National Parks are just for families, couples, small groups of friends and bus loads of curious strangers, right? Nope. These American treasures are ideal for independent travelers, too. Here are five reasons why visiting a national park is perfect for solo travelers.
Value – Bang for Your Buck
Did you know 268 of the 401 national parks (as of this blog post) offer free admission all year long? How can you get better than free? Of those parks charging a fee they vary. For instance, a 7-day entrance permit for Everglades National Park is $10 per vehicle while it’s $25 for Yellowstone National Park. Considering other entertainment options out there, $25 is a great value.
If planning on visiting multiple parks in a year, consider the America the Beautiful Annual Pass which is $80. It allows admission into more than 2,000 federal recreational sites including national parks. Other passes are available such as if you’re 62-years-old or older, pony up $10 for a Senior Pass which is valid for a lifetime! Visit the National Park Service website for information on additional passes.
Better yet, throughout the year the National Park Services has fee-free days meaning park admission is waived at all national parks! Plan your visit around one of these days.
National Park Service Ranger Programs – Good for the Budget and Brushing Up on Social Skills
Traveling alone doesn’t mean you’re an anti-social hermit. Most national parks offer free programs ranging from educational walks to campfire talks making it easy for brushing up those social skills while saving on your budget. As my friend Myscha T. pointed out, these free programs help reduce overall costs because “when traveling alone there isn’t the ability to share room and rental car costs, for example.”
Joining a ranger on a guided hike is also a perfect way to get off the beaten path with a small group in case you’re nervous wandering into the backcountry alone especially in bear country.
Safety – You May Be Hustled by a Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel
Crime knows no address and the national parks are not immune from crime but compared to other vacation options, it’s relatively low. You have a better chance of being hustled by a golden-mantled ground squirrel (begging for your chips but resist the temptation and DO NOT feed him no matter how cute he is) than being pickpocketed or hustled by someone after your money.
My friend, blogger and author Cheryl MacDonald of What Boundaries reminded me ” You can be solo, yet not alone. That might be important if you are doing some great hiking or exploring areas where typically you should not go alone.” She specifically referenced hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park and seeing several solo hikers. She said, “there were enough people around in the event something unexpected happens.”
I realize it makes us uncomfortable but let’s talk about crime…
According to a May 9, 2013 article in The Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact, there were 369 and 323 violent crime incidents in the national parks for 2010 and 2011, respectively. That’s less than one violent crime per National Park Service unit. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to throw caution to the wind. Exercise common sense during all your solo travels.
New Scene, New People
My friend Janet C. told me she “just spent 7 days touring Glacier and Banff national parks on my own. I love meeting people I likely would not meet if I was not on my own.” She’s so right. If you’re traveling with someone else or with a small group, you’ll probably stay in your comfort zone and stick to what’s familiar to you including your friends. Traveling alone pushes your personal boundaries and allows you to jump into new experiences including meeting new people whether it’s out on the hiking trail, participating in an activity such as a guided motorcoach tour or relaxing in a park’s restaurant.
Time to Reflect
Even if you’re in a relationship, have a family or tend to travel with friends, you can still jet off to your favorite national park for a vacation alone. National parks offer fewer distractions and connectivity to Mother Earth. I’ve found when visiting national parks I have time to reflect, soul-search and rejuvenate my spirit. Living in a world with 24/7 connectivity, it’s important to unplug once in awhile and focus on what’s important.
What do you enjoy about visiting national parks as a solo traveler?