Passport To Your National Parks® Program Guide

Mammoth Cave NPS family
NPS Passport stamps

“Life is a great adventure… accept it in such a spirit.”

 

 

–  (President) Theodore Roosevelt

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Intro to Our National Park Service

We love visiting our national parks and every one has impressed.  They are Must See Gems that every American family should take the time to enjoy.  In 1872, President US Grant signed a law making Yellowstone our nation’s (& the world’s) very 1st National Park.  Several more were added before President Teddy Roosevelt doubled our conservation & protection efforts, but the Parks were still managed by multiple agencies, which lacked the effectiveness of one managing head.  The NPS (National Park Service) was finally established in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson to manage our treasures & historical sites under one agency.  New locations are still added, today.      

It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a hundred & fifty years that we’ve been protecting our nations’ natural & historic treasures & heritage.  The National Parks is charged with protecting these treasures for the enjoyment of future generations.  They are well known for the majestic scenic NPS Parks spanning 29 states, but over half of their coverage are historic sites commemorating people, places & events significant to our nation’s history.  Today, the NPS protects, maintains, makes accessible, educates & preserves the beauty & integrity of over 400 locations in every state, including:

  • National Historic Sites, Memorials & Monuments
  • National Parks (nature & military)
  • National Preserves/ Reserves, Scenic Trails & Parkways
  • National Battlefields
  • National Lakeshores, Rivers & Seashores
  • National Recreation Areas 
  • National Heritage Areas

including Americana gems ranging back to prehistoric civilizations and covering US President’s homes, the White House, the Liberty Bell, Grand Canyon, Mt Rushmore, Pearl Harbor, Ford’s Theatre, Yosemite, the Rockies & the Smokies, & hundreds more.  Passport To Your National Parks® is available at nearly all of them. 

Gettysburg Soldiers National cemetery

What is The Passport Program?

Passport To Your National Parks® was established in 1986 to encourage people to discover the beauty and history of all of the National Park Service sites.  Nearly all of the NPS Park Stores across the country have site-specific cancellation stamps available to record your visit, as you would with travel passports.  The rubber stamps label the name of the park and the date of your visit.  They usually have multiple versions & variations, including stamps that detail distinct spots at the location.  Many have distinct Junior Ranger (my guide here) rubber stamps for kids, too, including park wildlife stamps, such as elk & bison.  The Cancellation Stations are typically available at or near the front desk at each NPS Visitor Center or Park Store, with ink pads and scrap paper to stamp if you’ve forgotten or not bought a Passport yet, or even if you need to use a different method for more expansive collections, like I do.  There are also circle stampable stickers for purchase in the Park Store or online to stamp and stick in your Passport when you get home.  You can see which sites offer Passport cancellations online either by searching a specific park on the NPS site or view the full cancellation locations list online. 

Another use for the Passports is that many people also collect the Passport To Your National Parks® Annual Regional Stamp Sets that are sold & widely collected.  There are 10 peel & stick stamps in the set for $4.95.  Previous years dating back to the program’s inception in 1986 are still available for purchase to catch your Passports up to date.  The sets highlight 1 National and 9 Regional parks that enjoyed a special event or anniversary in that year.  The stamp photos are selected from photos taken by NPS employees & volunteers in their annual photo contest.  The stamp sets are designed for the Passport books, so they can fill up quickly when collecting these.  In 2018, they started offering annual Junior Ranger Passport Sticker Sets for kids, too.

NPS kids Wheats

Where Can I Find the Passports & What’s Included?

The Passports to collect and save your cancellation & commemorative stamps are available at NPS Park Stores everywhere (many are run by America’s National Parks, a nonprofit that is partnered with the National Park Service) and at their online storeThe Stamp Sets, plentiful Passport accessories & many more national park products are available for purchase there.  100% of proceeds go back to parks in support of educational and interpretive programs.  They feature 4 different Passport editions available.  Each of the 4 Passports include color-coded regional maps & park lists, which are how the parks sections are organized.  Each park is detailed with a short description & need to know info, and a color photo or illustration.  Passports also come with an official NPS map of all park sites.

