A staggering number of national parks are scattered throughout America—58 in all, even more when you count military parks and national monuments. A popular vacation choice for young couples and families, national parks can also be the perfect destination for retirees, primarily because of the striking natural beauty of these protected areas, but also because anyone over 62 can visit all of them for free, for the rest of their lives, by buying a $10 National Parks Service Senior Pass.
National parks receive 300 million visits annually (translation: they can get crowded), but retirees have the benefit of a flexible schedule, meaning they can visit the park during off-peak months to beat the crowds. Over half a million senior passes are sold each year to retirees who want to explore both the big-name parks as well as the smaller, more obscure (but still stunning) sites. To help narrow down the choices, we asked David Barna, the chief spokesman of the National Park Service from 1995 to 2013 (now a fellow retiree), for the 10 best parks for retirees to hit, senior pass in hand.
Yellowstone National Park (in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), Grand Canyon National Park (in Arizona), and Yosemite National Park (in California)
Timing is everything when traveling to the marquee national parks, and summer is high season, meaning you’re competing with thousands of people for views, the animals are as far away from the crowds as possible, and hiking trails may feel more like a freeway than a serene escape into nature. The fix? Travel to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks during the “shoulder seasons” of early spring (before Memorial Day) and late fall (after Labor Day) to escape the crowds and enjoy these pristine landmarks as they were meant to be experienced.