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It’s exciting to travel to faraway places to see new sights and different cultures. But don’t forget, the US has some of the most amazing and popular parks in the world.
The issue is, they need your help. Many of these parks were severely impacted by the recent government shutdown. The shutdown left our public lands unsupervised because National Park Service employees were furloughed during that time. As a result, there were incidences of damaged property and stolen artifacts, and reports of overflows of human waste and garbage.
The parks suffered without anyone there to maintain these precious spaces. But by visiting a National Park, you can give back and support these beautiful areas of the US.
Our guide explains how you can save on your next National Parks vacation, along with additional information on other ways to support the parks.
Donating to National Parks
Giving directly to the National Park Foundation is the most straightforward way to donate to our National Parks. According to NationalParks.org:
The National Park Foundation is accredited by Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, meeting all 20 standards for charity accountability. This indicates the organization’s commitment to fair and honest solicitation practices, adequate oversight, transparency and financial effectiveness.
Just remember, it’s wise to use a credit card that earns travel rewards or cash back to make such a donation. Not only will the National Park Foundation benefit from the gift, but you’ll earn something for making the donation as well. It’s a win-win!
Below are a number of other ways (outside of a direct cash donation) to make a gift to the National Park Foundation.
Memorial or Special Occasion Gifts
Making a donation to the National Parks is a great way to honor the memory of someone or to celebrate a special occasion.
Have a family member who loves to hike? Donate to the National Park Foundation in their name! Have a friend whose passion is conservation and keeping public lands accessible? Give a gift to the National Park Foundation to celebrate their birthday!
Giving to the National Park Foundation through estate planning is something many people might not consider, but it’s a great way to pledge support the parks in the future.
Through estate planning, you can, for example, give a gift to the National Park Foundation through a life insurance or retirement plan, through your will or trust, or in other ways.
If you’re interested in contributing in this way, it’s important to contact the appropriate professionals (tax consultant, lawyer, etc.) and to discuss the planned gift directly with the National Park Foundation.
Donating securities (like stocks) is another great way to support the National Park Foundation. When you donate stock, the National Park Foundations sells and puts the proceeds right to use. The value of the stock is established (per the IRS) by calculating the mean average price on the date ownership is transferred.
If you decide to donate/transfer securities, it’s important to notify the National Park Foundation in advance so that they can properly credit you for your gift. And you should also be sure to discuss any plans for stock or securities donations with your financial advisor.
IRA or Retirement Accounts
If you’re 70 and 1/2 years of age or older, you can donate directly from your IRA to the National Park Foundation without having to pay income taxes on your gift.
If you need help setting up these types of contributions you can contact the National Park Foundation directly. As always, it’s wise to consult with a tax professional or investment advisor when making any sizable donations.
Many employers offer matching gift programs where they’ll match charitable contributions made or volunteer hours served by their employees. Sometimes these programs will double, or even triple, charitable contributions made by employees. So it’s worth asking your employer if they offer such a thing.
If the company you work for offers matching gifts, you can fill out your company’s form and mail or fax it to:
National Park Foundation
1110 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20005
The process is made even easier for Federal Employees through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) – the largest workplace giving campaign in the nation. Through this program, federal employees can support nonprofit organizations through either a one-time gift or a payroll deduction. To support the National Park Foundation through CFC, us CFC #11252 on your pledge card during the next fund drive.
You can read more about the Combined Federal Campaign on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management CFC website.
AmazonSmile is a website run by Amazon that offers the same products and prices as the regular Amazon site. But when you shop through AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. In this case, you could choose the National Park Foundation.
While 0.5% doesn’t seem like much, every bit counts. And people tend to spend more than they realize on Amazon purchases! Plus, this method takes little effort aside from selecting the charity you wish to donate to.
How to Save on Your National Park Adventure
Whether you want to relax and take in the stunning scenery, or be adventurous and head out horseback riding, hiking, or rock climbing, there are endless things to see and do in our National Parks. And saving money along the way can help make your trip that much more enjoyable!
Here are tips for saving on your next vacation to a National Park.
Off-peak Travel Dates
One of the easiest ways to save on a national parks vacation is to schedule your trip during off-peak travel times. For many of the parks, this means avoiding the summer months.
This might not be the easiest thing to do for families working within the constraints of school and work schedules, but this strategy could work for others. In fact, traveling to national parks during the off-season will not only save you money, but you’ll likely battle smaller crowds. And that will make your trip even more enjoyable!
The main issue you’ll face when planning a trip to a national park in the off-season is the weather. Depending on which park you’re visiting and the time of year, you could face more severe weather, like snow and rain. So it’s something to be aware of!
