How To Save Money When Touring National Parks

How To Save Money When Touring National Parks

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Bison Crossing – Yellowstone National Park

The journey is the destination

.: My dad:.
How To Save Money When Touring National Parks - Pinterest Pin

Many people are staying outdoors and exploring national parks this year because of COVID-19. Travel can quickly become expensive so I would love to share my tips on how to save money when touring national parks. We just got back from a trip to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Park. Along the way, there were things that I would do the same and things I would do differently.

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Take a look at my top 10 money saving tips for a U.S. national park vacation:

1. Purchase an Annual U.S. National Park Visitor Pass

If you plan on visiting more than 2 national parks in a 12 month period, then it is a no brainer to invest in an annual park pass!

These America the Beautiful park passes can be purchased online, at an REI store, and at the park entrance for $80. Keep in mind that not all U.S. national parks have an entrance fee. Some U.S. national parks only have entrance fees during peak season. So before jumping the gun and purchasing an America the Beautiful pass (which we did), check the national parks you will be going to and see if you will need to pay an entrance fee!

2. Go to the Grocery Store and Pack Lunches/Snacks

If you get hangry like me, you may want to prepare ahead of time. (Yes, I mean hAngry!) With most national parks, food choices will be limited. Not only will food choices be limited, but the food that is present in the national park may be a bit pricey. This is not the time to be picky about what you eat. If you want to save some cash, plan ahead and hit up the grocery store prior to entering the park!

One day we ended up making PB&J sandwiches and eating them on the front of our rental mini van. I mean, it did the job and we made it through the Grand Tetons without eating one another. I’d say that was a success!

3. Travel in a Group

It’s always more reasonable to travel in a group because you can split the cost of gas, lodging, park passes, etc. Just remember, you’ll be spending a lot of time together! So travel with a group of friends or make it a couples’ getaway and enjoy a road trip to visit some national parks!

4. Book Accommodations Early

Don’t be afraid to book accommodations early. I recommend if you find somewhere that you like, check the cancellation policy first. If the cancellation policy is really good, book it and then feel free to continue shopping for the best deal. I’d hate for you to skip out on a good deal just because you thought prices would drop closer to the date. Sometimes that is not the case.

For example, we booked our national park lodging a year in advance and *boom* COVID-19 hit. All hotel prices skyrocketed around the national parks because people were traveling domestically.

5. Location, Location, Location. Time is Money.

There is a lot of driving involved with many of the national parks. Try your best to minimize the drive times! It will make your trip so much more enjoyable – trust me! When you are driving through the national parks and sightseeing, you will rarely have time to relax. Heck, you’re on vacation and relaxation is a necessity! By finding a hotel that is in a good location, you will reduce your drive time while keeping your sanity in check!

6. Rent a Car (Or Use Your Own)

I think you’ve heard me ramble on about how much driving is involved when touring national parks. Needless to say, I’d much prefer renting a car (or driving your own vehicle) versus an organized tour. It allows you flexibility and there will be so many places to stop and take photographs.

Hint: As discussed here, download the Gypsy Guide app. It’s basically a tour from the leisure of your car and so worth the few bucks!

7. Use Airbnb and VRBO for Unique Lodging Stays

An alternative, and possibly inexpensive, lodging option is to check out Airbnb and VRBO rentals in the area. There can be some really unique lodging options that can make for a fun travel experience. I really enjoy searching Airbnb and VRBO. I will say, however, that when we visited the national parks, I valued staying somewhere that offered breakfast. Again, my clan likes to eat and I didn’t want to have to find restaurants nearby early in the morning.

8. Try Camping Inside U.S. National Parks

Let’s be real. I’m not a camper… unless cabin camping counts?? Josh doesn’t consider that camping though 😉 Glamping is more my style. Or better yet…. a nice hotel with a hot tub and restaurant on site. Basically, bougie on a budget is my style! But I diverge.

For an average of $20/night, you can rent a campsite at a US national park. Keep in mind that you will still have to provide the tent, sleeping bag (<— or air mattress), and all the other essential camping gear. To forgo buying camping equipment, check with friends and family to see if anyone has equipment you can borrow!!

9. Take Advantage of U.S. National Park Free Entry Days

Did you know that the national parks have certain days where there is no admission fee? Neither did I! Six days every year, the US national parks that require an entry free will be free. The six days in 2021 that qualify for free entry to the US national parks are as follows:

  • January 18: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 17: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4:  One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

10. Take Time Planning Your Itinerary

Like I said, national parks can require lots of driving. We drove 125 miles one day just touring Yellowstone! We were tired, but we were also limited on time and wanted to see everything! Thankfully you are so amazed at nature you sometimes forget about the drive.

Plan your itinerary out, but don’t stress if things don’t go according to plan. Things happen. We drove the entire upper loop of Yellowstone until we realized we couldn’t finish the loop because of a road closure… so we had to turn around and drive back the same way we came.

If all else fails, just remember that the journey is the destination. Enjoy it. Stop and take pictures along the way. Do your best to follow the itinerary that you have so tediously planned, but know that it’s most likely to fall apart somewhere. That’s a-ok!

Until next time!

xxx Sara + Josh

National Park FAQ’s

How much does it cost to visit every national park?

If you plan on visiting more than 2 national parks in a 12 month period, then it is a no brainer to invest in an annual park pass!

These America the Beautiful park passes can be purchased online, at an REI store, and at the park entrance for $80.

How can I save money to visit national parks?

  1. Purchase an annual pass.
  2. Go to the grocery store.
  3. Travel in a group.
  4. Book accommodations early.
  5. Minimize drive times.
  6. Rent a car (or use your own).
  7. Use Airbnb or VRBO for unique lodging stays.
  8. Try camping inside national parks.
  9. Free entry days.
  10. Take time planning your itinerary!

How do I get into national parks for free?

Six days every year, the US national parks that require an entry free will be free. The six days in 2021 that qualify for free entry to the US national parks are as follows:

  • January 18: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 17: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4:  One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Do national parks take credit cards?

Yes! Payment types accepted: Cash or Credit/Debit cards.

Ready for a national park adventure?!

Everything You Need To Tour Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons

And please do me a little favor and share this article with others, for there’s a good chance that it will help them with their travels!

Sara & Josh

While Sara and Josh may be new to the travel blogging world, that doesn't mean they lack knowledge or experience in booking bougie vacations. With a talent for finding travel deals, Sara and Josh are here to teach YOU some of their tricks to traveling "bougie on a budget." Learn more about their story and please reach out with any questions or comments via e-mail at: [email protected].

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Luke

    Didn’t realize there were days during the year where the parks are free. Thanks for the info!

    1. Josh & Sara

      I’m glad you found it helpful!