Life Hacks

8 Tips to Visit National Parks without Spending a Small Fortune

July 27, 2021

The average cost of an entrance fee to a US national park per car is about $20 to 35, and while that might not seem like a large chunk of cash to pay for just one visit, if you’re touring the country in RV and plan on stopping at more than a few, it can add up quickly.

While visiting national parks remains one of the most budget-friendly ways to get out and explore the diverse beauty of the United States, there are ways that you can reduce the costs even more if you’re smart about how you plan and pay. Here’s how to visit parks like Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park without spending a great fortune.

How to Visit National Parks on a Budget

8 Tips to Visit National Parks without Spending a Small Fortune | Cheese Debit Card

1. Find Free Parks

You don’t have to pay to enter every national park in the United States. In fact, numerous beautiful parks offer free entry, including Biscayne National Park in Florida (hello beach day), the iconic Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, and the Redwood National Park.

2. Don’t Lodge Inside the Park

As tempting as it is to camp inside of a national park (and you definitely should at some point), you can save money by skipping this part of your trip. Instead, find a budget-friendly Airbnb or hotel near the entrance of the park and enjoy getting a good night’s sleep in a cozy bed before waking up early to explore the park.

3. Visit on Free Days

If you’re in town or can plan your trip accordingly, you can save a lot of money by visiting a national park on a free day. April 18th (or around that date depending on the year) is one of the most popular free days as the weather is usually ideal and it’s the beginning of National Parks Week. Other free days in 2020 included August 25th, September 26th, and November 11th. Check out a list of the free dates here

4. Enter on Foot

Instead of paying per vehicle, save some money by entering the park on foot and paying per person. Depending on how many people are in your party, paying per person could be cheaper than paying per vehicle. You will, however, have to ensure that paying for parking outside of the park doesn’t automatically cancel out any savings you might incur by opting to enter on foot.

5. Purchase an Annual Pass

If you know you’ll frequently visit one specific park, save money by purchasing an annual pass. Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park have two of the most expensive annual passes at $70, but other national parks offer reasonable pricing for their passes that average around $35 to $55. If you visit a park more than twice a year, you’ll definitely save money with an annual pass.

6. Travel in a Group

As mentioned, parks tend to charge entry per vehicle, so if you’re traveling in a large group, it might pay to pack a few more people into each car in order to save money. The per vehicle entry fee at Big Bend National Park, for example, is $30 and the per person fee is $15. If your car can fit more than two people, you’ll ultimately save money per person. Split the $30 fee between all of those in the car.

7. Volunteer

We suggest volunteering at a national park as a way to give back to the National Park Service and all they do to maintain the pristine nature of our country’s natural wonders. And, if you can dedicate at least 250 hours to community service, you can earn a one-year pass for free. The NPS is usually looking for volunteers in various different areas. Check out the program here.

8. Look at Amtrak Deals

Most travel agencies are able to get you good deals on vacation bundles because of their affiliations with hotels, car rental companies, and other travel companies. Amtrak is the same and through Amtrak Vacations, they offer combo deals that’ll allow you to not only save on hotels, trains, and park entry fees, but also take the hassle out of planning the trip.

Saving Money for Vacations

Even if you follow each of the tips above in order to save money while visiting national parks, you’ll still need to financially plan for the trip. Saving money for a vacation isn’t as hard as many people think, and oftentimes it simply entails being smart about how you spend.

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