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Top 3 Cheapest (and Most Expensive) National Parks

Did you know that visiting a U.S. national park can range from very cheap to mind blowingly expensive? I tend to get kinda preachy about how affordable I find national parks, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. There are some parks that are just going to steal your wallet, no matter how you dice it. Curious about which parks are secretly pricey and which ones aren’t? I got you! I’ve compiled a short list of your top three most and least budget-friendly national parks in the continental U.S.!

But before we get into it, let me tell you about the parameters I used to assemble this list. We are assuming that you have a vehicle to drive and are traveling in a pair. Prices are based on two nights of front country camping inside each park. There are other lodging options available in many parks, but let’s be real, we’re not staying in lodges if we’re ballin’ on a budget. All research was done using the official national park service website. Read the full list here.

Dry Tortugas National Park/Photo by Michelle Berkes

#3 Most Expensive: Isle Royale National Park

  • Entrance fee: $7 per person per day; (7 x 2 people) x 3 days = $42
  • Ferry ticket: $70 each way; (70 x 2 ways) x 2 people = $280
  • Camping permit: free
  • TOTAL: $322

Isle Royale is a special park for so many reasons (it’s in my top five parks for sure), and one of them is the entrance fee. Almost every other park has an entrance fee that is good for seven days, except Isle Royale. The real kicker here, though, is the cost of the ferry ride. Since the park is an island requiring you to fly or boat in, the ferry is the cheaper option for transport.

#2 Most Expensive: Dry Tortugas National Park

  • Entrance fee: $15, or included in your ferry ticket
  • Ferry ticket: $200; 200 x 2 people = $400
  • Camping: $15 per night; 15 x 2 nights = $30
  • TOTAL: $430

Dry Tortugas is another park that is impossible to visit without taking a plane or boat, and the boat is by far the cheaper option (and also the only option if you want to camp). There’s really no way to get around the expense here, but you’ll rest easy knowing that the cost is well worth it!

Read more about Dry Tortugas National Park.

#1 Most Expensive: Biscayne National Park

  • Entrance fee: free
  • Boat rental: starts at $500
  • Camping: $25 per night; 25 x 2 nights = $50
  • TOTAL: $550

Based on the parameters, Biscayne is far and away the most expensive national park to camp at in the lower 48. HOWEVER, there are ways around the expense here! Personally, when I visited Biscayne, I stayed at a local hostel for $30, took a day trip to the park, and got out on the water for a guided adventure with the Biscayne National Park Institute. If you were a very skilled paddler, you could also kayak, which would save massive expense on the boat rental.

Read more about Biscayne National Park.

Congaree National Park/Photo by Michelle Berkes

#3 Cheapest: Death Valley National Park

  • Entrance fee: $30
  • Camping: free
  • TOTAL: $30

While Death Valley does have some campgrounds that cost money, it also has plenty that don’t. This makes for a very affordable weekend trip!

#2 Cheapest: Congaree National Park

  • Entrance fee: free
  • Camping: $5; 5 x 2 nights = $10
  • TOTAL: $10

Congaree National Park is known for its swampy environment, and offers options for free canoeing ranger programs, as well as boardwalk and hiking trails. It’s hard to beat a weekend trip for only $10.

Read more about Congaree National Park.

#1 Cheapest: North Cascades National Park

  • Entrance fee: free
  • Camping: free
  • TOTAL: FREE

North Cascades takes the cake for most affordable national park! Again, while there are campgrounds that require fees, there are places to camp in the front country within this national park for free. In my opinion, North Cascades is one of the most scenic and underrated parks in the entire system. Do yourself a favor and go!

North Cascades National Park/Photo by Michelle Berkes

You can find the full list of most expensive to cheapest national parks on my blog!

Header photo: North Cascades National Park/By Michelle Berkes

Michelle Berkes is an adventurer chronicling her travels on her blog, Head Along with Heart. She started visiting national parks at age 23 on a very limited budget. Since then, she’s been pushing her boundaries as a road tripper and outdoors-woman in order to see all 62 national parks as completely and affordably as possible.

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