Explorer Edition NPS 2

Photo courtesy of Eastern National

Passport Editions-

Classic Edition  The most affordable option at $9.95, though not necessarily the best choice.  A 4×6 inch soft cover, spiral bound booklet with 112 pages, which has expander packs available for purchasing extra pages.  Very portable, fitting into your pocket or purse.  It’s a fun and easy starter for a limited number of trips, but you’ll fill it up quickly if you are serious about visiting the national parks & collecting all of the cancellations (and the commemorative stamps), even with the expanders.  If you decide to buy a Passport book, I would definitely suggest upgrading.  These have room for approximately 4 stamps per site, however there are usually double this amount of cancellation stamps available and it is not uncommon for the ink to be low or to get a ‘bad’ or smudged initial stamp that takes a few tries before it’s pretty, especially for kids.   

Collector’s Edition–  The next option up is $24.95.  This is hard cover, spiral bound, though still not weather resistant.  It is larger at 7 ½ x 10 inches with 192 pages vs the 112 pages of the Classic.  It won’t fit in your pocket, but it does have more space for stamps & cancellations.  It does not currently have an expander pack available for extra pages.  It has approximately 3 more pages per region for extra stamps & cancellations, but it’s still possible to run out of room, particularly if you buy the stamp sets.    

Explorer Edition –  At $54.95, it’s by far the most expensive and is certainly larger and less portable, but it provides the most room for additional pages, stamps & cancellations for the serious park visitor & collector.  It is wider at 9 x 8 ½ inches and comes in a high quality portfolio loose-leaf binder that is zippered and rain proof.  The binder allows easy adding, reorganizing, or deleting of pages, as compared to the others which are spiral bound.  The inside features a slot for your pen and mesh pockets for storage.   There are expander packs available for extra pages.  Since they’re bulkier and heavier, some people just bring the relevant pages with them or stamp onto the scrap paper or stampable stickers available, and then use this Passport to store & organize their collection at home.  The pages are larger, but no more in quantity than the previous version.  If you’re a frequent visitor and avid collector, particularly if you collect the annual stamp sets & especially if you collect other souvenirs such as badges or coins, you’ll likely outgrow any of the Passports.  I had to choose an alternative method to store my badges, coins, stickers & pins, but hopefully they’ll provide a version that incorporates a robust collection for us super collectors, one day.  Some people buy 2 Passports, one for Stamp sets, the other for Cancellations. 

Junior Ranger stamp Passport

Photo courtesy of Eastern National

The final Passport is the Junior Ranger Passport that has full pages to collect official park cancellations, special Junior Ranger cancellations, and stickers from the annual Junior Ranger Sticker Sets. This Passport offers site descriptions & facts about the parks, color illustrations, and lots of activities that kids of all ages will love.  The Junior Ranger Passport is a great introduction to the national park life for kids. It includes a free set of Junior Ranger stickers.  The Passport is 9×7 inches, soft cover & spiral bound.  It includes 100 pages and is not weather proof.  2018 & 2019 Junior Ranger Sticker Sets are available for purchase at $3.95 per sheet (12 stickers each).

I’m a collector, so I love having a souvenir from each of the national parks we visit.  The stamps are a fun, cheap way to do that and kids, especially, love it.  Once you start going to the National Parks, they’re addictive and you want to see more!  Each so different, always a treat.  The Park Rangers are knowledgeable, friendly and give free talks and tours.  The Visitor Centers & restrooms are well maintained, always clean, and accessible.  Their bookstores have a nice selection of site-specific souvenirs.  Most Visitor Centers have a short film to give you the quick history & important information.  They sound boring, but even our kids enjoy them.  They also have museum exhibits of artifacts & interesting information to explore.  Our forefathers preserved the most incredible natural & historical treasures America possesses and they keep the majority of them accessible to the public, and cheap or free to visit.  We see many, many visitors from overseas traveling all the way here just to enjoy them.  Some spend their entire American holiday just visiting our National Parks.  You’re missing out if you don’t experience at least some of these preserved gems, whether you’re an American or from across the world.  It’s part of our heritage, preserved in their natural state from more than a century ago and for centuries to come.  Go on an adventure and explore the best our country has to see!  Make great family memories and experience vintage, classic America at her best!      

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Once Upon a Wheat

Terri & Bill Wheat

Hey, there! I’m Terri & my husband Bill and I have 4 kids (2 boys & twin girls + a pup!) and we’ve been traveling since our kids were little. At this mid point in my journey, I’m trying to shove as much as I can into this precious gift of life and squeeze all the joy and growth and learning I can out of it. Making memories that matter, building a life of joy & meaning, actively pursuing my greatest potential. I have a zest for life, for learning, for growth & I want to give you the resources & inspiration to have better vacations and get more from your life!

Passport To Your National Parks® Program Guide

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Passport To Your National Parks® Program Guide