Depending on who you talk to, we’re still either deep in recession or we’ve bottomed and it’s going to be a slow recovery. Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, it’s safe to say that family vacation budgets are likely to be tight through the summer of 2010, which means there’s no better time than your Christmas break to start planning for an economical family camping vacation in one of these great parks, this summer.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon at all but, as you can see in this photo, a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved out of the soft limestone rock by frost-wedging and rain. Bryce Canyon is a small park and not nearly as popular as its larger cousin, Zion National Park, some 50-miles to the west. There are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon, North and Sunset, with 199 campsites.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
At 106,372 acres, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a myriad of varied terrain and features to see, including its popular volcanic gas-vents, mud pots and boiling pools. There are eight campgrounds within the park, including Almanor, Christie, Eagle, Gurnsey Creek, Hat Creek, McCarthy Point, Merrill and West Eagle. This winter is already shaping up to be an heavy snow year, so some roads and facilities in the park may not open until late July
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Explore the tallest sand dunes in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park, in Colorado. There are a lot of outdoor activities on and around the dunes, including getting wet in Medano Creek. Of course, since the dunes are the main attraction here, you can also dust off those snowboards and catch some of the finest sand in the country. Pinyon Flats Campground has 88 campsites and there are other camping options outside the park.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park, in southwest Texas, is one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States and is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the country. The varied terrain of the park ranges from an elevation of 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande River, to 7,800 feet in the Chisos Mountains. There are three campgrounds in the park, including Cottonwood, Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village.
Congaree National Park
Hike, paddle, or just relax among the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest left in North America. You won’t run into any RVs in Congaree, or even any roads, so if it’s a secluded backcountry adventure that you’re seeking, this is the place. There are several primitive campgrounds available in the park and dispersed camping is allowed 200 feet from trails and water sources.
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Anyone got any good national forest camps not too far from the Los Angeles area good for camping on the bigger weekends (including easter break coming up soon) — I don’t mind driving up to the bay area or down south — I’d prefer some place that isn’t killer hot (depending on the season — e.g. Death Valley is nice in the spring — highs in the upper 70’s, lows in the low 50’s) and preferrably some place that isn’t completely packed with people.. Dry camping is OK for a few days.. My better half would prefer showers though..
I am wondering if any of you can tell me the best trail/area to backpack in Great Sand Dunes? I’m flying out from KY next June.
Jim – you might want to hit-up Borders / Barnes & Noble (or online at Amazon) and get “The Essential Guide to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve” by Charlie & Diane Winger.
Roy, Once again you overlooked our national forests. With no entrance fee and less crowded plus cheaper campgrounds, talk about economical family vacation. I’d be happy to suggest some alternatives to the parks you’ve cited. One would be the Dixie National Forest’s Red Canyon campground, west of Bryce Canyon NP, with some of the fabulous hiking in southern Utah.
Thanks Suzi, good point on the entrance fees. It’s always a good idea to look around the area for camping alternatives on public lands.
Great list of parks to visit. Living in Colorado, I’m a major fan of Great Sand Dunes. Backpacking into the dunes is an experience like no other. Within minutes you’re a world away and it feels as if you’re in absolute solitude with nobody to be found for light years away.
Love the site!
Thanks, Perry – I haven’t been to Great Sand Dunes yet, but it’s at the top of my list because it’s such a unique landscape. I’m really surprised it’s not more popular.
Great Sand Dunes is on my short list to take the kids to this summer. I’m hoping to get the timing right so the Medano Creek is flowing enough for them to play in. My favorite is still Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, like most things, I don’t take advantage of living close to it nearly enough.
Picking favorite National Parks are tough, as are National Forests. We’ve been to national forests in about 10 different states over the last 15 years or so, and each one is amazing in its own right. You can find great solitude and amazing natural wonders just about everywhere. Even in state’s you might not expect it. The Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois is a great example! And best of all, there completely free to enjoy! Just make sure to take care of them while you are out there, and remember how lucky we are to live in such an incredible place!
I know the feeling, Marc – the largest state park in northern California is right outside my front door, but sometimes I just have to stop what I’m doing when I realize it’s been a month (or more!) since I’ve taken the kids hiking.
We went to Bryce Canyon this past summer and it was amazing. Its a great summer park because of the elevation (unlike Zion which is HOT during the summer). You can see the whole thing in a couple days. I have been to Lassen as well and it is beautiful. There is still snow on the ground well into June which is a treat and the Bumpass Hell trail is a MUST SEE.
Sharlene – it’s a lot of fun to head up to Lassen when it’s 100 degrees and see snow. I really want to go to Bryce – my parents were just there and took a lot of great pictures.
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Those are all great parks, but you missed the one in my backyard: Yellowstone. It’s more than hot pots and geysers 😉
Actually, I don’t know how you narrowed it down to 5! We can’t wait to get to Lassen, that’s been high on my list for a long time.
I know, Mel – it was crazy trying to whittle a list of national parks down to 5, so I dropped Yellowstone in order to cover some of the parks that might not have made other people’s lists. Acadia, in Maine, was another one that was hard to leave off (and that I really want to see).
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