Why Washington State’s new Discover Pass system is bullshit

Do you want to go somewhere outdoors this Summer to hike or fish or camp? You better plan some pre-activity suffering on your computer. Why? Washington state, in an effort to prevent the closure of 100 of our 119 state parks, has implemented a new paid access plan for parks. For $30 a year (I’ll come back to this) or $10 daily per vehicle per visit. No problem. I usually donate about $55 a year to the state parks system (typically by way of $5 when I renew my vehicle tabs, and various small cash donations at parks). I love to donate to state parks because I love to visit them. I could almost go on forever about how important parks are, and how blessed Americans are to have such a diverse array of culturally and geographically significant regions to experience. But I wont.

What gets me about this park pass is the overall feeling that the parks system is trying to screw the very people who want to support them.

When the flyers, the newspaper articles, and the signs all say that the annual fee is $30 what would you expect to pay for an annual DiscoverPass? Thirty dollars? Me too. The only way to get the $30 price is to find an open ranger booth at your park. Good luck. Better get online and buy your pass ahead of time. Whats the price online? Thirty-five dollars. Where does that extra money go? Not to the parks, it is a “dealer fee.” You can also go to various businesses and get a Discover Pass if you’re willing to pay a dealer fee. Fees vary as the dealer sets their own fee.

What if you want to pull out on the side of Chuckanut Drive to hike into Fragrance Lake or similar locations? Sorry, you need a pass and the ranger station/camp manager doesn’t even have hours posted. Want to go to DNR lands with no ranger station or management? Remember to purchase your pass online or wherever you pick up your hunting/fishing license.

Once you’ve bought the pass you’re free to go. Stick it on the windshield of your Prius and take off, headed for a park. Next weekend, pack up the boat and larger vehicle (more people exposed to our state parks!) and head off for a longer trip. Just don’t forget that you have to buy another Discover Pass. That’s right, each vehicle regardless of the owner, needs its own $30 annual pass.

Now allow me to ask you a simple question. Does any of this make you want to visit one of our state parks? Do you think this encourages new visitors to the park? I don’t. I think the only people that will put up with this hassle will be folks who already have firsthand knowledge of the beauty of our parks. If you enjoy Washington’s state parks, or just the outdoors I urge you to make a donation to the parks by clicking… Oh wait, the state parks system doesn’t have an easy link so that people may donate online. I suggest you still make a donation by sending a check to the address below.

I urge you to buy a Discover Pass and use it. If you get the chance buy it from a ranger and tell them you think that this is the wrong way to go about keeping our parks open. Show the state parks system that we support them. Spread the word about the wonders of Washington’s state parks. Take someone who has never been to a state park to your favorite park! Help instill in people the desire to preserve and protect this gift. Consider joining the Washington Trails Association. Visit their website and find a new hike near you.

Above all, get out there and have fun. Use the parks, or lose them.

Washington State Parks Donation Address:

Washington State Parks
Attn: Park Donation
P.O. Box 42650
1111 Israel Road S.W.
Olympia, WA 98504-2650


  1. the stuff about chuck a nut really surprised me. man well i better buy it to be safe…. i hate saying it like that, id rather just donate 30 dollars

    • I’d rather donate $100. If more people visited state parks more people would donate. If more people donated, people wouldn’t have to pay to have (potentially) their first experience there and the fee could go away. I’m not against paying to access state parks, I’m just suggesting it should be easier.

  2. Better than a ranger tell your governor, your representative and state senators, they are holding what little is left of the purse strings and they enacted this law.  The ranger is the messenger here, as frustrating as that sounds.  Also you young folks should consider public office to change some of what you do not like.

  3. You folks are just starting to learn that you are not wanted in washington state parks. I have been told by many a ranger that this is their park. paying to use land that we have already paid for is bullshit. (public my Ass) Give the land back to the people! remove the gates put in to keep us out. fire the rangers. I have never once seen a ranger clean up somone elses mess. (but I have on many occasions). support gun saftey. (don’t be a puss protect yourself), and clean up after yourselves.
    There are many people that will do their part to up keep these parks. this will lead to a truely free outdoor experience.

    • This comment strikes me as ignorant and deliberately inflammatory.

      First your attack on rangers.

      Park rangers are just human beings. Humans tend to follow their passion, and the becoming a park ranger is noble in the same vein as any other law enforcement officers. Sadly, the position of law enforcement officer is frequently abused. Even more sadly, there are people who enter into law enforcement not to ‘protect and serve’ but to manipulate and terrorize. However, and I cannot stress this enough, this is NOT the norm. Most officers of the law (including park rangers) have a strong commitment to their work. There are some parks where the rangers have habituated an anti-public attitude, and this is incredibly sad. However, this IS NOT the true in the majority of our parks. 

      The rangers that I have dealt with personally have overwhelmingly been top-notch individuals with a genuine interest in protecting the park, preserving the experience, and educating those that chose visit. The Washington state park service works wonders with what it has. Even before the budget cuts paid rangers coordinated with dedicated volunteers to ensure that nothing was lacking.

      I can only think of three possibilities when interpreting your assertion that you “have been told by many a ranger that this is their park.”

      Either you misinterpreted their statement that they were proud of their workplace.

      You deliberately provided slim context with the intention of individuals doing the same.

      Or, you are flat out lying.

      I sincerely hope you get the opportunity to visit a park and have a good experience that chances your mind about Washington state park rangers.

