American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Saving Money with State Park Passes
Through the Moon Travel Guides Facebook page, I recently learned that the annual vehicle day use pass for California's state park system now costs $195, which, I have to admit, threw me for a loop. After all, I certainly don't remember the pass costing so much when my husband, Dan, and I called the Golden State home.
According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, the staggering price hike is due to an effort by the California Department of Parks and Recreation to generate some much-needed funds for the struggling state park system. As the article's author, Mary Forgione, writes, “Parks and Recreation has been in a cost-cutting mode since last year when it drafted a list of 70 parks set to close in July to trim $22 million from the 2012-13 budget.” Unfortunately, though, the increased cost will only help so much – it's expected to raise up to $1.5 million, a far cry from what's needed to save several parks from permanent closure.
Although I sympathize with California's budgetary woes – and consider many of California's state parks, from Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park to Malibu Lagoon State Beach to Salton Sea State Recreation Area, to be worthwhile destinations – I can't help but think that the annual pass is a bit steep for most families, especially those suffering from their own economic slumps. While the pass does allow free access to all 279 state parks (until some of them are forced to close, that is), it's estimated that the average family will have to visit roughly 15 state park units, if not more, in order to reach the break-even point – vehicle admission fees, after all, typically range from $5 to $15, depending on the park. Of course, that doesn't take into account the high gas prices that families will also have to face while traveling from park to park.
Though I'm certainly not suggesting that you forego purchasing California's annual state park pass, I have to admit that the high price makes me appreciate more affordable passes in other U.S. states. If you're hoping to plan a budget-friendly family vacation in the Midwest, for instance, consider heading to Michigan, where the Department of Natural Resources offers the Recreation Passport, an annual motor vehicle pass that only costs $10 for residents ($29 for non-residents) and enables free access to 98 state parks and recreation areas across the two diverse peninsulas that compose the remarkable Great Lakes State. Generally speaking, visiting at least two parks during the course of the year will be more than enough for residents to make the pass worthwhile. Non-residents, meanwhile, only have to visit five or so, and I can think of at least five that are well worth experiencing – namely, Hartwick Pines State Park, which features old-growth white pines and a logging museum; Leelanau State Park, the highlight of which is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum; and Ludington State Park, where you'll find scenic sand dunes, forests, access to two lakes, and a photo-worthy lighthouse; and, in the Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
The Texas State Parks Pass, issued by Texas Parks & Wildlife, is also relatively affordable. For $70, this annual pass allows the passholder and his/her guests free, unlimited access to more than 90 state parks throughout the Lone Star State, from Palo Duro Canyon State Park to San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
So, which of America's incredible state park systems is your favorite?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Tahquamenon Falls State Park © 2012 L. Diggs of Picture This... / Text © 2012 Laura Martone