big bend

Santa Elena Canyon is one of the highlights of Big Bend National Park, located in West Texas.

If you’re still in search of vacation plans as the summer months heat up, might I suggest one of the best deals available for those that love the outdoors.

At a cost of just $80 (plus a $5 processing fee), the America the Beautiful annual pass provides an affordable way to see some of the most majestic places in the country — with the money going back toward the breathtaking spots you can visit.

The pass allows its owner and three accompanying adults in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country — including all 61 national parks. There is no entry fee charged for children 15-and-under, with a $90 lifetime pass available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents 62 and over.

With the Sam Houston National Forest situated in and around Walker County, locals don’t have to travel far to enjoy the benefits. After being shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the USDA Forest Service recently reopened Cagle Campground, Stubblefield Campground, Scotts Ridge Recreational Area and Double Lake Recreation Area — all of which are located within 40 miles of Huntsville. I made a trip out to Cagle earlier this week, and there were already individuals taking advantage of the fishing spots and hiking trails, as well as a near-full parking lot of boaters enjoying the northern waters of Lake Conroe.

But while I recommend you take the time to hit these local spots, perhaps the greatest value of the pass comes with its access to America’s national parks. Two of these are in West Texas — Big Bend and Texas Guadalupe Mountains National Parks — with another two — Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Hot Springs in Arkansas — being less than a 10-hour drive from Huntsville.

The list hardly ends there. And for those planning a vacation, a national parks road trip is never a disappointing option — whether you’re on a family getaway or a solo adventure.

I’ve been on two since purchasing my pass in December, and have already saved $150 after visits to Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Zion and Bryce Canyon. All four are awe-inspiring in their own ways — although personally, the natural beauty and outdoor adventure opportunities at Zion set it apart from the rest. My goal is to eventually visit each national park, but Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks are the three at the top of my to-do list — and if I hadn’t already been to Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains, they’d be up there too.

The options are endless when it comes to the America the Beautiful pass, and the amazing places for which it is your ticket to. So grab the family, some friends or hit the road by yourself, and enjoy some of the best spots the country has to offer.