Tips and Tricks
Here you will find our listing of travel strategies, these are updated as information changes. Most will be related to earning points, saving money, and getting the best deals relating to our travel goals!
Though many of the parks units have little to no entry fee, roughly one-third do charge an entry fee. Some can be a bit hefty; Grand Canyon and Yosemite run $35 per car. The best deal going is the America the Beautiful Pass, as for $80 you purchase one year of unlimited entry into national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Online shopping portals are an easy and rewarding way to earn airline miles. All the major airlines (and a few hotel chains, like Choice and Hilton) have websites which link you to many stores where you likely already shop, including major department, book, clothing, and home and design stores. By first visiting a shopping portal, then clicking through to the store's website from there, you earn airline miles per dollar spent.
Exploring the national parks units via Amtrak is in some instances, occasionally more convenient than doing so by plane/rental car. Overall, Parks and Points has found Amtrak to be a helpful mode of transportation, though arrival times can be variable.
We love the PointsBreaks, because many of the selected hotels are in places that are near national parks, especially some of the hidden treasures. Sure, the Intercontinental in NYC isn’t likely to ever be on PointsBreaks, but the Holiday Inn Express ten minutes from Saguaro National Park may very well appear on the list of 5,000 point hotels.
The British Airways frequent flyer rewards program Executive Club’s currency of points, called Avios, offers considerable route and redemption options for traveling to airports that are near national parks; these routes are often at a premium when paying cash, so we like this option for both its versatility and cost effectiveness.
These certificates can be of great value, as many of the more popular parks also tend to be near smaller airports that often command considerably high fares — Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Voyagers, and Redwood are all several hours driving from major airports, in some cases as much as five hours away from major hub airports while smaller airports with often pricey fares are less than an hour away. These certificates are awarded upon the yearly renewal of the credit card, so you will have to pay the annual fee; however, you’ll more than cover those costs with an effective use of the certificates.
Consider some of these strategies for touring during what is sure to be a busy summer season.
Generally speaking, most domestic AA flights cost at least 12,500 points to redeem for a one-way ticket, but with Reduced Mileage Awards, you can get a 7,500 mile discount on flights that are more than 500 miles in distance, and a 2,000 mile discount on flights 500 miles or less, round trip.
We appreciate the enhanced value when booking domestic awards flights to and from, often smaller conveniently located airports near national parks and historic sites using the Reduced Mileage Awards program.
We think of time as more of a commodity, and describe this as “Vacation Value Time,” (or VVT, for short). VVT is the point at which you’d spend additional money to get more daytime vacation time, whether that means paying for a higher priced plane ticket to spend an extra afternoon in Glacier National Park, or splurging on a hotel room closer to a destination in peak season to cut down on driving time to and from the destination. In brief, how much do you value your vacation time and how much extra are you willing to spend to have more of it?
There is a wonderful opportunity that we want to be sure it on your radar, if there is a fourth grade student in your family! As of September 1st, all students entering fourth grade have access to their own Every Kid in a Park pass at www.everykidinapark.gov. The “Every Kid in a Park” promotion is offered by the Department of the Interior and the White House, and brings with it tremendous value, providing free access to fee based federal lands for the student as well as the family.
With the arrival of National Park #60, Gateway Arch National Park, we’re taking a look at the contenders for #61! Here’s a brief rundown on how they stack up. We’re giving you a bit of each park's story, and a score as to their chances, on a scale of John Muir beards!
The International Dark-Sky Association was created in 1988 to help minimize light pollution and to protect the night skies. There are 103 Dark-Sky sites worldwide, including Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Staunton River State Park in Virginia, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas. The two entities often work alongside each other to preserve what natural night sky still exists. For example, Bob Meadows, a physical scientist and night skies specialist in the NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division took his expertise and equipment to Goblin Valley State Park to help with the park's Dark-Sky designation—at Goblin Valley, one is under one of the darkest skies in the world.
Costing anywhere from $5-$25, depending on location, the U.S. Forest Service Christmas Tree permit program allows you to cut your own tree from a national forest.
We’d like to offer up some amazing state parks that we feel are worth a stop! We compiled this list during the 2018 government shutdown and wanted to keep this list up as we truly feel these parks are worthy of planning a visit to see them in all their glory and beauty.
The National Park Service, we know, protects and preserves important historical landmarks and expansive, undeveloped natural landscapes. However, many NPS units also have ties to the creative arts, and are dedicated to honoring and preserving an artistic legacy. We've taken a closer look at parks that focus upon artists, writers, and important creative and cultural pursuits that uniquely reflect and reexamine American culture.
Our Interview with Lilly Longshore
Lilly Longshore, on Twitter @wheeltraveler, went to graduate school in Texas then moved to the Pacific Northwest to work as an environmental engineer and hike, a passion she shares with her husband. Before she had a chance to spend much time on the trails, she fell while getting up from bed, her two-year old son in her arms, and broke her neck. She is an incomplete C5-C6 quadriplegic. At the time of her fall, she did not know that she had degenerative retina disease, which contributed to her disorientation. She credits both swimming and spiritual practice for the significant mobility she has since regained.
She uses a power chair primarily, and occasionally a manual chair, and spends much time outdoors with her family. She serves on the Governor’s Committee for Disability Issues in Washington State and is the parent representative on the Board of Trustees for the Washington State School for the Blind. You can read more about her travels, her recommendations for wheelchair travelers, and her speaking engagements at www.lillylongshore.com.
We wanted her take on what is working well in parks for visitors needing ADA access, and how parks can continue to evolve toward increased accessibility.
Shared public lands, or what you might commonly refer to as national parks, forests, and conservation areas, provide the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature with your pooch. If you’re bringing your pet along, however, there are several things to prepare for, including safe bedding and having a plan in place for injuries -- not to mention finding a park that is four-paw friendly. Below you’ll find lots of great tips and additional resources to peruse, to ensure your trip is safe as well as fun.