What Are State Camping Passes and Should I Get One?
By Alexis Chateau \
You have likely seen ads for privately run camping passes all across America. Popular ones include Passport America, Thousand Trails, and Harvest Hosts. Even the National Park Service has an annual pass that eliminates entrance fees. But, did you know that a handful of states also have annual state camping passes? Even better, you don’t need to be a resident to buy one, though it’s sometimes much cheaper when you buy them in your home state.
What Are State Camping Passes?
State camping passes eliminate or reduce camping fees while holding the pass. The cost of these passes varies by state, but you can typically budget to pay from $50 to $250 per year. Every pass I bought paid for itself within a month as a full-time RVer―including the most expensive one on this list!
The vast majority of states do not have camping passes, but there are other discounts you could get. For example, they might offer discounts for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities. Some states also sell passes that only eliminate entrance fees. Here are some examples:
- New York
- North Carolina
Always ask before you pay!
What Are the Best State Camping Passes?
The best place to purchase a pass is in the state you call home. If you RV full-time, then the state you should consider is the one you spend the most time in. When I was a Nevada resident, I had a Nevada pass. Now that I’m a New Mexico resident, I have a New Mexico pass. Here are the details on these passes and several others I have encountered.
1. New Mexico State Camping Pass
You can purchase an annual Day Pass from the State of New Mexico for only $40. This is a steal if you ask me, but the camping pass is much more expensive. I paid $180 as an in-state resident. Out-of-state residents pay $225. Both passes last 12 months from the date of purchase, and you can complete the entire purchase online.
Places of Use
The Annual Day Pass is a great option for overlanders who still want to see state park attractions. The only exception is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The Annual Camping Pass works at all state parks. New Mexico has some fantastic parks, kept in excellent condition, so its annual state passes are well worth the price.
My pass provides free primitive camping. I can also camp for free on designated campsites with no hookups. I then get a discount at sites with hookups. For example, I paid $8 per night for a large lot with water, electricity, and sewer. The price was $18 per night for people without a pass.
2. Nevada State Parks Passport
I learned about the Nevada State Parks Passport after chatting with an aspiring ranger while hiking in the Valley of Fire. There are several different levels of access. I recommend the All Access Permit for $250. Nevada passes are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.
Places of Use
The Nevada pass works at all its state parks, but there aren’t that many with camping facilities within two hours of Vegas or Reno. Most are in the lesser-known areas of Nevada and can be extremely remote.
That’s not to say they’re not worth seeing, but they can be harder to get to and from. Here are some parks worth seeing:
- Beaver Dam
- Cathedral Gorge
- Echo Canyon
- Spring Valley
Note that not all of these have facilities for traditional RVs. You can use this excellent Nevada State Parks map to figure out the best options for your travel setup.
I only used my pass at Valley of Fire, which I have been to three times. It was free to camp in spots with no hookups. Some of these spots still had water spigots, though you couldn’t attach them to the RV. When camping spots have hookups, you pay $10 per night. Compare this to camping fees ranging from $20 per vehicle for Nevada residents to $25 per night for non-residents.
3. Georgia State ParksPass
I am ashamed to say I lived in Georgia for five years and hiked every trail in and around Metro Atlanta without knowing there was an annual pass. It is also the most affordable pass on the list at just $50, and it’s valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.
Places of Use
Georgia and most other eastern states do not have as much public land for camping, but it’s still worth considering. Here are some amazing state parks with highly rated campgrounds in Georgia:
- Cloudland Canyon State Park
- Mistletoe State Park
- Crooked River State Park
- Don Carter State Park
- Elijah Clark State Park
Georgia offers an outstanding camping deal. When you have the pass, you only pay for ONE night of camping, regardless of how long you stay. That is insane. At that rate, I might need to plan a trip back to Georgia!
4. Texas State Parks Pass
The Lone Star State is home to TAXA Outdoors, so this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning it. The Texas State Pass is incredibly affordable at just $70 and lasts for 12 months. The pass also gets you 10% discounts inside most visitor center stores.
Places of Use
Texas is a large state, so its pass provides free entry to 89 state parks. That makes the low cost even more impressive. Note that not all state parks have camping facilities, so do your research before arriving.
The camping discount is the weak point for this pass. It provides a 50% discount for the second night when you spend two consecutive nights or more at the same spot. Driving through Texas always feels like it takes forever, though, so it’s a great option if you’re visiting or passing through on your way to other states.
When Should I Consider Annual State Camping Passes?
Annual state camping passes are always worth it, in my opinion. It’s a great way to support the park systems in the places you visit. But if you travel to several states, the price adds up. So, how do you decide when a pass makes the most financial sense for you?
- Determine how long you plan to stay in the area for the next 12 months.
- Estimate the cost of the campsite and entrance fees based on your travel plans.
- If the total cost of the pass is equal to or greater than the cost of campsite fees, get the pass.
Don’t forget to include the discounted cost of campsites in your calculations. For example, the Nevada Annual State Pass cost me $250. As a resident, camping at Valley of Fire with full hookups costs $20 per night. Consequently, the pass paid for itself within 13 overnight stays. Non-residents pay $25 per night, so they would recover the cost in 10 nights.
Now, you can start shopping for state camping passes!
Annual state camping passes are among the best travel hacks I’ve encountered on the road. With my pass, I paid as little as $28 per week to camp in New Mexico. That’s $112 per month! At a time when the price of everything is soaring sky high, it’s nice to know some states have kept the Great Outdoors accessible to everyone.
After all, Movement is a human right.