I have a confession: I am a huge nerd. And my nerdome is in full, boundless display when it comes to our National Parks and one, seemingly silly little program:
National Park Passport Stamps.
You’ve probably seen the passport books for sale in National Park bookstores across the country. You may have flipped through one and thought “that’s nice” and then walked away.
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That’s too bad. Because you missed the chance to let a new, all-consuming obsession take hold of you as you travel across this great land.
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You’re thinking “Stamps? Really? Are you 86-years-old?” Nope, I just freaking love the challenge. And you should, too.
Why do I love collecting the National Park Passport Stamps?
First of all, it offers a challenge. Can I get them all? Can I see everything there is to see in every park and “earn” that stamp?
Next, it offers a little purpose boost and motivation to our visits to stamp locations. We visit parts of parks that we may not have otherwise stopped at or would have even known existed were not for my stamp chase.
How do you collect National Park passport stamps?
It goes like this — first, buy a book at any National Park book store. You can get the kind I have or a larger, more obsessive version is available in the stores. The small version is available for sale online here.
Almost any National Park-affiliated unit can apply for and be given a cancelation stamp for you to add to your collection. They look like this:
When you visit a National Park or affiliate location you can either look for the stamp in the visitor’s center or ask one of the Rangers if they have one. You make sure you’ve got the date right and you stamp the correct section of your book (Southeast, for example).
Here’s where it gets fun: many locations have several stamps. Some locations have “secret” stamps that, for various reasons, are kept behind the counter. Maybe they’ve been retired (for example, the stamp commemorating a certain past anniversary at a location). Maybe they are for a different location that no longer exists (for example, a stamp for Dollywood, Tennessee where the National Park system used to have a station that has since closed).
There is a stamp for the Appalachian Trail. There is a stamp for the Natchez Trace. There are stamps for every park and destination you can think of (except the Udvar-Hazy extension for the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum — weird if you ask me).
There are a few ways you could look at collecting National Park passport stamps.
You could have the stamp book, take it with you on your adventures and simply get a stamp every time you come across a stamp station. No sweat.
You could have the stamp book, make a point of asking the Ranger at any given location if they have a stamp. Easy.
Or. You could have the stamp book, visit places on purpose because you want to collect the stamps AND make sure you have all the stamps you can possibly get. Thrilling.
So, how do you find National Park Passport Stamps?
Every few months the folks over at Eastern National, the company that produces products for the National Parks update a tremendously long, eye-searing list of stamp locations.
The list is thorough, but it doesn’t give any information about where, exactly, stamps are located or whether or not there are “secret” stamps at those locations.
And that’s why I recommend my way of finding stamps: join the National Park Travelers Club.
Yes, a club. (Feel free to join my husband in making fun of me now.)
For a few dollars a year you can be a member of this club and have access to their master list.
Ah, the master list.
This glorious list, which I would totally include a screenshot it if it weren’t top secret and for members only, not only contains tips for how to find stamps (“found in the cabinet to the left of the register in a red bag” for example) but it also says when a member last logged seeing it and even gives GPS coordinates for exactly where to find it.
Yes, this just got real.
The website is a little clunky because it’s older. But don’t let that stop you from using the master list and getting the most out of this fun stamp program.
Before we visit a park or take a road trip to, well, anywhere, I do some quick research using the master list to see if any stamps are available where or near where we are going. And then we plan our trip accordingly.
I also have personal stamp collecting rules. One of them is that I can’t get the stamp unless I’ve actually experienced the place I’m visiting — no stamping and dashing for me. That means we have the chance to make some quality pit stops on our trips while I “earn” my stamp. And it also means we hit some places we would otherwise just driven by or not known to look for.
Have you started collecting stamps? Are you willing to start the obsession?
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Where can I find stamps from parks that I’ve been to before I started collecting stamps? Even if I have to tape them in.
Hi Jeff! This is a tricky one. I’ve been told by Rangers at different parks that they regularly get phone calls from people looking to score stamps that they failed to get in the past — and that they will mail them. This rule might depend on the park or the Ranger you are talking to, but it’s worth a shot. Personally? I’ve just decided this calls for a revisit to the parks in question. Good luck!
