Get started using National Parks Passports to collect stamps and document your visits to America’s National Parks and other historical and scenic sites.
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National Parks Passports: My Not-So-Secret Obsession
Okay, I confess it’s an addiction. But as far as I know no one has ever gotten hurt in my pursuit of a fix.
I will admit that I may have encouraged an occasional road trip driver to flirt with the speed limit a time or two in order to reach a National Parks visitor center before their always-too-early closing time.
And yes, I have been known to beg a park ranger to let us in to grab a cancellation stamp after the doors have been locked and barred.
And I am guilty of trying to cram more National Park visits than humanly possible into a single day or extended road trip in order to collect as many stamps as possible.
I know, I know . . . .
I also fully understand that backroad trips are singular adventures that should unfold as you go, and that National Parks are meant to be savored and explored.
But yes, my compulsion has made me guilty of breaking these travel commandments for the thrill of a fresh rubber stamp.
I’m working on it . . . .
So what are these potentially-addictive National Parks Passports and stamps?
The Passport to Your National Parks program is run by America’s National Parks™, the same non-profit organization that operates bookstores in over 150 National Park visitor centers. The program was launched in 1986 to encourage visitation to all of America’s national parks and to allow visitors to keep a permanent visual record of their National Park visits.
I learned about National Parks Passport cancellation stamps ages ago, and I had even collected them on journal pages and National Park Unigrids (official NPS brochures) during my travels through the years.
But according to my earliest stamp (not including the older ones I glued in), I bought my first passport at Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina, while on a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History teacher workshop day trip on August 5, 2009.
How can I be so precise in my recollections? It is because nothing has better recorded and proved my visits to these uniquely American sites than my National Park Passport.
So how do you get one of these legendary National Parks Passports?
Passports are available for purchase at America’s National Parks™ bookstores located in the visitor centers of National Parks across the country. For a few dollars you can pick up a passport and proceed to the stamping station to collect your first stamp(s).
You can also buy them online here, but then you will have to pay shipping & handling charges, and you will have to wait to collect your first stamp(s).
In addition to the basic passport, there are a couple of variations. The Kids’ Companion and the Explorer’s Edition are readily available in bookstores and online.
There are also several special editions. The 25th Anniversary edition, published in 2011, is a collectible now probably available only on eBay.
There is also a Civil War Handbook and Kids’ Passport Companion.
As a Civil War buff, I especially enjoy collecting cancellations in this beautiful supplement.
The large spiral-bound Passport to Your National Parks Collector’s Edition was published in 2016. Because my original passport was getting full, I purchased one of these and absolutely love it!
The free official NPS mobile app places a wealth of National Parks information at your fingertips, including passport stamp locations.
In my opinion, stamp cancellations collected in a National Parks Passport are the cheapest and most memorable souvenirs available.
Although he does not share my manic obsession with collecting stamps, my friend Jerry understands and enjoys having a record of his National Park visits. Ask him about the time I could not find my passport and thought we had accidentally thrown it away at a gas station. I made him turn the car around and drive back to the RaceTrac in Jasper, Georgia, and watch me unashamedly plunder a garbage can in front of God and everybody.
How’s that for an addiction-induced behavior?
For this reason, I no longer carry my NPS passports with me when I travel. I collect stamp cancellations on scraps of paper and glue them in when I return home. America’s National Parks™ sells stampable sticker sets that I think are a bit overpriced. You could probably find similar labels for a better price at an office supply store or online.
If you would like to meet almost 7,000 National Parks Passport stampers who are even more obsessively addicted to this pursuit than I am, check out the National Park Travelers Club for the inside scoop on rare cancellations, master lists and maps, and even national conventions!
Be sure to let us know when you get your National Parks Passport and tell us how collecting stamps became an obsession for you, too . . . .
Click here to find lodging near your favorite National Parks on TripAdvisor!
I Would Love to Hear From You
I enjoy dialogue with Backroad Planet readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Do you have a National Parks Passport? If so, I would love to hear about your stamp collecting experiences. I invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and I always respond!
