National Parks

Budgeting Your Trip

Like most vacations, a trip to a national park can be as frugal, or as fancy, as you like. Here are a few things to consider:

Getting In. Individual admission to the national parks ranges from free to $25, depending on the park (see our Essentials section at the end of each park chapter to learn individual rates). You also can buy an America the Beautiful Pass for $80, which will get you, and everyone in your group, into any national park (as well as other federal recreation areas) for one year.

Sleeping. You can make a reservation to camp at many parks online via reservations.nps.gov. Or call 800/365-2267 (800/436-7275 for Yosemite). Less than half of the parks charge for camping; the cost is typically under $20 per night. In many parks, you also can stay at a lodge, where prices run from $100 to $500 a night. There are also usually several accommodation options outside each park.

Eating. All of the in-park concessions are run by companies under contract with the National Parks Service, meaning their prices are set by the government. "It's more than you might spend elsewhere, but it's not too terrible," says Kupper. You also can bring in your own food and eat at one of the park's picnic areas.

Entertainment. The wonders of the park are entertainment enough for many youngsters, but the many sports and outdoor activities, from hiking and bicycling to horseback riding and cave touring, depending on the park, help children stay active while exploring the park. Many park visitor centers also have films; some parks, such as Grand Canyon and Zion, even have IMAX movies. Cost for these offerings varies, ranging from free to a couple hundred dollars for something like a white-water rafting trip.

Souvenirs. All of the parks have gift shops, and many stock items that are actually useful. For example, you'll find things like kid-sized binoculars, fanny packs, and magnifying glasses, all of which can make your child's visit even more enjoyable (and valuable). You can call ahead to see what's available, or just budget a few dollars to cover one item (maybe something you might have bought for your child anyway, like a disposable camera).

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