10 Ways to Save Money at National Parks

save money at national parks

If you are planning to escape for a week or two this summer, one of the great deals out there is visiting our nation’s national parks. They offer some of the most beautiful scenery and outdoor experiences for families to be found anywhere, and they’re a great place for anyone who wants adventure. taking a trip to a national park will be a memory that your family will talk about years after it is taken. While they are a great deal in themselves, there are a number of ways that you can make them an even better deal. Here are a few ways that you can enjoy what are often referred to as America’s best idea on a budget.

Free Entry Days

Throughout the year, many national parks offer free entry days or weekends. These usually fall on holiday weekends such as Labor Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day. However, some parks have one day a month with free entry or allow free entry during National Park Week or National Public Lands Day. Before you visit any national park, check their schedule to see if and when they offer free entry.


A lot of national parks offer volunteers free admission. Of course, sometimes this is only for a specific day of volunteer work, such as on National Public Lands Day or only after so many hours of volunteer work. Still, if you’re someone who wants to lend a hand to a good cause and enjoys the outdoors, consider volunteering. Sometimes volunteering at one park grants you free admission to others across the country, so keep this in mind as well.

Buy a Pass

If you plan to visit one national park multiple times throughout the year or if you plan to visit a lot within one year, consider buying a national parks pass. For instance, the America the Beautiful Pass from The National Parks Service is only $80 and allows you access to all of the country’s national parks. This is definitely the best way to save money if you’re planning on visiting a lot of parks. Additionally, see if the parks closest to you have passes if you plan to visit frequently over the course of the year.

Don’t Buy Guidebooks

I’m sure you’ve been to the bookstore and seen those guidebooks filling up the aisles. Guidebooks are a great idea in theory, but usually only about 10% of the material ends up being relevant to your trip. Why waste money on something you’ll barely use? Most national parks offer free pamphlets and resources either online or at the park. Save the $15 and look up some free information instead. It’s probably better to have material coming from the actual park than from a guidebook anyway.

Visit Free Parks

While some national parks have entrance fees, there are so many that are actually free to visit. In fact, there are over 250 that are free! While you might want to visit some of the big name parks – and why wouldn’t you – you should also consider the free parks, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Here is a list of fee free parks.

Bring Your Own Food

Unfortunately, national parks can be like any other American attraction. They sell drinks and food, but the prices are usually outrageously expensive. Why pay $3 for a bottle of water or $10 for a sandwich? Instead, pack a cooler full of your own drinks and food before entering. For $10, you can buy a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly, giving you at least half a dozen sandwiches for the price you would have paid for one. Buying your own food is definitely one of the easiest ways to save money.


If you’re planning on staying for a while, think about renting a campsite instead of staying in a hotel. Hotels around national parks will not only fill up quickly, but they’ll be pretty expensive as well. Campsites, on the other hand, usually go for around $50 at the most. Wouldn’t you rather pay $50 a night instead of $100 or $200? Plus, you’ll get to spend even more time surrounded by the natural beauty of the national park.

Attend Park Activities

Why pay money to attend activities or entertain yourself when many of the national parks offer free activities? These activities are led by park rangers and often include various tours, lectures, and activities throughout the year. Not only are these activities and tours free, but they’ll give you a better understanding and appreciation of the park.


Many of America’s national parks charge entrance fees, which usually go toward the upkeep of the park and the salary of employees. However, if you’re trying to save some money, think about carpooling. Most of the entrance fees are by car instead of by person. If you have two families vacationing together and the admission is $25 per car, that’s $50. But if you have room in one car for everyone, you’re already cutting the cost in half.

Get Gas Outside of the Park

Whether you’re driving into the park or stocking up on gas for a camper or grill, it’s cheaper to get gas outside of the park. Any gas station closer to the park or inside the park will be much more expensive. So refuel a couple of miles away from the national park. It might only save you a couple of dollars, but considering how expensive gas is, a couple of dollars is better than nothing!

This entry was posted in Holidays, Personal Finance, Saving Money, Work and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to 10 Ways to Save Money at National Parks

  1. Pingback: The Dime Roll: How to Splurge Without Breaking the Bank and More - The Dime | Cents & Sensibility

  2. Janis Durr says:

    Join a cooperating non-profit Association supporting your favorite National Park. In addition to supporting the Park, members of one organization often qualify for a discount on the many fun and educational materials sold in the bookstore/gift shop or visitor centers in other National Parks.

  3. We took a trip last year which mainly revolved around national parks, and save a lots of money buying the annual pass. We also camped in the wild many times, if the national park is surrounded by a National Forest or any land administrated by the bureau of land management, camping is allowed for free. Some parks like Yosemite are pretty expensive to camp in.

  4. diana says:

    The best time to go to national parks is in the winter when they are a lot less crowded. Or anytime that schools aren’t out.

  5. david says:

    Don’t forget state parks as well. There are some great state parks to camp at that are really cheap.

  6. greenday says:

    I have to second this. In the winter time you can practically have an entire national park to yourself, especially if you are willing to hike in a mile off any main route. Paradise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *