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Why Are National Parks Ideal for Group Travel?

I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but it gave me insights into who visits national parks and why these American treasures remain so popular.

National parks are a magnet for group trips, be it for friends seeking adventure or families longing for a bonding experience. These vast expanses of wilderness offer an escape from the hustle of daily life and a plethora of activities suited for all ages and interests. From leisurely nature walks to exhilarating hikes, wildlife viewing, and historical tours, our national parks offer a blend of adventure, serenity and educational opportunities.

At many parks there is a range of lodging choices, from comfortable in-park hotels and historic lodges to rustic cabins and cozy bed-and-breakfasts nearby. For those seeking a more immersive outdoor experience, camping is a popular choice. Most parks provide well-equipped campgrounds, some of which can (must) be reserved in advance, while others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Whether you prefer the comfort of a lodge or the adventure of sleeping under the stars, national parks cater to a variety of preferences and budgets, ensuring a memorable stay in the heart of nature.

The most popular times to visit national parks are typically during the summer months and holiday weekends, coinciding with school vacations and favorable weather. However, this popularity often leads to crowded trails, congested roads, and fully booked accommodations. To avoid these crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons – late spring and early fall – when the weather is still pleasant, and the parks are less crowded. Another strategy is to start the day early or explore less popular trails and areas of the park.

Visiting national parks is also generally an affordable vacation option. The cost of entry varies from park to park, with many offering family passes and annual passes that provide significant savings. Seniors can avail of the Lifetime Senior Pass, which offers access to all national parks at a nominal fee.

Additionally, the National Park Service offers several free entrance days throughout the year, making it even more accessible for families, students, and others on a budget. Keep in mind, though, that this waiver doesn't cover other fees like camping or special tours.

Whether it’s marveling at the geysers of Yellowstone, exploring the depths of the Grand Canyon, or trekking through the lush forests of the Great Smoky Mountains, national parks are a testament to the splendor of the natural world and a reminder of its importance in our lives. And, by planning around peak seasons, considering various cost-saving measures, and embracing the diverse range of activities available, these parks can offer unforgettable experiences that are both enriching and budget-friendly.

When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.

Article updated December 2023.