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 $30, depending on the park. You also can buy an America the Beautiful Pass for $80, which will get you and three other adults (kids 15 and under are free) into any national park (as well as other designated federal lands) for one year.
Sleeping. Fewer than half of the parks charge for camping; the cost is typically less than $20 per night. In many parks, you also can stay at a lodge, where prices run from $100 to $500 a night. Most parks have several accommodation options outside the park, as well.
Eating. In each of the parks, all the in-park concessions are run by companies under contract with the National Park Service, meaning their prices are set by the government. Generally speaking, prices are a bit higher than what you’d pay outside the park, but not significantly so. You also can bring in your own food and eat at one of the park’s picnic areas.
Entertainment. Just looking at the wonders of the park is 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. 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 more involved programs, such as a white-water rafting trip.
Souvenirs. All the parks have gift shops, and many stock items that are actually useful. For example, you’ll find things like kid-size binoculars, fanny packs, and magnifying glasses, all of which can make your child’s visit even more enjoyable. Budget $5 or $10 to cover one item (maybe something you might have bought for your child anyway, like a new sun hat).