I have a NPS Passport, which like you, I truly love. We just completed a Southwest road trip, in which I obtained several stamps. While visiting the visitors center in Flagstaff, AZ, I located a Route 66 passport book. With the purchase of this book, many of the stamp locations also provide a free gift. While at the Winslow visitor center, They provided me with a FREE passport book that is just the Arizona portion of Route 66. When we arrived in Kingman with 8 stamps in the passport, I received a certificate. Now I am seeking whatever passports are available throughout the United States. I believe I found a Lighthouse passport book!
Sounds like we share the same interests, Faith! Don’t you just LOVE Arizona? We didn’t make it to Kingman, but we visited Flagstaff and Winslow on our most recent Arizona road trip. Seems like I heard about the Route 66 passport while we were there. FYI, I also have a Florida State Parks passport book and a Presidential Libraries passport. So fun!
I see I will have to start the presidents all over again! Thank you for the tips for additional passports. I wish there was a list somewhere. Yes, Arizona was truly unique. We will be returning 🙂
I received my Lighthouse Passport from the United States Lighthouse Society today!
So cool! Enjoy! I am afraid I cannot take on another passport at this time, although I would love to . . . .
Don’t forget the blank cancellation stickers you can pick up as well! I try to keep my passport in my purse, but every once in a while we’ll make an unplanned stop at a cancellation location. Now a lot of the locations sell bookmarks with three blank circular stickers that you can collect your cancellation on and add to your passport later!
Thanks for this valuable tip, Jenny! I typically stamp scrap pieces of paper and glue them in later, but stickers would be so much easier.
I love the national park passport and stamps. It’s a great way to remember my travels with my family
It is good to see from reading this that I am not alone here. We had to leave our house for a few days a couple of years ago due to a renovation and had to come up with activities. We live in western Conn., 15 miles from Weir Farm NHS, a place that we had never visited. Had never heard of the Passport, saw them for sale there, bought one on August 9, 2014. That is date of our 1st stamp. We thought that this would be an interesting thing to take with us on a trip to visit our son in Alaska a month later. So, our next stamps were picked up at Kenai Fjord and Denali, so we probably hold a record for longest distance between first and second places visited. All kidding aside, this little book has become a large part of any travels that we make. When we visited my sister for a gathering in Harlem, New York City, my wife wondered aloud if there were any parks nearby. Turns out that my sister is about 300 yards from Hamilton Grange and another mile from General Grant Memorial, so there we went. We have been to many places that we never would have been to if not for this book! It accompanies us on all road trips near and far, and it has been a great education. We have stamps from 15 states (and also D.C. ) and 85 places so far, and await the future opening of the Coltsville NHS in Hartford, Conn.
Wow, Dave! What an amazing National Parks Passport story you have! I was just telling Jerry earlier this evening that hearing from readers with stories like yours is my favorite type of comment. I love how you went from Connecticut to Alaska and then NYC and collected stamps at every destination. I am afraid that my little passport is full to overflowing, even though there are regions of the country where I still have virtually no stamps. I recently ordered the new 2016 big spiral-bound NPS passport, but it has been on backorder for months. Hopefully, it will arrive before too long. Thanks again for sharing your story, Dave, and here’s hoping you collect many more stamps in 2017!
Yes! I am glad that it is not just me! I, like you, purchased my spiral bound passport book at King’s Mountain. I had just completed the trail that goes from Crowder’s Mountain in North Carolina to King’s Mountain in South Carolina. I picked up this book and now, I am anxiously waiting to fill it up. I am headed up to Virginia next week and have already planned out my 9 national parks/battlefields that I plan to visit. I had just completed all 47 state parks in South Carolina and now am on to national parks, although that one will be a bit more challenging to complete!
And I didn’t realize there was a Civil War book as well. Will definitely be picking that one up before I visit the battlefields next week!
