Camping is the foundation for affordable summer travel. Photo: Scott Goodwill
If you’re like most people, you are eager to escape and relax this summer. It’s been a long 18 months and we are all excited to travel again but with busy airports, soaring gas prices, inflated rental car and hotel rates, it is challenging to plan a budget-friendly vacation. That’s why we’ve put together a two-part travel series with our top picks for road trips, national parks and monuments, outdoor adventures and camping options that won’t break the bank!
Even with gas prices higher than they’ve been in over 7 years, a road trip can still be your best bet for a budget-friendly vacation this summer. If you combine it with camping, hiking, tubing and other low-cost activities, you can still plan an economical and adventurous getaway.
Camping is the foundation for affordable rest and relaxation. Work camping into your travel plans and watch the dollars fly back into your pocketbook. Invest in quality gear that lasts like a tent from The North Face, a sleeping bag from Big Agnes, or backpack from MYSTERY RANCH. These quality outdoor products last a lifetime, in some cases, and are well worth the investment, especially when you add up all the savings you'll gain from less hotel stays.
With over 245 million acres to choose from, you can safely pitch your tent almost anywhere on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with as little, or as much, human interaction as you desire. Before you leave, check in with the local BLM office to make sure that the area is open and ask if there is a fire ban in place.
If you like a few amenities when you camp, check out a KOA site where you can tent camp for as low as $24 a night (it’s more for an RV spot) but still have access to bathrooms, showers, and WiFi as well as kids’ activities and a swimming pool. Sure, you’ll pay a little more to stay at one of these private campsites, but you also get running water and flushing toilets.
NATIONAL PARKS & MONUMENTS
Custer State Park
If ever there was a state park worthy of national park status, it would be Custer State Park in South Dakota. The hiking easily ranks among the best in the region and the stunning, 1-mile long, and boulder-filled trail around Lake Sylvan should not be missed. Just East of the lake is a great hike called Poet’s Table that offers great views of the surrounding Black Hills. After your hike you can relax by the lake with a picnic or rent paddle boards (for as low as $14) to explore the area from the water. More of the park's charms show themselves during a drive along the tunnel-filled Needles Highway. A one week pass to Custer State Park is just $20 per vehicle and an annual pass can be purchased for $30.
Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota is Mount Rushmore, is the iconic sculpture of four American presidents - Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt - each face standing over 60 feet high. The artist, Gutzon Borglum, started the sculpture in 1927 and completed it in 1941 to the tune of $989,992.32. And, for a measly $10 entry fee per car, you can’t afford not to check this National Monument off your bucket list. Stop by the Wine Cellar in Rapid City to refuel. This local, artisanal restaurant is nestled in the newly restored 6th street district in the heart of downtown and serves seasonal and delicious small-plates, hand-crafted pizzas and more.
Grand Canyon | Photo: Jennifer Rogalla
It doesn't get more affordable than camping, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona is a unique place to rough it. You'll have to contend with crowds along the South Rim which sees 90% of the visitors, but the photo possibilities will be well worth it. Some campsites start at just $18 per night during the warmer months, while the park entrance fee for vehicles is $35 and lasts seven days. Pack your own food to save even more. If you're not interested in camping, check out one of the affordable hotels in Grand Canyon Village near the South Rim.
Roaming buffaloes, majestic mountains, and breathtaking geysers populate Yellowstone's more than 2,220,000 acres of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho wilderness. Travelers searching for an affordable vacation that doesn't skimp on memorable moments will likely appreciate several cost-effective aspects of this national park. Entrance fees cost $35 per vehicle or $20 per person on foot for seven days, while campsites start at $20 per night. Once you've settled in, explore the park's incredible hiking trails, which wind from colorful thermal basins and geysers to large lakes.
Glacier National Park | Photo: Daniel Crowley
Glacier National Park
Head to this national park in northwest Montana for stunning photo-ops on a budget. Summer is a great time to visit since conditions are ideal for driving Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the most scenic drives in the country. With the park's $35 per vehicle entry fee (which covers access for seven days), visitors can also hike Grinnell Glacier, swim in Lake McDonald and learn about the area's flora and fauna at the Apgar Nature Center. Camping in the park is cheap, too – rates range from $10 to $23 per night so dust off your tent, pack your backpack, and make a reservation.
Moab is unique in that it borders two of the state's national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. Arches National Park, to the north, is where visitors can marvel at precarious looking sandstone monuments like the famous Delicate Arch. Canyonlands National Park, which sits southwest of town, offers stunning views of Utah's expansive desert landscapes. In and around Moab, travelers will find an array of affordable accommodations, ranging from campgrounds to motels to vacation rentals. All of this makes Moab a budget-friendly destination for adventurous nature lovers.
Reminder that UV protection is a must during summer travel and we can't imagine traveling without EyKuver. Get yours today!
Hey roadies and van-lifers. Tune in next week for valuable road trip intel with a focus on our backyard, the Western U.S.