National Parks: A Great Cheap Vacation

A friend showed me this and I laughed out loud and cried inside.

This summer is the best time to go and see the National Parks in both the USA and Canada, and here is why:

  1.  Every 4th grader in America and their family gets a park pass!!  Free Admission!!
  2. Canadian National Park passes are Free for everyone to celebrate 150 years of national parks.  Free Admission!!
  3. Senior park passes (62+) are $10 for a lifetime and it could cost more in the future, so hurry and get yours today before the price change.  It gets everyone in your car in for Free!! Load up the grand kids.
  4. There were once over 150 documented glaciers in glacier national park, and now there are 35 named glaciers and 25 active glaciers left.  Some estimate they could all be gone by 2030.  Some parks are endangered so go see them quick. (Everglades too)
  5. Did I mention it is a cheap trip that is educational, healthy, supports a national treasure, better than zoo, convenient, versatile in scenery, and a cure nature deficit disorder in children and adults.  I’m just saying its a good thing to go outside and unplug for a while.

So I could make a list of 100 great reasons to go to a national park, but really I want to tell you some stories about how they changed my life instead.  I also am getting ramped up for my big road trip, in which I plan to visit 10 national parks in the western USA and Canada.  I got my 4th grade pass, my Canadian pass on order, my pop up camper for free lodging, all my camping gear ready to go, new battery in the car, tires checked out, and now I’m getting the kids hyped up!  National Parks and the outdoors have been a big part of my life for a long time, and they have shaped me in many frugal ways.

My parents took me camping in Texas State Parks a lot when I was a kid, and it was misery with the rain, the Texas heat, the mosquitos, and our lack of supplies.  However, it was packed with great memories of swimming, cooking on fires, and exploring everything.  As I got older I began to learn from my families mistakes, and I got better gear, better sleep pads, used better bug sprays with more deet, and I also began to expand my horizons to bigger outdoor activities, such as mountain climbing, river rafting, and mountain biking trails.  I started to read Walden in school, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and eventually John Muir’s adventures.  I felt the mountains calling and I answered.  The summer of my 16th birthday I took my truck, my two best friends, and $500 from life guarding and headed to Colorado.  The plan was to stay until the money ran out.

Mt. Rainer National Park

We started in the Great Sand Dunes hiking, sledding, eating camp foods, and forgetting our lives back home.  We slept in the back of the truck covered by a tarp, because the wind was too high to try to set up our tent when we arrived.  It turned out that we liked that style better because it was simple to put up and take down.

The next stop was outside of Leadville, Colorado where we hiked between the 2nd and 3rd tallest peaks in the lower 48 states.  We learned of altitude sickness, saw bears on the trail, swam in a lake with a small glacier dripping into it, and we did some sledding at around 12,000 feet.  I got the scar on my ankle to prove the sledding after hitting some rocks.  It’s the cheap way to get a tattoo on a trip.

Next up we moved to Rocky Mountain National Park, and once again we hiked for almost 15-20 miles a day.  We did lollipop loop trails, through hiking and hitch hiked back across the park, saw moose, elk, deer, chipmunks, bear, all up close, and we learned to respect their home and space.  Looking at a moose at eye level from about 20 yards on a switchback is nerve racking.  We swan in lakes, fished for brown trout, slept in $5 hammocks from Walmart when the weather was nice, and learned that Colorado has a monsoon season.  We also got trail names at this point such as Big Tex, Chunk, and Mountain Monkey.  (I’ll let you guess my name at 6’10”.)

We recharged in Boulder staying in my cousin’s frat house, got a shower, got more calories, and met “Douchebag Dave,”

Olympic Peninsula

who later went on to Silicon Valley, founded and sold some companies, and is close to a billionaire today.  He wasn’t that bad of a guy, but everyone hated him for his arrogance.  It turns out that, that arrogance helped him go out and be a risk taker early on and become successful.

After Boulder we headed to the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak.  We loved being at over 14,000 feet driving up Pikes Peak, and learned about the idea of climbing 14ers.  We vowed to return to Colorado and climb some 14ers, because there is something about the feeling of accomplishment you get, when you climb all day and see you are on top of the world.  If you have never climbed a mountain then you don’t understand how you feel at the end of the climb and how you get addicted.  I have since climbed seventeen 14ers, including two in one day solo climbing.

At this point in our trip the $500 started to run out and bologna and cheese sandwiches turned into cheese sandwiches.  We made it two weeks, saw God’s country and felt we lived like kings, all while growing up, and realizing we were men and not boys.  We knew we could do just about anything that life through at us from this point on.  We had our great adventure in the wilderness and we came back to Texas changed.  We didn’t think in terms of our little bubble of a high school.  We started to take weekend trips to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and throughout Texas.  We camped, hiked, and learned to travel light and fast.  We learned new skills that allowed up to go off trails and explore places that no one got to see, and still to this day I am perfecting new skills on every new trip.  We saw the world as our playground and we began to explore it.  International trips started at age 18, and while I saw the cities of Europe, I also saw the country sides of France and England’s hiking trails.  I traveled alone, and didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I look back it all started with the confidence built traveling our national trails and exploring nature.

Swedish Archipelago Family Hiking

National Parks and the wilderness are part of our heritage and identity as American’s and growing as a person.  “Go west, young man,” is the phrase used most to help a young man reach manhood.  I have lived it, learned the frugal ways of the outdoors, learned who I am, and what I am capable of, and have stories and scars to show for my travels.  So, this summer I highly suggest you go on an adventure, get out of your comfort zone, and have a cheap outdoors adventure with your family and friends.  I can guarantee it will be something they will always remember, and everyone will learn something.  Unplug for a week and get to know yourself and your loved ones better around a camp fire, talking about life.  Listen to Nature around you and see what it is telling you.  Feel the cool mountain breeze in your hair as you struggle to breath, and listen to heart beat in your ears as you go higher into the unknown.  Find a better you this summer in a National Park and go back to grind with a refreshed and new found feeling about your very being.  Good luck and happy travels.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.  -John Muir

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir


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