America’s state and national parks are great for quick getaways
With the summer winding down and the glorious days of fall just around the corner, you might be thinking how nice it would be to get away for a weekend and enjoy nature’s beauty amid moderating temperatures.
Unfortunately, many others are thinking the same way. Hotels and motels in prime locations set prices based on supply and demand and the per-night rates this time of year can be more than you wish to pay. As nice as it would be to sip a cup of coffee in a rocking chair by a babbling mountain brook or a tranquil lake, your wallet may say “no.” Then again, that may not necessarily be the final verdict.
State and national parks offer alternatives
Throughout the country, there are hundreds of state and national parks that offer great lodging options and often at reasonable rates. Because many facilities are owned and operated by the government, they’re more of a complement to the parks in which they reside and may not be as bottom-line driven as commercial hotels and motels.
Some parks also offer the same prices year-round for lodging, unlike many hotels and motels that have “in-season” and “out-of-season” rates or charge more on certain days of the week.
While you won’t confuse most park lodging with five-star accommodations, you also won’t have to pony up nearly as much to pay for a night’s stay.
You’ll find a couple of predominant lifestyles in the various park systems.
- A lodge that is set up and operates much the same as a hotel or motel, typically (but not always) with fewer onsite amenities such as restaurants, elaborate pools, saunas, etc., and the rooms may not be carpeted or include televisions.
- Individual rental cabins or bungalows can be great options and are often equipped with kitchens, bedrooms and sleeper sofas. These are often situated in that perfect location you seek along the waterfront or looking from a mountain into a valley below, or whatever you may feel is an ideal spot to maximize rest and relaxation. An added bonus with regard to many park cabins or bungalows is that they can accommodate families or multiple couples who can share in the expenses.
What you should expect
You may have to bring your own hair dryer and live without an ironing board. If you have a truly pioneering spirit, you may even have to turn down your own bed and get under the covers without a mint on the pillow.
It’s possible you won’t have daily housekeeping, if any at all, during your stay. There are some exceptions, but generally, amenities and services are scaled back and, remarkably, there are people who have actually survived this Spartan existence.
In many instances you’ll need to furnish your own food or plan to leave the park for meals. If you choose a place without a refrigerator, plan on taking coolers to suit your needs with enough ice to last until you head home or can resupply.
If you like food cooked outdoors, take along some charcoal and lighter fluid as many parks have grills on which you can cook, and picnic tables where you can set up and enjoy your culinary creations. Some parks will have grills and picnic tables at every lodging site. Others may have covered pavilions with a number of grills and tables in a central location. In some parks you may need to take along lawn or tailgate chairs for outside use. Also take along flashlights and extra batteries.
Before you go, double check directly with someone working at the park to see what is included with your rental such as:
- Bathrooms with showers (and ask if towels and soap are furnished or if you need to provide your own)
- Ice machines
- Trash disposal
- A camp store where supplies can be purchased as needed
- In case of an emergency, it is also important to ask if cell phone coverage is sufficient in all areas of the park you may wish to explore. In instances where there is no cell coverage, some parks may have rental walkie-talkies monitored by park rangers that are available for hikers and others heading into remote areas.
This really only begins to scratch the surface of what you may find is needed when staying in a park. Midwest Weekends has an excellent overview of what you may need to consider bringing along if you’re staying in a cabin.
Check out a park near you
Travel agents may not be able to help in all instances, so it’s likely going to be up to you to identify the best places to stay. Renting accommodations in a state or national park requires a good bit of research and self-booking, but you may find it’s a very satisfying process. As a starting point, you may want to read a USA Today article that identified five hidden gems in national parks.
Because park lodging can be significantly more cost-effective than “traditional” accommodations, you may find it’s worth the effort on the front-end because you may be able to get away more often… and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?