Road Trips to National Parks | Definitely Worth the Splurge




On August 25th, it will be the National Park’s Service 101st Birthday.  To celebrate they are offering Free admission to all National Parks.  So if you are looking for an outing or trip this Summer, the National Parks are a great option.  There are more than 400 parks so check here to see if any are near you.

Here’s some of our experiences with National Parks plus a great road trip tip for you.

Two years ago we made a very long trip out to Yellow Stone and the Grand Tetons, but since you can find National Parks all over the country, you can take advantage of them even when you don’t have a lot of time.

Here’s a 2-day get away we took when we lived in Pennsylvania.

Usually Thanksgiving means time spent with our extended family.  However, last year we found out about a week before Thanksgiving that this wouldn’t be possible.  My husband and kids both had time off from Thursday through Monday from work and school so we figured it would be a perfect time for a road trip.  Since we have learned the hard way it’s difficult to travel on Thanksgiving Day- majority of fast food places are closed after noon, we figured a two night getaway would be perfect.

We considered several possibilities within a 7-8 hour driving range.  Each of them included at least one National or State Park.  After all, the kids had all really enjoyed the National Parks we visited the past summer.  Here were the options:

  • Smokey Mountain National Park and Gatlinsburg, TN – For this I was looking for a cabin in the woods.  Unfortunately since I only had a week to plan, and it was Thanksgiving Week everything I checked on was already booked.
  • Kinzua Bridge State Park – This was the closest option at only about 4 hours away and was a place my husband has been suggesting for quite awhile.  The only problem was snow was predicted and to me hiking in snow with 5 kids just didn’t sound like  a lot of fun, especially with one just getting over pneumonia.
  • Mammoth Park and The Creation Museum in Kentucky- The hope was to stop at the museum and then hit a cave tour the next morning and spend the rest of the day hiking since this is an activity that all the family enjoys.

So with 4 days before we expected to travel I arranged everything – or so I thought.

I figured we would drive to the Creation Museum on Friday Morning.  Instead of waiting to buy them there I checked online.  Boy was I glad I did.  Turned out there was a coupon code for $10 off every ticket – even kids and it expired that night, but the tickets would be good for up to a year.  This saved me $60 since my 3 year old was free.

Since the Creation Museum closed at 5 PM, the plan was to drive to Mammoth Caves after, about a 3 1/2 hour drive.  So I arranged a two night hotel stay at Comfort Inn in Cave City, KY.  For this one I took advantage of AAA discount and it was going to earn my triple points since I’m a rewards member of Comfort Choice.   Another great way to save on hotel stays is to place your Reservations through Ebate Cash Back Sites or TopCashBack where right now the offer is 5.3%.  Great thing about this is The AAA discount and best online price can still be reserved shopping this way.  That at least covers that darn county tax.

Finally I made Reservations for a Mammoth Cave Tour on Saturday Morning.  Unfortunately there aren’t any coupon codes for these, but in researching the trip, it was highly suggested to make a reservation.  Now the tours aren’t free, but I definitely considered it Worth the Splurge since it allows you to see things you normally wouldn’t and also get great information from the National Rangers.  Turns out that the visit to the caves fit in perfectly with what my 9 year old has been studying at school – Stalagmites and Stalactites.  Not only that, but I learned something new and I had visited Mammoth Caves before.

Road Trip Tip – Be Flexible

As I mentioned above, the plan was to tour the cave in the morning and then hike the rest of the day.  Well there was a problem with that. Kentucky was in the midst of a two day set in rain.  While it was possible to tour the cave since the rain doesn’t reach down there, we were left with what to do the rest of the day.

So we started searching what National Parks, Landmarks, or Museums we could hit on the way back to Pittsburgh.  Turns out that Abe Lincoln’s Birthplace  and Boyhood Home were about an hour north of Mammoth Caves.  We have previously toured visited George Washington’s Mt Vernon Home and  The Hermitage which is President Jackson’s home  and the kids really enjoyed both.  In addition, several years ago, we visited Gettysburg National Park and the kids were really interested in the aspects relating to Lincoln.  To make it even better both of the Abe Lincoln National Parks were free.

So instead of staying at the same hotel for 2 nights, I cancelled the second night and we checked out.  This is one reason I don’t book through the discount Travel sites often.  They don’t allow for cancellations and I value the ability to be flexible.

By the time we to to Abe Lincoln’s Birthplace is was 3:30 PM due to a change in time from Central to Eastern and a stop for lunch.  Unfortunately both the Parks closed at 4:45 and we were only able to get in Abe Lincoln’s Birthplace.  Still it was definitely worth the trip, since once again we all learned and saw something new.

It was going to be a 7 hour trip home from there and that just wasn’t going to happen.  We were all sort of getting tired.  However, to make another overnight at a hotel worth the money  we looked at where we could stop within a 3 to 4 hour drive that had something we could see and enjoy with the kids.  What we decided on was the National Museum of the Airforce in Dayton, Ohio.  Once again we figured the kids would enjoy this because we had visited the National Naval Aviation Museum several years ago on another trip and it had been a hit.

The museum in Ohio is HUGE and getting bigger in a year.  They start with planes before WW1 and go up to planes in 2000.  Once again this is a national museum that is free.  Just be prepared to take breaks through the day because food and drink are not allowed in the museum.  This is a National Museum that definitely makes history come alive.   Not only were we all impressed with the planes, but getting to talk to an Airforce Vet who was in active duty at the end of the Vietnam War, watching videos of the first soldiers captured in the Vietnam War and seeing the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki and a replica of the bomb called the Fat bomb are things that we will not forget and definitely made the additional hotel stay Worth the Splurge.

Why National Parks and Museums are Worth the Splurge to Me

While quite a few of the National Parks, Landmarks, or Museums are free, there are some that cost money to visit in the form of entrance fees or Guided Tours.  In addition taking a road trip to them leads to hotel and restaurant expenses.   Even with all that, I still continue them Worth the Splurge and here’s why:

  • Learning Opportunities – This is definitely number one.  From nature to history the National Parks and Museum provide it all and really show how wonderful our Country is.
  • Chance to See Things You Wouldn’t See Anywhere Else – This was definitely the case with Yellow Stone National Park that we visited this summer.
  • Great Hiking Trails in the Parks – that allow the kids to see animals in their natural habitat.
  • Located All Over the Country – No matter where your traveling there is a good chance that a National Park, Museum or Landmark are close by.  So definitely check into them when planning a trip.

If you are interested in road tripping to National Parks you might want to come visit my Road Trip with Kids Board on Pinterest.  I find that many items I pin there involve a National Park I am looking forward to visiting.

So what about you, what’s your Favorite National Park?  Now that we live in Florida, I’m looking forward to checking out the southern National Parks?

Print Friendly

Speak Your Mind