It’s almost that time of year again! Summer vacation is just around the corner. Do your plans include a United States national park? Maybe it should! No matter your vacation style, there’s a national park sure to fit. With stunning displays of beauty, amazing outdoor adventures, fascinating history and archeological explorations, and so much more to offer, national parks can be just the budget friendly summer vacation your family is looking for.
Whether you prefer city or country escapes, wilderness or water adventures, there’s a national park, monument, lakeshore, or historic park just waiting for you. Here are this family’s seven favorite reasons why we include national parks year after year in our travel plans, and reasons why you too may want to consider them. With over 400 parks across the United States to choose from, there’s sure to be one for you!
1. Low-Cost or No-Cost Entrance Fees
On a tight budget? Need to trim the cost of your next family vacation? The national parks have you covered! The most expensive 7-day entrance fee is a mere $30. That’s per car, not per person! That’s $30 or less for seven full days of adventures and experiences in some of the country’s most astounding, amazing destinations. Now that’s a real bargain.
Did you know that many parks are actually free? Of the 413 national parks, only 124 charge an entrance fee. The remaining 289 are free to enter and experience. Enjoy national monuments, museums, lake shores, and battlefields, all without paying a single penny. Destinations like Washington DC’s National Mall, Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Utah’s Hovenweep National Monument have no entrance fee.
Do your travel plans include several fee-based national parks? Consider purchasing an America The Beautiful Pass. For an annual fee of $80, your entrance fees are covered for one year to as many fee based national parks as you can get to in that time. Now that’s a sweet bargain! Where else can your family go in a single year for a one-time fee of $80?
2. Park Ranger & Junior Ranger Programs
Know what else is a sweet vacation deal? The national parks’ ranger programs! Once that entrance fee has been paid, you’ll have access to a plethora of amazing ranger lead programs within the parks. Most programs are free to park visitors, though some programs require advance registration, and others charge a nominal fee. Still a bargain!
Park Ranger programs offer visitors the opportunity to explore parks with the knowledge and experience of rangers who know their parks the best. Explore tidal marshes, partake in ecology discussions, join a challenging back woods hike or enjoy a scenic carriage road bike tour, all under the guidance of the knowledgeable park rangers. They lead some of the best experiences to be had in the national parks.
Got little ones along for the adventure? Sign them up for Junior Ranger Programs, which are designed to engage the younger members of the family. Junior Ranger programs are also mostly free. Kids of all ages can experience a park’s natural and historic wonders through programs like blacksmithing, nature detectives, marsh explorations, and more.
3. Stunning & Gorgeous Natural Beauty
Gorgeous, breathtaking natural vistas on your travel list? Look no further than the national parks! From mile long canyon vistas to towering mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls to geysers shooting into the sky, hoodoos spiraling out of the ground and pristine glaciers sparkling in the afternoon sun, all this and more can be experienced in a national park.
Practically everywhere you stand in the US, you are within 200 miles of a national park, monument, battlefield, lake or seashore. It’s just that easy to include national parks in your family’s next vacation plan. Not to mention how budget friendly they are!
4. Amazing Wildlife Sightings & Experiences
Looking for wildlife? National parks are chock full of not just natural beauty, but wildlife too! Image the excitement when you see your first grizzly bear ambling up a hill in Yellowstone, bighorn sheep clinging to an impossibly steep cliff in Glacier, a sea otter swimming past in Kenai Fjords or wild horses right outside your tent in Assateague.
Bison, wild horses, moose, wolves, wildcats, bears, mountain goats, and more live in national parks, making the possibility of wildlife viewing opportunities endless. Around each corner, high in the trees, up above in the skies, across an open field, in a clear blue lake ahead, each is an opportunity to witness national park wildlife in action.
5. Outdoor Adventures & Experiences
Love outdoor adventures? Need open spaces for the kids to expend energy? National parks offer this and so much more! Whatever your outdoor adventure looks like, there’s a national park sure to match. Hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, and more, can be experienced in a national park.
Tackle back country hikes in Glacier or Arches. Snowshoe in Yellowstone. Bike vehicle-free carriage roads in Acadia. Catch amazing sunrises and sunsets at the Grand Canyon’s North or South Rims. All for one low-cost entrance fee. National parks are truly an outdoor enthusiast’s mecca, all for a bargain basement price.
6. History & Archeology Come-To-Life
The national parks aren’t just for outdoor adventures! They are also museums, historic battlefields, ancient Native American ruins, and lands where ancient dinosaurs once roamed. Experience historic sites, battles of epic proportions, machines that fly, and re-enactments that engage, all within national parks.
Watch a Civil War re-enactment at Gettysburg National Battlefield. Stand beneath the Spirit of St. Louis at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Walk through Independence Hall or go underground into a copper mine at Keeweenaw National Historical Park. Explore ancient Indian ruins at Mesa Verde or walk ancient trails in Chaco Canyon. Wow! Who knew so much history and archeology could be found in national parks!
7. Commercialization & Crowds Left Behind
If getting away from it all is on your family’s vacation agenda, national parks are the places to be. Leave behind the trappings of daily life, the crowds and the commercialization of the big cities. Trade it all in for the tranquility and calm of a national park vacation, no solicitors nor kiosks hawking touristy trinkets once past the entrance gates.
Ok, yes, the summer months can certainly bring on the crowds at several of the most popular national parks. However, even at the most congested parks, there are plenty of opportunities to escape the masses. Simply step off those readily accessible, highly trafficked trails, and step away from the vast majority of park visitors. You might even find a peak with incredible views all to yourself!
Do You Vacation in National Parks?
Did you know all these adventures, and more, were available at U.S. National Parks? And for such bargain basement, family friendly, pricing? It’s these reasons, and more why this family includes national parks in our vacation planning year after year. National park vacations are some of the best, and budget friendly vacations we’ve booked.
What’s your favorite budget friendly vacation destination? Do you enjoy exploring national parks, museums and monuments? Do you seek out U.S. National Parks when you need a budget vacation? What’s your favorite national park? Or are you like us, and have too many favorites to list? Do share!
Images by C.Biederman and National Park Service (Annual Pass photo).