Looking for an affordable family vacation? Look no further than our stunning national parks, which give you and your kids the chance to explore majestic beauty while setting out on incredible outdoor adventures.  Perhaps best of all, with free fee days and excellent, free family programs, visiting a national park makes for a low-cost family vacation.

The National Park Service recently announced its “Fee Free Days” for 2013 (dates here), offering free access to all the national parks. While 265 of the 398 national parks never charge an entrance fee, normal entrance costs can run upwards of $25. Fee Free Days cover all entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. (Other costs such as reservation, camping, tours, and concessions are not included.)  

If you’re planning a summer road trip that includes a visit to multiple national parks, you might consider the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass, which provides entrance to all national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests – more than 2,000 in all. The pass is offered free to all active duty military members and their dependents.  

Four affordable destinations located in or near National Parks include:

  • Estes Park, CO – This charming mountain village is surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park. Hike, fish, zipline and set out to spot the wildlife. Consider renting a small cabin to save money on accommodations.
  • Albuquerque, NM – Home to the Petroglyph National Monument, where visitors can see more than 20,000 designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago, Albuquerque is a unique cultural destination. Soak in the beautiful vistas of New Mexico as you hike the trails and explore this fascinating destination.
  • Moonlight Basin, MT – Located just 30 minutes from Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Moonlight Basin is a stellar, four-season family resort. The concierge staff is available to organize every aspect of the adventures you’re hoping for, from rafting the Gallatin River to fly-fishing with a local guide.
  • Jackson Hole, WY –Located near both Grand Teton National Park and a short drive from Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole is a Wild West town with a family friendly vibe. If you’re looking for some luxury, check into the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, which even boasts an in-house wildlife biologist. Jackson Hole and its neighboring parks and forests also offer plenty of RV and camping opportunities.

The Junior Ranger Program is another free perk for families visiting our National Parks. Aspiring rangers will need to complete a series of activities during their park visit and share their answers with a park ranger. In return, they’ll be awarded an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and a Junior Ranger certificate. Before your trip, check out the list of parks participating in the program. You can also participate in Junior Ranger programs from the comfort of your home, too: Become a Web Ranger, and you’ll have access to 50 fun, educational online games and more. Check out Web Rangers online.

Which National Parks have you visited already and which are on your family’s must-visit list? 

Image Source: Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole