Everything you need to know about the National Park Passport book, including which one to choose and how it works.
Are you someone who likes to travel to the national parks? Do you like to commemorate your trips, but don’t like loading yourself down with chotchkies? I know I don’t.
Or are you a parent to a few competitive kids, looking for an economical and fun way to remember your camping adventures without needing to buy a new souvenir at every park?
The national park passport book is the solution for you.
Don’t be confused by the name, the passport book is not required for park entry.
It’s simply a small journal you can take to a park visitor center to have it stamped with a special park insignia to remember your trip.
Interested in learning more about this decades-old National Park Service tradition?
Read on to learn more about the national park passport and how you can get started with it today.
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What is the National Park Passport and How Does it Work?
The national park passport program was dreamt up in 1986 as a way to boost interest in the parks (and man, the parks certainly don’t have that problem today!).
The national park passport is kind of like your regular passport. It documents which national parks you’ve been to with a dated stamp that is placed in a compact notebook.
The notebook has several spaces per park since many national parks have more than one stamp (or you may want to get the same stamp every time you visit).
The main difference is that you don’t need a national park passport for entry into the national park.
Most parks participate in the national park passport program, and given that there are over 400 national park units (including national battlefields, national seashores, national monuments, and national historic parks), you should have plenty of places to visit.
The way it works is simple: buy a passport book ahead of time in the online store or at the visitor center once you arrive at your destination.
Once you have the book, you can add free stamps, also called cancellation stamps.
The parks also make unique stamps to commemorate special events, like the 2016 centennial anniversary of the park service.
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How do I get a National Park Passport?
You can purchase a national parks stamp book via the non-profit America’s National Parks Shop or each park visitor center.
I advise you to buy the book ahead of time online since many visitor centers remain closed due to the pandemic.
Additionally, even if the visitor center is open, you may miss the operating hours, or they may not have the version of the passport you want, and that would be a bummer.
You can also buy similar books on big retail websites, but I encourage you to buy di]]\rectly from park stores or the America’s National Parks shop.
The reason for this? 100% of the purchase proceeds go to support the parks.
Where do I Stamp My Passport at Each National Park?
National park passport stamp locations are typically located in the visitor center of each national park; however, some parks have many different stamps in several locations.
For example, Grand Canyon National Park has stamps at the visitor centers.
However, they also have different stamps at Indian Garden and Phantom Ranch, which are small campgrounds/ranger stations.
And they have some at Kolb Studio and the Yavapi Geology Museum, which are both museums/gift shops.
Luckily, America’s National Parks online puts together an updated list of cancellation station locations here.
The cancellation station is typically set on a podium or desk. It may be signed and will consist of a rubber stamp with a moveable date (so you can document the date you received the stamp).
You will often see scrap pieces of paper where people tested the stamp before placing it in their book.
The Three Types of National Park Passports
Passport to Your National Parks Classic Edition
Features: Compact size, 112 pages, spiral-bound, softcover
Best for: National park adventurers on a budget
The Passport to Your National Parks Classic Edition is, well, the original version of the national park passport.
The classic edition passport is a 6’’ x 4’’ soft-sided, spiral-bound book with 112 pages to stamp.
The classic edition offers plenty of dedicated space to collect the regular national park stamps and the unique commemorative cancellation stamps.
It also includes an official map of every national park and a color-coded guide for parks in different regions.
Passport to Your National Parks Collector’s Edition
Features: Bigger size, tear-resistant cover, extra space for added pages
Best for: Serious national park lovers
If you know you’re someone with the “collecting gene” and you’re serious about your national park bucket list, the Collector’s Edition is the choice for you.
The Passport to Your National Parks Collector’s Edition is a bit more expensive than the classic edition but has several added features.
The collector’s edition is a little bigger at 7.5’’x10’’, but has a new lightweight design that is also tear-resistant and weather resistant.
The collector’s edition national park passport book has 192 pages with additional pages for the special annual stamps that come out every year (up to 2029).
It also has room for expander pages, which is a very useful feature because new national parks and park units are added to the National Park Service almost every year.
Like the classic edition, the collector’s edition also has a national park service map of all the park units with color-coded sites by region.
It’s also a soft-sided, spiral-bound book, but the collector’s edition features a space in the front cover to write your name and contact information.
This is good to have in case you accidentally set your passport down in a visitor center.
