Bargain-hunting seniors are flocking to the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in downtown Anchorage to purchase $10 senior passes that allow free lifetime entrance to any national park by those age 62 and above. After Sunday, the price jumps to $80 — a 700 percent hike — due to congressional legislation.
John Quinley, associate regional director of the National Park Service in Alaska, said the Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center has sold more passes in August than it did for all of 2016. He added that the income from passes this year is more than $23,500. Last year it was about $9,000. Passes are also available at the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
Last week, the center sold out of passes, so the center has been writing "rain checks" until the actual passes arrive. Clarence Wadkins, manager of the center, said he expects to receive another 500 on Friday.
"Has it been popular? Good golly yes," Wadkins said. The downtown center will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the final day the cheap passes will be available.
Among the benefits to pass-holders.
— You and the passengers in your vehicle get into parks that charge and entrance fee for free.
— In parks that charge a per-person entrance fee, the senior plus three other adults — who need not be seniors — get in for free.
— A 50 percent discount on federal use fees for camping, swimming, boat launching, parking and tours.
Federal legislation mandating the price hike includes a new payment plan to assist seniors. For the first time, the National Park Service will issue an annual senior pass for $20, and once four annual senior passes have been purchased, the individual will automatically qualify for a senior lifetime pass with no additional fee.
Entrance to most National Park Service units is free in Alaska, although Denali charges $10 per person. Other National Park Service areas in Alaska have fees for things like campgrounds and cabins.
In the Lower 48, though, prices can be higher.
The $80 price point still makes senior passes a steal, Kathy Kupper, a public affairs specialist for the National Park Service, told CNBC. "Going to one park, such as iconic parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Grand Canyon could cost $30 and going to all three could cost up to $90," she said.