Save money when exploring the national parks


    by Jenny Smedra

    For the first time in over a decade, we were finally able to take a family vacation this summer. It was an exciting and hectic journey that we will all remember. However, after a long weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to extend our summer vacation for another week. Instead of grappling with busy airports and huge crowds, we both planned to explore the national parks around Utah and Colorado. Although I was hesitant to spend more money after an lavish family birthday party, we researched the numbers to see if it was possible. Thanks to the national park pass, it is not only affordable, but also a decisive factor for your future vacation.

    Explore America's National Parks

    The Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

    Visit the national parks with an America the Beautiful Pass

    As our first vacation together, my boyfriend and I wanted to escape everyday life and explore something new. Since neither of us has ever been to Canyonlands, we decided to visit the national parks in Utah. There are plenty of parks in the immediate vicinity so you can see a lot in a short amount of time.

    However, I had some serious concerns when we sat down to add an extra week to our plans. Even though we did free activities like hiking and river hunting, the entrance fees were much higher than I expected. Each park costs between $ 20 and $ 35 per vehicle. Since we were planning to visit five different parks, we were looking for almost $ 150 just for admission alone.

    Fortunately, we discovered the America the Beautiful Pass. Instead of paying individual park admissions, the US Parks Service offers an annual pass for just $ 80. Each pass grants a single vehicle with up to four adults access to more than 2,000 attractions across the country (children under 16 are free). It was a great deal as it saved us half the price of admission. And since it is valid for a whole year, we can also save money on future vacations. If you want to enjoy the great outdoors and see America’s national parks, this pass is a great way to stretch your budget and cut costs.

    Make the most of your vacation budget

    The national park pass was just the beginning to go easy on our budget. To make this vacation possible, I had to flex some budget muscles that I haven’t used in a long time. While I probably could have taken this trip for next to nothing in my younger days, we made a few concessions in terms of comfort and convenience. So we’ve managed to save almost $ 1000 without sacrificing any comfort.


    If you’ve planned trips like this before, you already know that camping is the cheapest option for accommodation. It’s especially helpful if you are traveling in large groups as you don’t have to pay for multiple rooms. While it has been possible to camp for next to nothing, the older you get the harder it becomes to sleep on the ground. Since we had planned some intense hikes and other physically demanding activities, we wanted to have a cozy place to come back to every evening.

    Fortunately, we both have credit cards and award memberships that offer hotel points. After reviewing our options and checking availability, we were able to redeem award points at IHG for three free nights. Although prices and amenities vary by brand and location, this saved us approximately $ 575. Not only was it a great savings, but it also provided a nice respite after long days in the sun.


    Another great perk of a hotel was the free breakfast. If we had eaten in a restaurant every morning, it would have cost at least an additional $ 20 a day. Sometimes it was limited to continental breakfast options like fruit, yogurt, pastries, and cereal. However, many of them had hot items too so that you can get a filling meal. But even with limited options, it offered us great snacks later in the day while we were on the trails. That alone saved an additional $ 150 for the week.

    The next savings idea came from my friend. Instead of eating or grabbing take-away every meal at a restaurant, we stopped at grocery stores to deliver lunch and dinner. Usually, when you visit the ready-made meals section, you can finally get warm starters, sandwiches, salads, fruits, and other filling meals. Not only do you save on food costs and service fees, but you also have healthier options. On average, we spent $ 15 per meal at restaurants compared to $ 5 when we ate at local supermarkets. We’ve done this multiple times and saved an estimated $ 50 in grocery bills.


    The last part of the vacation budget can quickly get out of hand if you’re not careful. It’s easy to run into a huge bill when booking tours, renting equipment, and buying souvenirs. Knowing firsthand how quickly entertainment costs can break your budget, we’ve carefully planned our activities to ensure we get the most out of our trip.

    We both enjoy the outdoors, so hiking and exploring the parks was the perfect choice for us. Thanks to the National Park Pass alone, we saved $ 70 in entrance fees. We also stuck to budget-friendly activities that didn’t cost us a penny. We avoided the guided tours and brought our own hiking gear to keep our budget under control. While I can’t say exactly how much we saved by doing it myself, the basic rental packages started at $ 30 per person.

    While it’s handy to have someone take care of all the details, a little research into the best hiking trails and free shuttles helped us avoid unnecessary costs. Using free apps like AllTrails, we managed to find a dozen different hikes off the beaten track. Not only did we get detailed maps for free, but also specific instructions from other hikers who were already there. This information has been invaluable in choosing trails that suit our interests and ability. And the best part is that it helped us avoid the busiest areas with long lines.

    Explore America's National Parks

    Photo taken in Zion National Park

    After this incredible experience, I learned again that you don’t have to spend a fortune planning the perfect vacation. With a little creativity and lateral thinking, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your next trip.

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