Passport to Your National Parks Junior Ranger Edition
Features: Educational content on each park and park-themed stickers.
Best for: Tiny park fanatics
The Junior Ranger Program is a beloved national parks program that inspires kids to learn about good stewardship of the parks and rewards them with wooden or plastic “ranger” badges.
It’s v cute.
The Passport to Your National Parks Junior Ranger Edition is perfect for the kiddo in your group.
The passport book is 9’’x7’’ with 100 brightly colored and illustrated stamp pages.
The Junior Ranger Edition also includes education about each of the parks and, the main selling point for the 7-year old inside me, park-themed stickers.
Tips for Collecting National Park Stamps
Plan Your Trip in Advance
The number one tip I have for collecting national park stamps is to plan your trip in advance.
Look on the park website to find the visitor center’s hours of operation.
If your national park adventure isn’t complete unless you get all your stamps, make a list of all the visitor centers and ranger stations with stamps.
That way you won’t have to wait until your next trip to catch ‘em all.
Make Sure the Date is Correct
When people collect stamps at visitor centers, they can adjust the date on the stamp to today’s date. Make sure the date is correct!
Test the Stamp First
This tip goes out to all my Type As out there. There should be a pad of paper sitting at the cancellation station so you can test the stamp out first.
If you’re like me and like neat lines and clearly legible stamps, be sure to do a test stamp first to double-check you have enough ink and pressure on the cancellation stamp.
FAQs About the National Park Passport
Can you still get National Park Passport stamps?
Yes, even with the pandemic and the closing or shortening of many visitor centers’ hours, you can still collect national parks program stamps.
What if I forgot to pack my passport? Can I still get a stamp?
Yes! If you forgot to pack your national park passport, you can still participate in the passport stamping.
All you have to do is take one of the sheets of scrap paper available, stamp it, and then tape the stamp into your passport book.
Or, if you forget to stamp your passport at the national park’s visitor center before you leave (or if the center is closed), some parks offer a printable version of the stamp.
Sure, it isn’t as satisfying as pressing the ink stamp into your passport book in person, but it’s better than missing out on the stamp entirely.
Finally, some parks will mail you a stamped piece of paper if you send them a stamped self-addressed envelope. Contact the park in advance to make sure this is the case.
Why are National Park Passport stamps called cancellations?
National park travel stamps are called cancellation stamps as a nod to the US postal service.
The postal service uses a round ink-based mark called a “cancellation” over the sticky stamp you place on an envelope to signify a stamp has been used and cannot be used again.
How many national park stamps are there?
There are hundreds of official national park stamps, and the number changes every year.
Almost every national park unit (remember national monuments, national historic sites, etc are also part of the National Park System) participates in the program. And many parks have several cancellation stamps to choose from.
In addition, the National Park Service designates new park units almost every year, and they will often make a unique cancellation stamp to mark special anniversaries.
The official cancellation stamp program, run by America’s National Parks, isn’t the only agency making collectible stamps and stickers either.
Other non and for-profit companies may sell similar products.
No matter how many stamps there are, make sure your passport book has enough room for extra pages so that you can commemorate all your national park adventures in the future.
What can I do if I’m missing a stamp?
If you’re missing a national park passport stamp for your passport, the simplest way to complete your stamp set is to visit that park.
If you can’t squeeze in a trip to the national park visitor center you’re missing, some parks offer virtual tours of select trails.
After these virtual tours, you can sometimes download the stamp online and write in the date you “visited.”
Is a National Park Passport Worth it?
Yes, a national park passport is absolutely worth it.
They’re reasonably priced ways to commemorate your national park adventures, and the purchase of a national park passport book supports the functions of the National Park Service.
Plus, getting your passport stamp at each new cancellation station is kind of addicting!
Best National Park Passport Accessories
Collector’s Expander Pack
The Collector’s Expander Pack for the national park passport gives you extra pages to add to your passport if it fills up.
The expander pack comes with 14 pages that can be inserted into your national park passport without any special tools.
The pages can then be used to collect stamps from more national parks, but they also have dedicated space for the special “National Stamps” or “Regional Stamps.”
Note that the classic edition of the passport may not support the expander pack, only the collector’s edition does.
Stampable Sticker Sets
The Stampable Sticker Sets for the national park passport are a great thing to have on hand if you forget your passport or you want to share a stamp with a friend.
I also think they make great ways to seal an envelope.
The sticker sets may be sold at the national park visitor center you’re in, but I’d still recommend getting them from the official online store just in case.
The stickers are made of smudge-resistant paper and work in the classic edition passport, the collector’s edition, and the Junior Ranger edition.
Passport Stamp Set
Every year, dating back to 1986 when it all began, America’s National Parks puts out a Passport Stamp Set featuring 10 of the national park units.
No need for a messy ink pad! The stamps, more like stickers, fit in a dedicated space in the passport and include educational information about the individual national park featured.
The Book Pin is a super cute little pin in the shape of a national parks passport. And the pin actually opens and shows a gold outline of a cancellation stamp.
This would be a super cute accessory to go with a Junior Ranger vest (which is sold in national park bookstores).
Leather Passport Cover
If you’re set on visiting all 423 national parks and national park units, your passport is bound to get a little raggedy in the process.
The Leather Passport Cover is a very elegant way to protect your classic edition passport.
Alternatives to the National Park Passport: Other Ways to Keep Track of Parks Visited
The national park passport books are an excellent way to preserve your memories of national park adventures, but here are some more ideas to record your trips.
These are a few other fun ways to celebrate your time in the national parks.
National Park Passport Journal
The Letterfolk National Park Passport Journal is a smaller, more personalizable alternative to the traditional passport books.
The book is 3.5’’x 5.5’’, so it won’t take up much space and includes more room for journal entries.
You can record your impressions of the parks, favorite memories, or who you traveled with, and it has a blank space so you can still collect the cancellation stamps.
The journal has 48 pages, which is more than enough for most casual national park geeks.
National Park Journal & Guide
The National Park Journal & Guide is a travel-sized leather-bound guidebook featuring all 63 national parks.
The journal includes maps of each park and lists of helpful phone numbers for each park.
The National Park Journal & Guide makes a great stocking stuffer or national park gift for that national park weirdo in your family.
The thing I like about this item is its small, compact size and the fact that it includes a map of each national park.
Now, the maps may not be big enough to give you trail directions, but oftentimes I just need a birds-eye view of the whole park while I’m visiting and don’t have cell service.
National Park Scratch-Off Poster
The National Park Scratch-Off Poster is a trendy, minimalist-inspired poster with a gold panel for 63 national parks.
Once you’ve visited one of the national parks, you gently scratch off the gold covering to reveal a retro-style mini illustration of the park behind it.
I can definitely see this as a framable piece of wall art and it would be perfect for someone looking to decorate a new place who loves exploring America’s parks.
Interactive National Parks Poster
If national park passport stamps aren’t your thing, this Interactive National Parks Poster is an alternative way to get inspired to visit the national parks.
This poster features all the national parks represented by a beautiful high color photo.
The whole thing kind of has a National Geographic vibe, and you can select the option to buy a frame to hang it with.
The poster is interactive in that each park has a checkbox next to it that you can check off once you’ve visited.
National Park Stickers
Remember how I said America’s National Parks isn’t the only organization making national park passport stickers?
That was an understatement. Everyone and their mom is making National Park Stickers these days, and you know what, I’m not mad about it.
If you prefer stickers to stamps, you can make your own national park sticker book!
There are a million sticker options out there, and I particularly like these because the pack includes one for each national par,k and they’re bigger than the NPS passport stamps.
My cooler and water bottle still have space on them; therefore I need more stickers.
If you love the national park passport stamps, but you’re more of a pin person (hey, they’re out there), America’s National Parks has a solution for you.
They offer Collectible Pins that look like the cancellation stamps! Well, sort of. They’re round and include the name of the park.
Of course, you won’t be able to add your special date of visit, but these would make a great gift if you have one very special park that you love.
If you’re looking for a way to decorate a backpack or jacket, look no further than Passport to Your National Parks Collectible Patches.
The collectible patches look just like the collectible pins, but you can iron them on. I like patches because they give off a kind of retro aesthetic and can really personalize a piece of clothing.
Collectible Walking Stick Medallions
Last but not least, America’s National Parks makes Collectible Walking Stick Medallions which can be affixed onto a walking stick.
I have a few of these on my OG walking stick, albeit not from this organization, and they really personalize my walking stick and make it more of a keepsake and less of a dowel rod (which is what it was).
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in six states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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