Fee Free Days
This year, the National Park Service will offer the following fee-free days:
- January 21, 2019 (Monday) – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 20, 2019 (Saturday) – Start of National Park Week / National Junior Ranger Day
- August 25, 2019 (Sunday) – National Park Service Anniversary
- September 28, 2019 (Saturday) – National Public Lands Day
- November 11, 2019 (Monday) – Veterans Day
Free entry applies to entrance fees only and does not include other regular fees for things like camping, backcountry reservations, tours, etc.
All of the National Parks charge a vehicle entrance fee, so depending on how many parks you plan to visit, it could be worth buying an Annual Pass. The cost is $80, but not only will it give everyone riding in your vehicle free access to all 60 national parks, but you’ll get free entry to national wildlife refuges as well. It also covers standard amenity fees (day-use fees) at national forests and grasslands and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers.
Seniors (permanent residents 62+ years old) can get a lifetime pass for $80 or an annual pass for just $20. And US Military personnel and their dependents can get a free pass.
In doing the math, if you plan on visiting 2+ parks over the year, an annual pass is likely worth it. Because the major parks, like Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Park, charge $35 for a week-long permit. And the pass grants you access to other National Park Service monuments, like Devils Postpile, which can easily cost $10+ per visit.
Passes are available for purchase online, or you can simply buy one at the pay station when you enter the park. An annual pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchase, not just the end of the calendar year.
Flights, Rental Cars, & Gas
Depending on where you live and which parks you plan to visit, you might need to fly closer to your destination or rent a car to drive to or throughout the park
Using the Southwest Companion Pass can save you LOTS of money on airfare because you can fly nearly 2-for-1 on domestic paid and award tickets. And it would behoove you to pay for your airfare (or other travel purchases!) with one of the best credit cards for travel.
For anyone planning to rent a car, be sure to read this series on cheap car rentals, for tips & tricks on saving money on rental cars.
Lastly, let’s address one of the biggest expenses when it comes to planning a National Parks trip – gas. Whether you’re flying in from out of town or taking an adventurous road trip, you’ll be doing a lot of driving. So to save, be sure to use a credit card that earns miles, points, or cash back at gas stations. Anyone driving an RV would be remiss not to take this advice!
Check out this list of the best gas credit cards to use during your trip. Some of these cards earn up to 3X travel rewards or 3% cash back on purchases at US gas stations!
Dining In or Around National Parks
As with any vacation, the cost of food can add up quickly. If you decide to take a trip to a National Park, preparation is key to saving.
If you’re taking a long road trip, be sure to stock up on your favorite snacks before you leave. Purchasing snacks at a wholesale store like Costco can save you big time, as single-serve snacks at convenience stores (especially those inside the National Parks!) can be expensive.
Another way to save is to use one of the best credit cards for restaurants to be sure you’re earning rewards or cash back on all of your dining purchases.
Just remember, it can be hard to find chain hotels inside most parks. So you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth staying outside the park and driving in each morning. Or you can opt to use a card that earns flexible rewards that can be redeemed for a variety of travel purchases, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, to help offset the cost of your hotel stay. You could even find a great Airbnb nearby!
I like spending as much time exploring as I can during a vacation, so I’d prefer to pay cash or use flexible rewards for a hotel inside the park to save time and use points for a chain hotel on another occasion.
Camping is also another great option and one that can certainly save you money when compared to the cost of a hotel stay. But if you decide to camp during your vacation, be sure to bring enough cash. Because you can NOT pay with a credit card at a lot of campsites unless you’re booking your site in advance.
Every Kid In a Park Program
The “Every Kid In a Park” program is offering kids (and their families!) a free National Parks pass, valid through August 31, 2019! It’s a great deal for families. Annual passes normally cost $80, so that’s a decent savings.
The pass is for 4th-grade students (or homeschool equivalent). With it, any children under 16 years old, as well as up to 3 adults, will get free entry into any national park in the country. Plus, you can use it as many times as you’d like!
After registering, you’ll need to print your pass and bring it with you for entry, as electronic copies aren’t accepted.
If you’re looking for ways to support our national parks after the recent government shutdown, consider the variety of ways in which you can directly donate to the National Park Foundation. These include:
- Financial donations (be sure to use a credit card that earns travel rewards or cash back!)
- Memorial or special occasion gifts
- Estate Planning
- Workplace matching
Another way to give back is to plan your own National Parks trip. By visiting national parks, you are also supporting the parks. You can save on a trip by traveling in the off-season, taking advantage of fee-free days, using miles & points for free flights and hotel stays, using one of the best gas credit cards to save on fuel, and more!
Let me hear your ideas for supporting our national parks below!