I share in your enthusiasm (I like to call it). I am totally hooked on NP stamp collecting. I have used a system to combine the books that you might appreciate. I used to remove the metal spiral and add pages, but the book got too thick. Instead I took off leather cover, trimmed the middle rib, and connected it with metal rings at top and bottom. Now all stamps are in one book. 🙂 Happy stamping!
Hello! I have the same small stamp book you do. There are 400 listed in the book, but I looked online and there are 417 national parks in the US. Do you know where these 17 other loacations are?? It’s killing me.
Now there are 423 national parks!
Check here: https://americasnationalparks.org/passport-to-your-national-parks/passport-cancellation-locations/
new locations are highlighted in red
One other thing that you can find as a member of the NPTC is a route planner. Say you’re driving from Chicago to Detroit, and you’re willing to go 10 miles out of your way to get a stamp. Put that info in the route planner, and you will see where all of the stamps are located along your route (plus the 10 miles).
I’m at the end of a month-long loop trip from Tennessee to MANY National Parks and other NPS properties. I really wish I had known about the secret stamps before I left. I did ask for a get secret stamps yesterday at Great Sand Dunes (4 stamps) and today at Florissant Fossil Beds ( 1 stamp). One of the rangers told me to send letter to parks I missed and ask for a stamp. She assured me that most rangers are happy to help! Thanks for the info. when I get home next week I have a lot of letters to write!
yep obsessed and loving it but I always seem to for get my passport book ???? but this time they had a wonderful solution, I didn’t see it here but might have missed it. it is a small 3 pack of sticky circles, for a buck, easy to keep in your wallet, you can get stamped and then add to your book when you get back to it. love it!
Many visitors centers will have squares cut out for those of us that sometimes forget our books.
I’m planning on visiting ‘closed’ parks during the government shutdown (since I’ve already purchased my airline ticket). Can I print stamps anywhere as an option?
Many of the parks and visitor centers that are “closed” will have a temporary location outside the VC manned by a ranger (or two). It is always a good idea to call ahead to determine the exact location of the stamp.
Collecting cancelations Can be done several ways. I’ve chosen to also collect the yearly stamp pages that are also released and put the stamps next to the cooresponding cancelation. A little more cumbersome but I think it adds more enjoyment to the hobby.
I recently got a passport but only after visiting yosemite, sequoia, and mariposa parks…. is there a way to retroactively find the stamps?
I was able to get the stamps from Castle Clinton and Harper’s Ferry by asking them on their website. When I went there the place to get the stamps was closed. This only worked for the year that I went and not past years.
I disassembled the passport book I had, discarded several unnecessary pages and kept the index map and blank pages, got more blank pages from passports I found at a yard sale and a used bookstore, and rebound them all into a 2″ thick book by using a plastic coil binding (a spring like thing I got at a copy shop). Rebinding it is a little tricky but I used toothpicks to put in the rectangular holes where the original metal binding was, to keep all the pages in place.
Regarding getting stamps from places I had been to but didn’t realize they offered stamps other than for the main Park unit (e.g. a specific park might also be on the Old Spanish Historic Trail, which has its own stamp), I mail a request to the place and enclose a SASE. The Park folks just stamp the bottom of my letter, and when I get it back I literally cut & paste it into my fat passport. I also carry a couple SASE with me to leave in the door of a visitor center if the place is closed. Yes, I am a Park geek.
Now that’s dedication! Love it.
You may know that many national park units offer a Virtual Tour stamp, probably in the shadow of the Covid closures. Check the websites for each park you’re interested in, watch the video they offer, and print out the “Virtual Tour 2020” stamp, which even comes in the appropriate color for that region. You can cut it out and glue in your book.
The passport stamp and book is a fantastic way of preserving a memory, but I witnessed on more than one occasion Rangers being accused of purposely hiding stamps that were viewed on the stamp website.
A Ranger spoke of being screamed at and being called a liar for the same reason.
I highly doubt Park Rangers purpisely hide stamps from visitors.
This is behavior that will quickly make this great idea a loathsome one for Rangers.
Thank you for posting, I didn’t know about the National Park Travelers Club!