Those of us who have been exploring national parks all our lives know the tricks for organizing a great stay: how to bypass that heinously long line of RVs at the entrance station, score a coveted campsite, and save money on gas and gear. We expect there will be a lot of first-time visitors after PBS airs the new Ken Burns documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, premiering this Sunday. So here are six of the tips we've compiled to help them out. Click here to see our full list of tips, as well as many other outstanding suggestions from our readers.
And whether you're a long-time lover of these treasures or are newly inspired to become one, we hope you'll join our "100,000 Champions of National Parks" campaign -- just sign your name and favorite national park, and we'll enter you in a drawing for a trip for two to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. Tip #1 follows...
Save money on gas and entrance fees by getting the gang into one carload. Most parks charge by the car, so getting carpooling is good for the environment -- and your pocketbook. Better yet, travel with folks over age 62 -- they can pay a one-time $10 fee to get an America the Beautiful Senior Pass (previously called the Golden Age pass), which gets your entire carload in for free to every park.
Buying an annual National Park Pass not only saves you money when you visit multiple parks within a year but also, at many of the busiest parks, lets you join a shorter line at the entrance station. You can fly by that back-up of RVs -- a great way to start your stay!
Travel against the grain by driving a park's popular scenic loops in reverse. Start your day early or late so that you miss most of the day-tripper crowds, which peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Get the biggest bang for your buck by going for a hike with a ranger. Campfire programs and nature walks are a great way to learn some history and science about what you're seeing. Don't be afraid to talk to the rangers or ask them for advice. They're a wealth of information and can often steer you in the direction of a trail that's particularly nice at the time of your visit or help with something that fits your interests.
Need camping or backpacking gear? Look for used-gear sales in the spring and fall, when larger outdoor gear companies sell returned and rental gear. Sign up on Freecycle in your area (it's all free!) and watch for folks giving away outdoor gear -- or, post a request for what you need. Back-up plan: Try renting gear, especially if you're new to camping/hiking and aren't sure if you're ready to invest a lot of money in the activity yet.
Use our free Sierra Club Trails online community to find great hikes in the national parks you plan to visit.
Now you just need to pick a park, pack, and go!
More TreeHugger posts on national parks.
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