Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The Most Affordable Time to Visit the 5 Most Popular U.S. National Parks

The best time to visit most U.S. National Parks is during the summer. The wildlife is its most abundant, the weather is beautiful even after dark, and, frankly, is there anything better than sipping a lawnmower beer in a hammock by the campfire? But since many parks have exploded in popularity, outdoor enthusiasts now need to contend with insane traffic, large crowds, and ballooning rates on everything, including entry fees and hotel stays. It is possible, however, to dodge most of these headaches with a little planning. According to Priceline, here are the best (and most affordable) times of year to visit the five most popular U.S. National Parks.

If you want to save big and avoid the crowds any time of year, camping is almost always the best option. Aside from affordability, it pays to plan your national park visit well in advance. For extensive trail maps, a list of park amenities, and detailed write-ups by local experts, check out Chimani, a free app that puts all 419 National Park sites in your pocket. And if you want to really get away from the crowds, here are five excellent lesser-known National Parks. For now, check out our most popular picks below.

Related Videos

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
Cumulus Humilis/Getty Images

As home to Old Faithful and the country’s oldest bison herd, Yellowstone may be the most iconic U.S. National Park there is. And as the fifth most popular, it has the annual attendance numbers to prove it. Across the three neighboring states, hotel stays are most expensive in June and July, with average daily rates (ADR) topping $215. Visitors can find the best bang for their buck in November and December when the ADR drops by nearly half.

Best value in a nearby city: Cody, Wyoming, promises the best year-round value with ADR around $156.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park
Sathish Jothikumar/Getty Images

Although it doesn’t have the same brand-name cache among most travelers as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, Zion is actually the country’s fourth busiest park. Thankfully, hotel rates in nearby towns aren’t as susceptible to seasonal swings. February through April is the priciest time to visit, with ADR at St. George and Hurricane topping $115. Plan to visit before or after the holidays in December and January when rates drop by 25% to 30%.

Best value in a nearby city: Hurricane, Utah, is the more affordable of the two closest cities, with an ADR around $95 no matter the time of year.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

Rocky Mountain is the nation’s third most-visited national park, with more than 4,500,000 visitors passing through the gates each year. The most convenient hotels are located in nearby Estes Park, where peak season ADR in June and July tops $180. Like most parks on this list, budget travelers can save big by planning a winter visit. Not only is it stunning to see the park’s peaks under a blanket of white snow, but rates from November through January typically fall to less than $85.

Best value in a nearby city: There are several small towns in the area, but Estes Park, Colorado, boasts the highest concentration of hotels with the most competitive prices.

Grand Canyon National Park

Dean Fikar/Getty Images

As the second most popular park in the United States, there’s hardly a time of year when the Grand Canyon isn’t busy. The key to saving money and avoiding the crowds is, of course, to plan an off-peak visit. April, May, and June are the three most expensive months. Priceline notes that ADR in the three closest towns — Page, Flagstaff, and Kingman — often top $200. If you can travel around the holidays (ideally November through January), however, expect to pay closer to $75.

Best value in a nearby city: Kingman, Arizona, offers the most affordable hotel rates with an ADR averaging $75 regardless of the month.

Great Smoky Mountains

Genevieve Poblano/The Manual

With more than 11 million visitors each year, Great Smoky Mountains is the granddaddy of all U.S. National Parks. Fortunately, there’s little change in ADR no matter the time of year. In Cherokee and Bryson City, North Carolina, and Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, peak season rates from July to October hover around $120. January and February are slightly more affordable, with ADR less than $100.

Best value in a nearby city: Pigeon Forge offers affordable hotel rates throughout the year with ADR around $109.

Article originally published May 20, 2019. Last updated 2021 to include seasonal information.

Editors' Recommendations

U.S. National Parks Are Being Overrun. This Is How Rangers Are Facing It
Service rangers at a national park.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the only and safest ways to be around other people and have something to do was to venture to the great outdoors. Families and friends packed up their bags and headed off for their dream national park trip all while staying safe from spreading the virus. However, it would appear that the crowds that didn't set off last summer planned trips for the summer of 2021, which added up quickly. The U.S. national parks have become so crowded in fact that park rangers have had to take measures to ensure public safety while protecting the parks at the same time.

Related Guides

Read more
Dispersed Camping Is Your Way To Camp for Free All Over the U.S.

Now that fall is here and the long, hot days of summer are over, it’s time to pack your durable camping tent and experience what the great outdoors have to offer, whether it’s by staying in the lush backcountry for several days or swimming in pristine bodies of water.

Camping and RVing have become more popular in recent years, so, no matter where you’re headed, you’re bound to have company. But, if you want to overnight in the great outdoors completely alone and have nature all to yourself, dispersed camping is the way to go. Roughly one-quarter of the entire United States is federally owned land, after all.

Read more
The 10 Breathtaking National Forests in America Worth Visiting
best national forests in america featured image

America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres, including 154 protected forests and grasslands spread over 43 different states and Puerto Rico. But, with 158,000 miles of trails, along with more than 36.6 million acres of federally designated wilderness, there’s a lot out there to explore. For starters, here’s a shortlist of some of the country’s most stunning national forests.
Related Guides

Best Places to Visit
Best National Parks
Best Forest Bathing Destinations

Read more