America’s National Park System: 10 Money Saving Tips For Visitors

America’s national park system is where family fun meets natural wonder and history.  So it’s no surprise that national parks and monuments are top family vacation destinations.  Here are ten tips to enjoy the parks – and still stay within your budget:

  1. Plan Ahead: The most affordable campgrounds, hotels, and lodges fill up quickly in and around popular parks, so make reservations early.  Seriously: Grand Canyon National Park Lodges take reservations 13 months in advance and always sell out during the height of tourist season.  Campground space at popular parks – particularly drive-in camping areas – is also a popular reservation choice, and only a few campsites offer same-day registration.

    Mt. Leconte Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Mt. Leconte Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  2. Park Passes: Entrance fees to national parks are generally charged on a per-vehicle basis and range from $8 to $25.  If you plan to visit several parks (or plan multiple visits to one park) during the year, consider purchasing an National Park System pass for $80.  Seniors can buy a lifetime pass for just $10, while disabled citizens and military members can receive free passes.
  3. Take the Free Tour:  Many commercial outfits offer in-park tours, but check to see if free tours are available from national park rangers first.  Budget cuts have caused service reductions at many parks, but many still offer free self-guided audio tours or free ranger-led activities.
  4. Sleep Under the Stars: Almost without exception, camping is less expensive than hotel rooms and/or cabins inside and nearby the parks.  Camping options range from backcountry campgrounds accessible only on foot to modern “car camping” facilities with amenities like pools and playgrounds.
  5.  Get Out of Your Car:  Some of the best, most memorable landmarks are just a short walk from the trail or visitor’s center parking lot, but many people miss them as they drive through the park.  For instance, the delightfully named, 90-foot Juney Whank Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is less than a mile from the trail parking lot. Every park offers trail and attraction maps, so it’s easy to find something that matches your interest and fitness level.
  6. Collect Coupons  As compelling as the mountain view might be to the adults in the family, most kids and teens have a limited tolerance or leaf peeping or solitude.  Stop by the visitor centers in cities and towns outside national parks to ask about information and coupons for local lodging, dining, and attractions.
  7. Go Local:  Festivals & fairs can teach you about the culture of the area surrounding the park – and are often free.  Check local newspapers and Web sites for schedules and other information.
  8. Picnic in the Park:  Save on restaurant meal costs by stopping by a local grocery or deli for picnic items.  It’s an affordable way to enjoy a meal and the natural beauty of the park. Every park has picnic areas with tables and grills, but it’s also fun to pack a lunch, hike the trails, and find an isolated spot to enjoy together.
  9. Find a Home Away from Home:  Renting an entire apartment, house, or cabin sounds extravagant, but has many benefits. Save on the cost of multiple hotels rooms if you have a large family or are traveling with friends.  Some rentals are actually “destination lodging” with luxurious amenities like gaming consoles, pool tables, hot tubs, and more.  You get the benefits of a luxury hotel with the privacy of a home – and save on food and entertainment costs.
  10. Look for Last Minute Deals:  Local B&Bs and cabin rental agencies also often offer steep discounts on last-minute bookings. You can find last-minute deals on luxury Smoky Mountain resort cabins at Cabins of the Smoky Mountains, and at resorts and rental agencies near other national parks and monuments.  Sometimes, a last-minute getaway is just the cure for stress – and if it’s at a discount price, that’s even better!

Over 200 million people visit America’s national parks each year.  They were established to protect natural wonders and biodiversity.  As our population becomes increasingly urbanized, our national parks remind us of the importance of the natural world.  Learn more about the national parks at the National Park Service Website.  Then go enjoy the wonder of nature.

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