What a coincidence that we both bought our National Parks Passports at King’s Mountain, Tara! And I am very impressed with your completion of the South Carolina state parks. Do they have a state passport for that? Jerry and I have been working on our Florida State Passports for several years now. I have visited 70-80 so far. The Civil War passport is a cool addition to the NPS program, but my next purchase is the new large passport that came out earlier in 2016. Thanks for stopping by, and I know you have many NPS adventures in store!
Totally agree with that. I was finishing the state parks and National Parks for the SC “challenge”, so I could get a free t-shirt and state parks pass for completing them all. Yes, there is a book that I had to get the stamps for as well. I ended up having to do half the parks again, because I didn’t realize there was a book that I had to get. Go figure! I saw that book when in the bookstore and thought since I was so close finishing the state parks, I might as well work on the national ones next!
Definitely going to get the Civil War one, since I’ll be visiting several of those on my visit. Debating DC in my trip, but not sure I have that much time. 🙁 Or money. lol
I know what you mean about DC. Even though most of the attractions are free, the travel, lodging, and food expenses are not. The upside is that DC is a passport stamp collector’s dream. There is one Visitor Center on the Mall where you can get 18-20 stamps in one pop!
EXACTLY!!!! That’s why I think that I’m going to avoid it this time! Only have 3-4 days and that includes Shenandoah Valley, Appomattox, Richmond and Petersburg BF in addition to others. Not to mention the travel time to and from SC.
I keep finding different places that have stamps that aren’t listed on the NPS website! It’s so frustrating trying to plan the trip without missing anything close.
My best travel planning advice is to plan well, even overplan, but when the time comes to work your plan, relax, go with the flow, and enjoy being in the moment. You cannot do everything in one trip. So, collect all the stamps you can, and the others can wait until next time. Hope your upcoming trip is the best!
This is awesome! I have been to a few national parks, but I regret that I haven’t got one of the passport books. Well, never too late to start, I guess! I’ll work on it next time I’m in the USA.
I live in Thailand now. Just last weekend I picked up a Thai National Park passport book. I actually found your blog while searching for more information. The Thai book is a lot like the US one, but each stamp depicts the park’s most iconic landmark. My goal in 2017 is to fill it up as much as I can, and see some of the lesser-known parts of Thailand while I’m at it.
Good luck with your stamp collecting! I hope I can get my US passport book soon, and start seeing more of our National Parks. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for collecting things…
Hi Michael! Always great to meet someone who shares my NP Passport stamp collecting obsession. You might want to know that that Eastern National released a brand new spiral-bound passport in 2016 that contains a stamp location for every national park. Mine is currently on backorder at Amazon, but I did see one at a NP bookstore a few weeks ago.
How cool that Thailand also has a NP passport! I know it will keep you busy for a while.
Thanks for stopping by, and safe travels to you!
I love this! I thought I was the only one who was obsessed with my passport book!! I just got the anniversary edition and now I have to start over. Awesome blog. Thanks. You made me smile. And motivated me to get out of bed and go hiking at Congaree – and get a cancellation stamp of course!!
If there’s any SC or western NC hikers out there I would love to talk to ya!
Hi Sandy! Thanks so much for your kind words. Great to connect with you. I took a peek at the new anniversary edition a few weeks ago, and I definitely will be getting one. I think I am going to cut up my current passport and paste the cancellations I already have in the new book. Am I crazy?
I am fairly close to Western NC when up at Pinebox, my North Georgia cabin. Perhaps our paths will cross out on the trails! 🙂
I stumbled across this blog in pursuit of more knowledge of the passport for national parks. LOVE THIS BLOG! Thank you for writing about it and I can’t wait to read more posts!
Do you do podcasts or write books?
Thanks, Christina! I published several educational books back in the 1990s, but nothing recently. I have done a podcast interview, but we do not have our own show.
I just received the Explorer Edition of the Passport book today as a retirement gift from my husband! I love it and can’t wait to start collecting!
How awesome, Jan! I probably need to think about getting the Explorer Edition, because my regular passport is getting full.
Oh man, I had no idea something like this existed. This is dangerous for me since I love things of this sort! I have something similar for popular monuments and temples in Japan!
