Where to stay during free U.S. national park days

Published July 2022

Natural rock formation forming an arch at Arches National Park

Looking to escape to the great outdoors? National parks across the country offer free admission days throughout the year and there are three more scheduled for 2022: August 4, September 24, and November 2. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a relaxing picnic or a thrilling white-water adventure, planning your trip around a fee-free day is a great way to explore the beauty, history, and culture of America’s own backyard— with a bit of extra savings.

If you want to take advantage of the free entry, we suggest planning now, as the desire to get outside is still a top reason Americans are packing their bags. In fact, according to Vacasa’s 2022 Summer Travel Trends report, 36% of U.S. travelers are likely to check out a national park this summer—second only to waterfront destinations. And not only that, but recreational activity, such as hiking, is the number one event or activity likely to inspire a summer getaway (41%).

Vacation rentals make the ideal base camp for a national park trip, with many granting easy park access, kitchens for prepping the picnic essentials, and modern amenities such as hot tubs and fireplaces to help you unwind after a day of exploring. So, without further ado, allow us to suggest a few parks—and nearby vacation homes—that will ignite the spirit of (affordable) adventure.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains is one of the largest national parks in the country, deserving of more than a day trip. Explore the nearly 1,200 miles of valleys, meadows, plunging waterfalls, giant sequoia trees and towering granite cliffs.

There are endless opportunities for outdoor adventure in Yosemite. First-timers will want to visit El Capitan, one of the largest and most famous granite rocks in the world. Pack a picnic and bring the binoculars to witness daredevil rock climbers inch their way up the sheer granite face. Or try out your own rock climbing skills by signing up for classes at the Yosemite Mountaineering School.

Acadia National Park

Along Maine’s rugged coastline, Acadia National Park offers picturesque ocean views, coastal forests, remote islands, and rocky mountains to explore. Most of the park’s 47,000 acres are located in Mount Desert Island, with the rest of the park spread out on other various islands.

The nation’s easternmost national park is also the first place in the country to see the sunrise. Set your alarm early to drive (or hike!) up the winding road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast. While up there, be on the lookout for delicious wild blueberries that ripen during late summer. Then spend the day on a boat ride to one of Acadia’s many hidden beaches and cool down with a dip in the ocean.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, famous for its golden plains, crystal-clear rivers, and sky-high mountains, is a million-acre haven in northern Montana whose vast backcountry spans up past the border into Canada. One of the best ways to take in the scenery is via the park's 700 miles of hiking trails. The most popular, Avalanche Lake Trail, winds for 6 miles among a white-water river, cedar forest, berry patch, and—the grand finale—crystal-clear glacial lake surrounded by mountains and several rushing waterfalls. Keep a lookout for roaming moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and grizzly bears. Fun fact: Montana has the highest concentration of grizzlies in the lower 48!

The Grand Canyon

Known as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is something that everyone should get to experience in person. Carved out by the Colorado River in northern Arizona millions of years ago, this park’s mile-deep gorge contains some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth.

Short on time? The Grand Canyon’s South Rim is the easiest way to take in fantastic panoramas from close to two dozen paved viewpoints. Or, to avoid the crowds, start at the North Rim for a much quieter experience with cooler temperatures and more plant and animal life. Thrill-seekers can experience the Grand Canyon up close by rafting the rapids of the Colorado River, ziplining above the canyon, or taking an aerial helicopter tour.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in southwest Utah is as close to paradise as it gets for hikers, with unique trails running through a narrow canyon of red-rock cliffs. Unlike other parks, where canyons are mostly viewed from the top of a ridge, Zion is best enjoyed by exploring from within the canyon. Trudge through the waters of the Narrows or climb the natural staircase of Angels Landing to see jaw-dropping vistas of Zion Canyon. For a more family-friendly adventure, stroll along a riverside trail, then check out nearby Grafton’s Ghost Town.

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