Think about this: Oregon has 362 state parks, 21 national wildlife refuges, 11 national forests, three national monuments, two state forests, a national historical park and a national park. Pile on all the county- and city-owned recreation sites, and you have thousands of opportunities to enjoy the beaches, mountains, forests, deserts and savannas that make up this state.
Because many jurisdictions manage these magnificent landscapes, and because entry often requires a fee, it can be challenging to be prepared. Sadly, there is no single über-pass that provides access to everything. Two decades ago, there was such a pass — the Washington-Oregon Recreation Pass, or WORP — that covered state and federal recreation sites in Oregon and Washington, but revenue challenges put an end to it.
Today, with just a minor amount of advance planning, it’s possible to pick the most economical collection of passes that will ensure seamless recreational adventure. For people who want a variety of options — county, state and federal parks — the good news is that area sporting goods stores sell almost all of the necessary passes.
The trick for the budget-minded vacationer is knowing where to invest in an annual pass and where the right collection of day passes will do the trick. Below is a list of details to help sort through the maze.
To start with, free options abound
Of Oregon’s hundreds of parks, just 25 have a day-use parking fee. And for those locations that do charge a fee, it can be avoided by simply not parking onsite. Pedestrians get in free. The state also offers three free-entry days each year. National parks and monuments offer five free days a year.
Visitors who are camping in state parks can use their printed camping registration while it’s valid to enter any other state day-use sites for free just by placing it on their car dashboard. Active military, disabled veterans and foster families are eligible for free passes, depending on the jurisdiction.
Next choice: annual vs. day passes
If you plan more than six visits to Oregon state parks that charge fees, buying an annual pass makes sense. A one-day visit is $5. An annual pass is $30. Lane County parks charge a $4 day-use fee or a $40 annual pass.
All of the national recreation sites fall under the America the Beautiful Pass. At $80 it might seem like a lot, but it provides free access across the entire country for a year to all the national parks, all the national forests, and all the BLM recreation lands and refuges.
A few unique passes are cross jurisdictional. The Oregon Pacific Coast Passport provides entry to a range of state and national parks from Astoria to Coos Bay. The Northwest Forest Pass covers all the national forests in Washington and Oregon. The Sno Park pass is good not only in Oregon but in Idaho and California.
One last note: Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife manages 15 amazing sites that also require day-use passes that can be challenging to obtain. At Summer Lake in central Oregon, for example, there’s no opportunity to buy the $10 parking permit on site. For that, you’ll need to go to the Springfield ODF office or buy it online.
It’s wise to check the website of the place you plan to visit before going. Weather, wildfires, construction and staffing issues can all interfere with day-to-day operations.
America the Beautiful pass
What it is: Day-use pass for National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed sites.
Annual passes are $80; seven-day passes vary from park to park; Crater Lake costs $30, while Lewis and Clark National Historical Area costs $10.
In addition to the senior discount, current U.S. military and dependents get a free pass, as do veterans, Gold Star Families, and people with a permanent disability.
Buy them at area sporting goods stores and online at Store.USGS.gov/recreational-passes.
Free days: Martin Luther King Day, the first day of National Parks week (this year April 22), Aug. 4 (the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act), Sept. 23, (National Public Lands Day) and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day)
More info: Store.USGS.gov/recreational-passes.
Oregon State Parks pass
What it is: Day-use pass at 25 natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational sites.
Annual passes are $30, or $50 for 2 years. Day passes are $5. The annual pass is $25 if purchased in December for the following year. Free for disabled vets, active duty military and foster families. Buy them at area sporting goods stores and online at Store.OregonStateParks.org.
Free days are New Year’s day, State Parks day (the first Saturday in June), and Green Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). See more at Store.OregonStateParks.org.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife pass
What it is: Access to 15 locations around the state that are popular with birders and hunters.
Annual passes are $30 and daily passes are $10; buy them at 3150 E. Main Street, Springfield, at some sporting goods stores or online at ODFW.HuntFishOregon.com/login. See more at MyODFW.com/articles/buying-odfw-wildlife-area-parking-permit.
What it is: A parking permit giving access to more than 40 parks and rec sites, such as Armitage Park, Baker Bay Park and Howard Buford Recreation Area. A list of the county’s free sites is available by going to LaneCounty.org/parks and clicking “purchase a parking pass.”
Annual passes are $40 and day-use passes are $4. Passes for seniors with ID are $20; disabled veterans get them free or $20, depending on degree of disability. Find them at sporting goods stores and online at Reservations.LaneCounty.org and click Passes and Permits.
Oregon Pacific Coast Passport
What it is: Multi-agency day-use pass for 16 Oregon coast locations such as Ft. Stevens State Park near Astoria and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near Coos Bay.
Annual passes are $35 and five-day passes are $10. They are available at sites along the Oregon coast, including Astoria Welcome Center, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and Sunset Bay State Park. Go to OrParksForever.org/parking-passes and click Oregon Parks Passport.
Northwest Forest Pass
What it is: Pass honored at all Forest Service operated recreation sites in Washington and Oregon where a day-use fee is required.
Annual passes are $30 and one-day passes are $5 at sporting good stores and area ranger district offices. See more at OrParksForever.org/parking-passes and click Annual Northwest Forest Pass.
Sno Park Pass
What it is: A parking permit good from Nov. to April 30 in designated winter recreation parking areas. Oregon, Idaho and California have reciprocal sno-park passes.
Annual passes are $25; three days, $9; and one day, $4. They are available at sporting goods stores, winter resorts, DMV field offices and online at DMV2U.Oregon.gov. Go to OrParksForever.org/parking-passes and hit Sno Park Permits.
Susan Palmer is a Eugene freelance writer. Visit her blog at SusanPalmer.org.