The US National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and has been running a couple of campaigns to celebrate, including the Every Kid in a Park campaign and the Find Your Park campaign. As a result, NPS is expecting record crowds in our national parks this year!
That’s great news: it’s awesome that more people are out exploring nature. However, if you are planning a national park trip for this summer, you’ll want to be prepared so you don’t get shut out on lodging.
Tip #1: If you’re looking to stay inside a park, find your park on the nps.gov website and look under the Plan Your Visit tab.
There, the parks list their lodges as well as campgrounds. Park lodges are typically more expensive than regular hotels, but they have the advantage of being right in the heart of the action. Many of them book up a year in advance, so be sure to call as soon as possible.
Tip #2: If your preferred lodging dates are sold out, ask to be added to a waiting list.
Many campgrounds are first-come, first-served, but some do allow visitors to make reservations. If you’re hoping for a first-come, first-served spot, know that those often fill up before noon.
Tip #3: Call a day ahead and ask a ranger what time you need to arrive at a particular campground for the best chance of getting a campsite.
Most parks have towns nearby that offer additional lodging options, and many have the advantage of being more budget friendly. One of our tried and true methods for finding lodging in towns near the parks we plan to visit is to search TripAdvisor — we’ve never been steered wrong by its reviews.
Tip #4: If your outside-the-park lodging options are in small towns, plan as far ahead as possible.
We’re planning to visit three parks in Colorado this summer (bringing us closer to our goal of visiting all 52 US national parks), and when we looked for lodging near Great Sand Dunes NP, we didn’t find many options. It turned out there was only one room left at the place we wanted to stay, two months in advance! Needless to say, we booked it!
Tip #5: Make reservations even if your plans aren’t firm. Most lodging options don’t charge a cancellation fee until a few days before arrival.
Bonus tip: if you’ve got time to travel at the end of August, you may want to take advantage of the NPS fee free days: August 25-28. A lot of other people may have that idea, too, though, so be sure to get your lodging secured early!
Whenever and wherever you go, enjoy your next national park adventure — whether it’s for a week or a weekend!