How to Save Money When Visiting US National Parks

Visiting and staying in any of our beautiful US National Parks is more expensive than you might think.  However, there are a number of ways to save money when you go.

The trick for doing this is to plan your trip far in advance and learn all you can about the parks you wish to visit them.

There are several different types:  the more well known National Parks, Bureau of Land Management Parks and Corps of Engineer Parks.

They are sprinkled throughout the US, and each one honors senior citizen, disabled and annual passes.


The Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone
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The Basics

What you need to know is that
  • all but a few of them require entry fees,
  • they charge for camping,
  • taking showers and doing laundry cost plenty and
  • fishing license costs can be significant.

You also should understand that, although they are great spots, they vary greatly in cost and availability of amenities.

Therefore it will be important for you to know exactly what is available and how much things will cost.

You can find all the information you need at NPS.gov, but sorting through it all will take some time because there are 58 National Parks!

RVing in the 4 Most Popular National Parks will give you specific amenity, rule and pricing info about the four most visited parks in the US, but if you want to visit others, you'll have to sort through the website.

Parks Vary In Size, Fees and Amenities

The larger parks are usually beautiful, spacious, clean well maintained and relatively safe. Some offer full hookups, while others don't offer anything but a place to park.

The smaller parks offer limited amenities but still are nice places to camp.

For example:

Yellowstone National Park, offers only the barest of amenities but has magnificent scenery and great fishing opportunities which makes it a popular place to visit. Staying there is not cheap because they charge a 7 day entry fee ($25), a daily camping fee (from $12 to $19.50) and fees for fishing licenses ($19 per day per person if you buy one for Montana and one for Wyoming).

On the other hand, Vine Prairie Campground in Mulberry, Arkansas is small, off the beaten track and charges $10 to $16 per night for camping. A Corps of Engineers Campground. it offers absolutely nothing except 20 campsites, a view of the Arkansas River and only minimal hookups.  It is as different from Yellowstone as night is from day, but is still a good stopping point for weary travelers.

To get more specific details, use this book to help you.  It's highly detailed and will serve as a good planning tool for each vacation you want to take now and in the future.

Park Passes Save You Money

While prices are high, the good news is that you reduce your costs significantly if you purchase an annual pass.

Senior citizens pay $10 for one and disabled people get them for free, and they are permanent.  They eliminate all entrance fees and cut camping costs in half.

If you don't fall into those groups, you can still save money if you purchase one pass for $80 that will give you the same benefits. It can be a very good deal if you plan on visiting several federal facilities during the summer because the entry fee savings alone will pay for the cost of the pass.

All of these non-transferable passes can be obtained in person at any federal recreation site or by calling 1-888-275-8747 Extension 3.

More Ways to Save

It's a good idea to do your laundry, stock up on food, gas and supplies before you enter one of the big parks because if you need to take care of these things once you are camped, you're going to pay far more than normal.

If you like to fish, consider local conditions carefully before spending the money to buy a license.
  • Several years ago my husband and I were in Yellowstone, where he had to purchase two fishing licenses (because Yellowstone is located across two states), which were quite expensive.  
  • It was only after he bought them that he found out that there had been some pollution and other problems in the area waters that made catching anything impossible!
Always ask a lot of questions before you spend your money so you can avoid having situations like this one.

Research Far In Advance of Your Trip

The overnight camping prices for National Parks can vary from $8 to $40.

It pays to research them and make some phone calls before deciding to stay in any of them because they are usually very crowded and may not have spots available when you arrive. 

Some take reservations, but others do not.

It's Never Too Early to Start Planning Your Vacation

There are now millions of people who vacation in recreational vehicles every year.  Just about all of them want to see our National Parks.

The problem is that they all need to do this during the summer months, which means they must fight the competition in order to get where they want to go.

Visiting US National Parks is not cheap, but you can significantly reduce those high costs by following my advice.
  • Plan early, 
  • buy a pass and
  • do plenty of research.
Good luck and have a great trip!


The 5 Best US National Parks
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