It's National Park Week, celebrated with free entrance to all national parks through April 24. But the parks can be an inexpensive vacation destination no matter what the time of year, as they let visitors come and go over the course of a week with a single entrance fee. Families and outdoors enthusiasts flock there during the warmer months -- so it's not always cheap or easy to find a place to stay. From tent camping to something a little more comfortable, there are less expensive accommodations at or near popular national parks for visitors who know where to look.
10 Cheap Places to Stay Near Major National Parks
Hermit Park Open Space is just 2 miles outside of Estes Park -- right on the edge of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. The camper cabins offer a rustic "indoor" camping experience, with beds, a propane stove, and propane lights but no water or electricity. Bring up to eight people to really whittle down the nightly cost of $60.
For visitors who prefer a true indoor hotel experience while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, the Discovery Lodge at Estes Park has some of the cheapest rooms in town. Cheap doesn't mean poor quality, either -- many guests have shared glowing reviews at TripAdvisor. Bargains are hard to come by in this idyllic mountain resort town, so keep in mind that rooms can book up fast, especially when summer starts to roll around. Rates range from $59 to $169, depending on time of year, and are highest during holidays such as the Fourth of July.
Lodging within Yellowstone National Park can be expensive (standard lodge rooms at the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, for example, run $237 a night this summer). But just a short distance away from this grand old hotel are far cheaper cabins at Lake Lodge. The Pioneer Cabins, while basic, do provide showers, a toilet, and a sink, and cost $88 a night. Summer is the hottest season, so booking well in advance is crucial.
For those who want to rough it, there are two ways to camp in Yellowstone, with nightly fees ranging from $15 to $48. Five campgrounds operated by a private company generally require a reservation months in advance. The park operates seven first-come, first-served campgrounds, which are less expensive but fill up fast, so be sure to arrive early.
For an alternative to in-park lodging, there are several hotels in West Yellowstone, Montana. The Holiday Inn on Yellowstone Avenue is a good bet, with high ratings on Expedia and nightly rates for two adults staying a few days starting at less than $110. A park entrance is less than a mile away, and it's only 3 miles to Lake Yellowstone.
Another out-of-the-park lodging option can be found in nearby Gardiner, Montana, at the Yellowstone Gateway Inn. Pleased reviewers note that the inn is within walking distance of Yellowstone's north entrance. All but one of the 15 rooms offer a kitchen, along with other amenities, and there's a small grocery store across the street for longer stays. While rates go up as summer approaches, they're still on the inexpensive side ($99 and up) through mid-May.
A mile from Zion and just a couple of minutes' walk from shuttles to the park, the simple Terrace Brook Lodge is charging rates of $109 or $129 a night over the coming months. It's recommended by Lonely Planet for its access to the town of Springdale and other amenities welcomed by guests returning after a day of enjoying nature: a pool and launderette.
Located in Yosemite Valley within view of the famous Half Dome, Housekeeping Camp offers a camping experience with a few modern conveniences, including electric lights and outlets. The units also include a double bed and bunk bed (to be used with sleeping bags), a mirror, table, and chairs. At about $75 a night, this is one of the least expensive places to stay in the park. A free shuttle is available for getting around.
Whether camping is on the agenda or a cabin would be more ideal, the 500-location KOA chain of campgrounds can save money on a visit to a national park. The Midpines location is about 23 miles from Yosemite, but the inexpensive lodging can make up for the gas money needed to travel to and from the park: Tent sites are about $50 a night, and cheaper cabins are about $90 a night. (There is also public transit on YARTS buses to and from Yosemite for between $1 and $6 a person each way.)
At Yosemite Bug, singles can book a bed in a hostel-style dormitory for about $30 a night. There are also tent cabins for as low as $40 and full-on rooms with private baths for $150 or more. This self-described rustic mountain resort is about 25 miles from Yosemite Valley, but YARTS provides inexpensive public transit (tickets include park admission).
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