From Arches to Zion, military members and their families can explore America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other public lands without paying an entrance fee.

Part of the America the Beautiful series, the free annual pass is available to U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserve and National Guard.

“The free annual pass for the military was developed to be able to thank the active-duty members of the U.S. military and their families for their service to their country,” said Kathy Pollock, public affairs representative for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Normally $80, the free pass grants access to 2,000 destinations. Of those sites, there are five iconic national parks in Utah to choose from. Known as The Mighty Five, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion are all within driving distance of each other. Also, 23 million acres of the Bureau of Land Management’s public land is located in Utah.

Pollock said Utah residents’ proximity to these famous spots is one of the main reasons for service members to take advantage of the pass.

“We’ve got the backcountry, we’ve got numerous campgrounds, we’ve got the national parks,” Pollock said. “They (military members) can go with their families and just enjoy being outside.”

Weber State University student and Air Force member Alan Salmond said he hadn’t heard of the free pass, but would be interested in getting one.

“If I had a free pass, I’d actually explore more,” Salmond said. “Having the pass would not only help financially, but it would help emotionally too. Just getting away and taking a break helps stress.”

Service members can get a pass by showing their Common Access Card or Military ID Form 1173, Pollock explained. Immediate family members can get a pass, even if the service member is deployed, as long as they show proper military identification. Although this pass is not available to retired veterans, those with a permanent disability may qualify for a free lifetime access pass.

At sites with entrance fees, a pass covers all passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle. At sites that charge per person, the pass covers the owner and three accompanying adults age 16 and older.

The pass can be obtained at the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest’s building on Ogden’s 25th Street, or at most federal lands that charge an entrance fee. Once obtained, the pass is good for one year.

WSU student Joshua Koch, a U.S. Army cadet about to be commissioned as second lieutenant for active duty, said he thinks service members should utilize the pass. Koch said he would like to visit the Grand Canyon, and a free pass would give him an excuse to go.

“Going to the national parks is always a really good thing,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to go see different parts of the United States. Now that we can do it for free, it helps soldiers have something better to do on the weekend besides just sit around in their barracks room.”

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