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10 Ways to Save on Visiting National Park with Kids

If you love visiting national parks or have always wanted to visit some, then be sure to check out these great ways to save on visiting National Parks with kids!

{Looking for more budget-friendly tips on vacationing as a family? Check out our posts on Creative Ways to Fund Family Vacations, Tips to Plan a Memorable Vacation Without Spending a Fortune, and Money-Saving Vacation Tips.}

Save on National Parks with Kids

Guest post from Brigitte of BrigitteBrulz.com

Did you know there are over 400 National Park Sites in the United States?!

This includes national historic sites, national recreational areas, national sea shores, national monuments, and just over 60 national parks that you can explore with your family. Check out the National Park Service’s website to find one near you (or for your next vacation).

If you love traveling and adventuring as a family, then be sure to check out these 10 ways to save on visiting National Parks with kids!

1. Purchase or Sign Up for an Annual Pass

Families who frequent national parks that charge a fee may benefit from an annual pass, which is good for 12 months from the purchase month.

Seniors (ages 62+) can take advantage of an annual pass (or even a lifetime pass) aimed specifically at them for an even steeper discount. The senior pass will cover the cost of everyone in a non-commercial vehicle if the site has a per vehicle charge. Great way to enjoy some time with grandkids!

Families with a fourth grader can enjoy free entry at hundreds of locations from September through August by getting a free annual pass through the Every Kid in a Park program. Even homeschooling families with a fourth grader can take advantage of this opportunity!

Active duty military members (and their dependents) can receive free annual passes for many sites. Just ask for a U.S. military annual pass.

Even if your family has an annual pass, it is still advisable to contact parks ahead of time to ensure the pass is accepted at that location.

View from Effigy Mounds

2. Go on Free Days

If you don’t plan to visit the national parks multiple times in a 12 month span, an annual pass may not make sense for your family.

Instead, check to see if they offer any free days. It’s suggested to arrive early and be prepared for large crowds of people on these days!

(NOTE: Some national sites are free all year round.)

3. Check the Events Calendar

Junior Ranger days, astronomy programs, family days, historic days, nature walks, sled dog demonstrations, movies, archaeology days, and photography walks are just a few of the low cost or even free events offered throughout the year at national sites.

Schedule your visits accordingly by checking the events calendar.

4. Check out the Junior Ranger Program

Kids may enjoy participating in the free Junior Ranger Program where they can complete fun yet educational activities and earn badges at each national park.

Even kids who don’t have an opportunity to visit many national parks can earn badges at home! They can complete booklets about bats, archaeology, caves, the Underground Railroad, and more.

National Parks Junior Ranger Badge

5. Create a Webrangers Account

Kids (and even interested adults) can earn virtual badges and rewards as they complete activities while learning about people, history, animals, nature, science, puzzles, and parks through the Webrangers program.

Registration is free and simple- just create a user ID and password. Once an account has been created, all of the completed activities are saved so progress can easily be tracked.

Kids can even have fun personalizing their own virtual ranger station! They get to choose a theme and customize the walls, shelves, chair, desk, floor, picture, and window view. What a great way to get kids excited about visiting National Parks and learning more!

6. Carpool

By carpooling with others, you can split the cost of the entrance fee if the site charges a per vehicle fee.

7. Stop by the Visitor’s Center

Visitor’s centers often provide free maps, guides, suggested tips, exhibits, and even videos to ensure you get the most out of your visit.

woods in a national park

8. Talk to Park Rangers

Park rangers are often quite knowledgeable about the area and can offer additional suggestions and information about the site.

You may even be able to get a personal tour if you ask (particularly on a non-busy day)!

9. Plan Ahead

Be sure to ceck out the site’s “plan your visit” section! It’s full of great information about fees, hours, things to do, suggestions, and more to make the most out of your visit. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want to see ahead of time since some parks are so big!

Also, check the weather to ensure you are wearing weather-appropriate clothing for the day.

Walking Stick in a national park

10. Bring Supplies

Besides wearing weather-appropriate clothing, comfortable footwear, and a hat, it may be beneficial to bring water, a camera, sunglasses, bug spray, and sunscreen.

Finally, don’t take a bag for collecting specimens since it is illegal to remove items from national sites.

Instead, bring a bag for any trash you may have. And take pictures of all of the neat rocks, shells, and leaves if you want a record of them!

What other tips do you have for visiting National Parks with kids?

Brigitte Brulz is a homeschooling mom, creator of the Adventure Writing Prompt Journal, author of the book Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles, and freelance writer. She offers free coloring pages, activity ideas, and more on her website at BrigitteBrulz.com.

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8 Comments

  • Courtney says:

    We took a family cruise and visited the National Park in San Juan, Puerto Rico! We didn’t check ahead but admission fees were only charged for visitors 18 and up, so we only had to pay for my husband and me. The small entrance fee gave us access to both forts for the day and we had a great time exploring. It was WAY cheaper than paying for shore excursions through the cruise line!

  • HokieKate says:

    We love the Junior Ranger program! We structured our summer trip around it this year, and my kids earned about 20 badges in three weeks. Several parks have downloadable PDFs of the Junior Ranger books so you can start working on them during the drive to the park.

    REI has a great free National Parks app with additional information about hikes. It also has a GPS map, which has been really helpful in parks with limited cell coverage.

  • Kelly says:

    Great tips!

    A huge one is to plan to bring your own food. NP park food is generally not yummy (a few exceptions) and it’s so much cheaper to bring your own. Pack more than expected because you will be hungrier than usual from all the physical activity, and plan ahead for how to keep items refrigerated if you’re gone all day.

  • Jody says:

    You can also plan trips around having a student in 4th grade when they get in to national parks for free (and their families) with the Every Kid a Park program. https://www.nationalparks.org/our-work/campaigns-initiatives/every-kid-park

    Our family has already started taking advantage of this program with our current 4th grader.

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