That makes two of us, Beth! I am sure if I were in Japan, I would have Monuments and Temples passport, and not be satisfied until I had visited every single one.
I love this! I would definitely get addicted to collecting the stamps. I wish they had something similar for the national parks here in the UK
I would love to have a NP passport from the UK as well, Lies! I have one from the Maritime Provinces of Canada. They split them into regions there.
I didn’t know they did this. It’s a goal of mine to visit every US national park (not including every NPS site like national monuments, national historical sites, etc – just national parks. But of course, I wouldn’t mind visiting them ALL). I just get a magnet from each one I visit!
Bailey, I used to buy pins from all the NPS sites, but it just got to be too many, and too expensive. Now I just collect the stamps, and they suit me fine.
I really want to explore more National Parks around the world and the US parks are at the top of the list. I think this is a great way to get people to explore more protected natural areas and definitely an addiction that should be encouraged! Thanks for sharing, great post
Kate, I also have a Florida State Parks passport, where I live, and I wish there were a passport to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Whoa, well I haven’t been to a National Park but in my honest opinion, that is one great addiction 😛
Could be worse, right Aileen?
I can totally relate to collecting the passport stamps. Its a good way of bringing back memories of places you have visited. I certainly like doing it with my regular passport in any case!
I know what you mean, Dave! My parents became missionaries to Latin America when I was in 6th grade, and I still have all of my passports from the first one when my four-year old sister was paired with me on the same passport.
Did not know such an item existed! What a great way to keep track of visits, and have a souvenir all rolled into one! I do not have one yet, but can see myself getting one when we move back to the states, since I love National Parks.
You won’t regret it, Michele! I love looking through my NPP and remembering all the parks and sites I have visited.
I love National Parks! We visit them as often as possible, but don’t have a passport. I can definitely see where it would be addicting though–I’m tempted to get one, but I know I’d probably get crazy about it, LOL!
Do it, Jenna! It is the best free souvenir. 🙂
I totally understand the obsession. The US has so many national parks all so beautiful! My first national park was when I was 11 and my family went to Yosemite!
And when you add the National Battlefields and National Historical Sites and all the other stamping locations, it gets crazy, Sophie!
I just began visiting a lot more National Parks a few months ago and I get it too – I’m totally keeping track myself.
Agreed! The NPP is the best way to keep track of your NP visits, Angelica.
Totally understand the obsession. Pete was all about it, too. Then we moved to Hawaii and he left it in our storage unit in Minnesota. Doh! We’ll find it someday and resume when we come back to the U.S.
I know how it feels to forget to bring the passport along, Betsy. When I visit a national park and don’t have it with me, I just stamp a piece of paper and glue it in when I get home. 🙂
Hi Howard. We are late getting started with our passport. We’ve been to many parks over the years and will likely not get back. One ranger suggested we send a written request for a stamp on a piece of paper along with a self-addressed envelope, so we can tuck those into our passport. Do you have an opinion or other info about this? Thanks very much.
Hi Laurie! So glad you raised this topic. I was unaware that stamping locations are willing to do this until a few months ago. I forget which location, but I do recall the ranger telling me they do receive and respond to stamp requests. I frequently collect stamps on sticky notes when I forget to bring along my passport, and I glue them in later. These stamps actually give my passport more personality! When making these requests by US mail using a SASE, you need to tell them the date you visited so they can adjust the date on the stamp. Best wishes on completing your NP visits in your passport!
I thought I was the only adult that had an obsession with them!! haha I just started last year when I saw the passport book at Carlsbad Caverns. I have a long way to go, but it’s a fun ‘obsession’. Love this post!
Yeah, I am totally obsessed with my National Parks passport and my Florida State Parks passport, as well, Nancie! So glad you enjoyed the post!
It would not have been funny at the time, but it definitely would be now! Oh, and you need to get a Gravatar.
Truly sorry for not getting video of Howard digging in the trash, when he thought he threw his National Park Passport Stamp Book in the gas station trash can.
Like Karen Walker always said, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true!”