      The second item from your comment that I take issue with is your suggestion that the parks don’t need continued financial support. Do you honestly believe that we can just let the parks take care of themselves? We need stewards to tend our investment in our state parks. People, by and large, are not conscientious enough to clean up for themselves or maintain our parks. It is refreshing to hear that you clean up after others. If more people did that without provocation we could make a huge dent in the labor costs involved in maintaining our parks. Have you ever owned anything that required zero maintenance?

      Parks have never been free. Someone donated (or the state government purchased) the land they are on. That represents either a large commitment from one individual or a small contribution from a large group (tax payers). Until this year the Washington state parks were funded from the state’s budget which is directly funded by tax payers. 

      There is no such thing as a free lunch, and as soon as you realize that you are entitled to exactly nothing you will be a much happier person. 

      I hope you continue to enjoy our state parks.

  4. This article has hit the nail on the head. Just today my buddy and I were taking our dirt bikes up to the Jones Creek ORV Park to do some trail riding near Washougal/Troutdale, Washington. It has been a while since I’ve been in a Washington State ORV Park and just as we are pulling in we were pleasantly surprised to see that a fine would be levied if we didn’t have a “Discover Pass” on our vehicle. So in disgust we turn around having to drive about 15 miles back to town to try and get a “Discover Pass”. Washougal and Troutdale are very small towns and after spending an hour calling around and visiting various stores NO store or gas station was selling them. What a great idea! Require a pass without warning that is impossible to get unless you have access to the internet. We had smart phones but I wasn’t even going to try and use the horrible website to get a pass on my phone. After a while in frustration we both said “SCREW THIS!!!” and went riding anyway. Luckily we didn’t get a ticket but if I was to get one I would probably have exploded and gotten arrested after yelling and screaming that “we spent an HOUR trying to get one and no one had them!!” As I own a dirt bike I am required to buy an ORV tag and pay for tabs on it every year  if I want to ride in public/state lands. It costs around $30-50. Why am I forced to spend $35 more just to use an ORV park that ORV tag funds are supposed to support?? Does the state not want us to use the public lands?? I guess building stadiums and ridiculous over budget road projects are more important to the state than people trying to enjoy the outdoors. 

  5. I’ll have to agree with the article and especially comments below. There’s getting to be way too many bossy/grumpy/policing/military style rangers in these “friendly” park positions that are supposed to be helpful to park patrons when they just want to get out and enjoy nature!! And I’ll add that they seem to just want the public to go away so they can enjoy the peace of living on such beautiful properties and not be bothered by the public. That is the impression I get as well from several of the parks I’ve been to lately. For instance, Birch Bay, I was there early one morning, going to the restroom to change when a gun packing ranger pulled up in the state park truck and stops me to ask if I have a discover pass. I viewed this as threatening when I was just leaving my car to walk into the restroom with nobody else around. My discover pass was in the window hanging from my mirror, so I pointed to it and said to him as he walking up to me, “What’s that?” in a (WTF is your stupid problem!) kind of way. It just felt like inappropriate behavior of the policing type. And every time I’ve been there, the office is closed with a whole list of camp spots taken when the whole campground is practically vacant for each night and there seems to be many park employees, vehicles and several residential homes they all live in. Are they chasing people off or making it difficult for people to get camp spots listing them as closed when the campground seems vacant?
    Another state park I had extremely nightmarish problems at was with the trolls of Dungeness Lighthouse Feb 5, 2013. They live there year around, the office was not open to make change so driving back 20 minutes to Sequim is the only option for paying the $3.00 day fee when I didn’t have my Discover Pass just purchased at Hurricane Ridge Ranger Station. Discover Pass does not work there anyway! So I just wrote a little note with my name address phone number in good faith, put it in the box to say I’ll pay it when I can as a nice gesture because I really wanted to hike down the beach to the lighthouse and get some pics for my painting class before it got dark at 5pm. I started walking at noon, got there around 2:30-3pm, took pics and talked to one of the guest lighthouse keepers who told me the Fish & Game people didn’t want people out here after dark. I told him I had a flashlight and would be fine walking back as it’s a park, a camping park FFS! Next the lighthouse keeper hands me the phone and the ranger started yelling at me to get back to the parking lot. WTF? So I started walking back and wasn’t the only one, just the last one heading down the beach when probably the same troll comes flying down in his golf cart and yells at me to “GET IN”. I was pretty shocked at this appalling, atrocious behavior and didn’t understand why it was such a problem! About a mile away from the parking lot he stops the vehicle and says “now I’ll just wait for the tide to carry me out” as if the cart broke down and I caused him a lot of trouble. Liar. My silent thoughts were, Good, I hope the sea monster drags you to the bottom and chews your bones and spits them out! So about 8 of us were walking back to the parking lot and the Fish & Game Wildlife gestapo Fauzio (or whatever his name is) was sitting in his big a** truck waiting to write tickets. He let everyone go and targeted me as I was the last one, telling me the lighthouse keepers said I was “acting weird”. Unbelieveable!!! He wrote me two tickets for trespassing after dark and not paying the park fee. I went to Tacoma to fight these tickets and the court systems as they are, need to make money, so they agreed to drop one ticket if I paid the other.
    So there you go. True story. Discover Pass BS doesn’t work at many parks like Dungeness, which is confusing because one part is free county park where I think Discover Pass works, and the other Fish & Game Gestapo control sit is my guess. Mt. Baker area and a few others I’ve been to don’t take Discover Pass either. My advice, just start documenting these unfriendly policing type rangers and publicize it, they don’t belong there chasing off the public just because they can get away with it. In court, there were lots of tickets given to people who seemed to be unwarranted such as mine.

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