National parks are still a bargain, despite fee hike

  • Starting June 1, visitors will pay either $3, $5 or $10 more at national parks that already charge an entrance fee.
  • About a quarter of the 417 national U.S. national parks charge an entrance fee.
Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson, Wyo.
Brennan Linsley | AP
Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson, Wyo.

Summer travelers may find that visiting a national park is a hair pricier this year as some rate hikes go into effect June 1.

But nature-loving vacationers shouldn't worry too much. The planned increases aren't widespread and aren't they likely to be a budget-buster.

Starting June 1, visitors will pay either $3, $5 or $10 more at parks that currently have entrance fees. The most common rate hike is $5 more for a seven-day vehicle pass, National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum told CNBC in an email.

For example, a seven-day pass to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington will be $30, up from a current $25.

"Thirty dollars to get a carload of friends or family into a spectacular national park for seven days remains an excellent value for vacationing families," he said.

The price increases affect entrances to 117 of the 417 national U.S. national parks, including Acadia, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite.

"The other 300 parks are free to enter all of the time," Barnum said.

Visitors drive into the Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota.
Getty Images
Visitors drive into the Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota.

National parks tend to be a popular destination. Of the 88 million Americans planning a vacation this year, 48 percent say they will visit a national park, according to an AAA poll of 1,005 adults conducted in January.

Vacationers looking to cut the cost of admission could plan their visit on free-entrance dates — which this year include Sept. 22 and Nov. 11, said AAA spokeswoman Julie Hall. Other freebies include "Every Kid in a Park," an interagency program that offers special free passes for fourth graders and their families.

Seniors age 62 and older can also purchase a lifetime senior pass for $80. (To compare, an annual pass for adults runs $80; free annual pass programs are available for U.S. military members and people with permanent disabilities.)

Book early to "get the best rates on transportation, lodging and campgrounds in and around popular national parks," Barnum said. It can also help to visit during the off-season, when there are smaller crowds and rates tend to be cheaper.