13 Money-Saving Tips for Visiting U.S. National Parks
Happy 100th birthday to the National Park Service. Famed Yellowstone was the very first national park, recognized by Congress in 1872. But the agency didn't become official until President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act of 1916, in the spirit of conservation and environmental awareness. The Park Service has since grown to include 412 national parks, monuments, battlefields, recreation areas, and more. The official centennial presents a great opportunity for everyone to plan a trip. Here are 13 tips for saving money on your next visit to a national park.
Related: 19 of the Most Underrated National Parks
To commemorate the centennial, the National Park Service is offering 16 opportunities for free entrance to parks across the country in 2016. The remaining dates are Aug. 25 to 28 (for the National Park Service's birthday), Sept. 24 (National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day). It's a savings for visitors to the 127 sites that normally charge entrance fees.
Not only does piling everyone into one car save on gas, it also saves on entrance fees. Most national parks charge per vehicle, rather than per person, which can make a tight squeeze worth it. Once inside a large park, visitors can often leave their cars and take free shuttles for more savings on fuel. Although some parks have gas stations within park limits, prices tend to be higher than in town.
Planning to stay overnight? National parks draw lots of tourists during the high season, reducing room availability at hotels and pushing rates through the roof. Camping is the cheapest option, but campgrounds are often filled to capacity in the summer. Try to reserve a spot online, ahead of time, especially at popular parks, which often see spaces booked months in advance. Other budget-friendly options include staying in a cabin on park grounds or booking a privately run campsite nearby. Inexpensive motels outside many national parks cater to frugal visitors who balk at the rates inside.
Related: 10 Cheap Places to Stay Near Major National Parks