the streams, woods, and parks whether to search for mushrooms or wildflowers or take on rapids.
And out come grumblings about having to pay for the pleasure in the form of recreation passes. The two that get the brunt of criticism are the Northwest Forest Pass and the State Park Pass. There are fewer gripes about the National Parks Pass.
You will need a Northwest Forest Pass – either the $30 annual version or pay $5 for a day-use to visit places like the immensely popular Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area or the Olympic National Forest. Closer to home, you will need the Annual NW or Day Pass for no fewer than 40 of the most trafficked sites.
They include Big Eddie and Chief Paulina trailheads, Big Obsidian Flow Interpretive Site, Tumalo Falls or Suttle Lake day-use area, Lava Lands Visitor Center, and Scout Lake picnic site.
There are even subsets of passes such as the Newberry National Volcanic Monument 3-Day Pass for $10.
If you’re 10, you get a sweetheart deal. Available to U.S. fourth graders (including homeschooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age), pick up an Every Kid Outdoors paper pass which is valid for the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September to August).
It’s honored nationwide at all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sites charging entrance or standard amenity fees. Not only is the kiddo waived the fee, but it admits any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle.
Seniors score too
The Interagency Senior Pass — annually for $20 or lifetime for $80 — is a bargain. It’s honored nationwide at all Forest Service, National Park Service, BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sites charging entrance or standard amenity fees.
The pass waives most day-use fees (except at some concessionaire-run sites) and most entrance fees for all the federal agencies under “Participating Sites” across the U.S. It admits pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle. At per-person fee areas, it admits pass holder and up to 3 persons. Persons 15 and under are admitted free.
To procure one you must be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States 62 years of age or older and obtain it in person showing proof of age, which may be a state driver’s license showing birthdate, a birth certificate, or similar document.
Active-duty military can get an Interagency Annual Pass for free.
State Park Pass
Contrary to popular belief you do not need a pass to be in an Oregon State Park. But if you use the parking lot, then you have to pay — $5 a day, or, for frequent State Parks users, there is a 12-month or 24-month version for $30 and $50 respectively.
Out of protest or budget constraints, some park users park a mile or more from the entrance and hoof it in. If you’re camping at a state park, you don’t need a day-use parking permit. Just display your current state park camping receipt on your dashboard.
The day pass is good for the day, not the park, so you can visit more than one park in the same day for the same $5.
Oregon Pacific Coast Passport
This one irks a good number of folks, especially those holding other passes. The Oregon Pacific Coast Passport is a multi-agency day-use passport that covers entry or day-use fees at dozens of federal fee sites (Forest Service, National Parks Service, and BLM) and Oregon State Park sites along Highway 101 and the Siuslaw National Forest.
Visit places from the formal gardens at Shore Acres State Park to the wild, windy headlands of Cape Lookout State Park. Explore environments like the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Tour lighthouses at Yaquina Head or Heceta Head. Discover natural and cultural history at Cape Perpetua and Yaquina Head Interpretive Centers, at Ft. Stevens and at Ft. Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark wintered almost 200 years ago.
An annual passport is $35 or a five-day vehicle passport costs $10.
Oregon has one national park — Crater Lake. There are three in Washington. Entrance to a National Park is typically $35. An annual pass is $80 so if you plan on visiting at least three national parks in a year, then the pass is a real money saver. Not to be confused with National Parks are National Historic Trails, National Historical Parks, and National Historic Sites, where entry fees are less, often only $10.