There is a multitude of reasons why the U.S. national parks attract more than 300 million visitors every single year. The entire national park system includes more than 400 sites, and you will most definitely find something breathtaking if you go on this journey. Before you do, we advise you to go through this list, and save some cash along the way.
1. Save on national parks entry fees
If you want to save on your national park visit, you should start with the entry fee which normally costs up to $25 per person. Luckily, there are a few ways to go around this fee:
Take advantage of free entry days
Each year, the National Park Service offers free entry on designated days. There are no clear rules how many days are designated per year for free entrance; for instance – in 2016, the number of free days was 4, whereas in 2018 – only four days were designated for free entry. Namely: January 15 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), April 21 (First day of National Park Week), September 22 (National Public Lands Day) and November 11 (Veterans Day). Bear in mind that while the fee has been removed, there are still other costs you may have to pay like parking, activities, transportation and special tours.
Purchase an annual pass
If you plan to visit more than two national parks, you can save by buying an annual pass for $80. It gives you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites so you could definitely find something interesting. The annual passes can be bought online or at at any federal recreation site (which includes national parks).
In addition, there are also ways for select groups of people to get a free or discounted national park pass:
- Currently serving member of the U.S. military and their dependents can get the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands annual passes for free.
- The same applies to students for the duration of their fourth grade year.
- Senior citizens (age 62 or over) are eligible for a heavily discounted Senior Pass, which comes in two versions: an annual pass for $20, and a lifetime pass for $80.
- Access Pass is free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities, who can also benefit from some discounts on amenities and services provided at select parks.
It is important that some of these passes come with an additional $10 processing fee for online and mail applications.
In addition, there is an option to earn a free pass to national parks by volunteering 250 hours of service with participating federal agencies — including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
2. Save on food and drinks
It is rather simple to save on food and drinks — just follow the BYOF and BYOD rules, which in this case stand for Bring Your Own Food, and Bring Your Own Drinks. Yes, there are concession stations across national parks, but if you’re travelling with your family – the cost of drinks and food can easily add up. That’s what backpacks are made for – so you could pack your own stuff and consume it along the way. Also, this may be the way to eat healthier food while in a park.
3. Group travels cost less
This applies to all kinds of travels not just visits to national parks. The more people join the ride, the more affordable it gets.
For one thing, you may opt to to carpool instead of each one of you driving his/her own car. Savings on gas alone could be huge, and it’s well worth the effort; if any effort is “required” in the first place. Yes, it could get a little less comfortable, but it will also be more fun to travel in a group.
Speaking of gas, by all means use a credit card that rewards this sort of purchases with points or cash-back. There is no good reason to leave money on the table.
4. Save on accommodation
The easiest way to enjoy a national park is to find an accommodation inside its premises, right? Well, maybe — but that is also the most expensive option. If you want to save, you are better off finding a hotel or motel outside the park perimeter. And if you book months in advance, you will save even more.
Alternatively, if you’re into camping — and why you shouldn’t be — look for affordable, or even free, camping sites. This is arguably the best way to truly experience the nature. Plus, it is definitely the option kids love the most. It’s like an adventure to them.