Priced Out of Nature: The High Cost of a National Park Vacation

Priced Out of Nature: The High Cost of a National Park Vacation

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(Originally published September 21, 2016; last updated April 12, 2018)

“$30 park fee?” That’s what my wife said after reading an article in our local newspaper about what it costs to “get in the door” at Grand Canyon National Park.

(Grand Canyon National Park Flickr Photo)

That sounded high to me, so I checked the park’s Website.

Yep, it’s $30 for a 7-day pass for a single non-commercial vehicle and its passengers.

Only staying part of one day? Just doing a “drive-thru”? It’s still $30.

Come on a motorcycle and you’ll save $5. Come on foot and keep $15 in your wallet.

Still, it seems like a grandiose fee to see that grand view.

But what about the other national parks? What are the entry fees there?

Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Teton, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, all in the West, all $30 for a 1 to 7 day pass. If you’re visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton, a single pass good at both parks will cost you $50.

Some parks charge a bit less. At Rainier it’s $25, Lassen is a bargain at $20, and Crater Lake in Oregon is a “steal” at $15.

If you’re visiting several parks, or going to one several times, an annual pass may be your best bet. And if you’re a senior, you can get a lifetime pass on the cheap.

Oh, and you want to stay in the park with a roof over your head and eat three meals a day.

How much is that going to set you back?

Yosemite, where I met my wife-to-be, where we spent part of our honeymoon, and which we’ve visited several times during nearly a half-century, is no longer a “cheap date.”

A room at Yosemite Valley Lodge in November, if you can even get one, runs $265/night. Dinner for two at the lodge, with a bottle of wine, tax and tip, could easily cost $100 or more. Add in a more modestly priced breakfast and lunch, and the park fees, and you are talking $400-plus a day, or around $3,000/week.

To put that national park visit price tag into perspective, during November you’d could spend a week in a downtown San Francisco hotel and dine out for about the same as you’d plunk down for a week-long stay in Yosemite during the same month.

The writer, Wallace Stegner, and documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, have called the national parks “America’s best idea.”

But alas, those parks are no longer “America’s best vacation bargain.”

(On October 26, 2017, The Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration was proposing sharp cuts to the national parks budget while substantially raising entrance fees at many of the most popular parks.)

(Update, April 12, 2018: The National Parks Conservation Association reports that after receiving over 100,000 comments opposing its plan for massive park fee increases, the Trump Administration has dropped that plan and will only increase fees by modest amounts.)


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