Over four hundred of America’s national parks are free everyday. But 118 of them aren’t. Luckily, the park system does offer free days, so you can go enjoy our beautiful country while remaining completely and totally frugal.
National Park Free Entrance Days for 2017
This weekend is one of those times. On Saturday and Sunday, you can get into any national park for free. Here are the rest of the free days for 2017:
April 22-23, 2017
All of the free days in April are in celebration of National Parks Week.
August 25, 2017
Parks will be open for free in recognition of the National Park Service’s Birthday.
September 30, 2017
Admission will be free in honor of National Public Lands Day.
November 11-12, 2017
Enjoy some of that free fall foliage on Veterans’ Day Weekend.
Which National Parks require an entrance fee?
I’ve been lucky to travel a good bit in my time. National parks always bring such a sense of awe and wonder. It’s one thing to wander around in the wood in your backyard. It’s a completely different thing to spend time in pristine, protected wilderness.
Some of my favorites national parks that will be waiving their fees on free days are:
There’s a ton of others, too. I was surprised to find the ones in my own back yard that I never knew existed. To find some near you, you can check out the National Park Service’s website.
Free National Park Admission in Canada
If you happen to be visiting our neighbors to the north, you should know they have some pretty amazing national parks, too. Canada is celebrating it’s 150th birthday this year, and in honor of that fact, they are giving away national park passes for free.
Last week I had the opportunity to go up to Alberta. As in Alberta home of Banff. Alberta home of the Canadian Rockies. Alberta home of the Big 3.
While I was there, I was fortunate enough to visit one of the Big 3: Lake Louise Ski Resort. While I was super psyched to ski the Rockies, as any Eastern skiier would be, I was even more psyched at how much value the resort offered.
The Lake Louise Lift Ticket is an Amazing Deal
Lake Louise has 145 marked runs plus back bowls that cover three mountain faces. For a comparison, the biggest local ski resort around here has 33 runs. That’s more than 100 less.
Yet if I wanted to go skiing after a week of hard work, an all-day pass at Lake Louise costs $99CAD, and an all-day pass here at home costs $85USD.
You might be thinking that my home resort costs less money when you look at those numbers, but that leaves out a very important part of the equation: the exchange rate. As of this moment, $99CAD is equivalent to $74.14USD, making this an even better deal for American skiiers.
That’s right. On any given weekend, the resort in the Rockies with 145 trails is less expensive to ski than the course in the Appalachians with only 33.
It’s insanity. In such a good way.
PRO TIP: Lake Louise is inside a national park. You will need a national park pass to get in. However, because it’s Canada’s 150 birthday, you can get them for free in 2017. Just make sure you have it before the drive up.
The Instructors at Lake Louise are Patient
When we went up, my husband took a ski lesson as he had never been before. He struggled, to be sure, as most of us do on our first attempt. But he said the biggest motivator was the fact that he wanted to succeed for his instructor–who just happened to be extremely patient and one heck of a motivator.
Which is pretty much everything you could want in a teacher ever.
I had the same experience with my guide up on the mountain. So much patience. So much kindness. Such great people there to help you as you do such a fun thing.
The Mountain that Defeated Me
Before we left on our journey, I knew there were two major disadvantages I’d have to deal with as I skied the Rockies.
I’m from the East. While I can confidently ski almost all of the slopes and trails at home, they’re inherently easier than what you find out West.
Real talk: I’m not in the best shape of my life. I expected to be incredibly sore when the day was done, but I wasn’t too worried about it as I haven’t ever really considered downhill skiing a cardio strain since the skis do much of the work. (I understand that science may disagree with me.) Besides, I could do those runs back home…
I’m a pretty determined person. When things are hard, it makes me even more motivated to conquer the task. So even though I knew I had some things working against me, I was confident I’d be all right.
I should have thought something was off when I had to get boots two sizes larger than normal. I didn’t, though, and we hopped in the gondola, watching the dramatic wonders of the Northern Rockies out the window.
By the time we got up to the top of the mountain, I was thinking I should have gotten a size bigger. By the time we started our first run (which was freaking gorgeous by the way–both in scenery and in snow quality,) I was in an incredible amount of pain.
It turns out my biggest enemy that day was one I hadn’t accounted for, and one I couldn’t defeat through sheer determination. It was the altitude.
It made my feet swell like crazy. I sat down for a minute, thinking that by taking some pressure off of them the swelling would magically go down. As I was sitting there, I started to get a little bit dizzy.
I wish I were able to insert an, “And yet she persisted,” meme at this point. But I can’t. As much as I wanted to push on, it became clear that it would have been a very bad idea. I reluctantly gave it up.
Apparently I’m not the only person this happens to. When people come in from lower altitudes, many of them will stay in the mountain town of Banff for a couple of days prior to hitting the slopes. It gives your body some time to adjust.
Newbie mistake on my part.
Not all was lost, though. Thankfully, there are tons of entertainment options at Lake Louise.
Tubing at Lake Louise
The resort is incredibly family friendly. They have kids’ skiing lessons, a daycare and a tube park.
The latter is what we tried out with the remaining part of our day. Tubing is a lot like sledding only they have an amazing course built for speed complete with some friction mats at the end to slow you down and keep everyone safe.
So much fun! We went down solo, together, spinning, for speed…
I can just show you, though. This video will be best viewed through VR goggles. If you don’t have them, you can use the mouse on your PC or your finger on your phone to change your POV.
If you are viewing through goggles, look up to see straight in front of you. This is my first action 360 video–promise I’ll get the orientation right for you guys next time.
When you get to the bottom of the course, if you look to the right you’ll be able to see one of the lodges. There are two that host dining options with a total of six restaurants. They have everything from ready-made burgers and fries to a sushi bar so you can eat according to your tastes–or budget.
More Fun at Lake Louise Ski Resort
There’s so much to do that we couldn’t do it all in one day. On top of skiing and tubing, you can take a snowshoe tour through some pretty remote places to some breath-taking vistas. Interested? Make sure you grab this coupon for 15% off.
On our way in, we also checked out the wooded entrance to the trail leading to Skoki Lodge. It’s a backcountry lodge, which is admittedly something I had never heard of before.
We saw people headed into the wilderness on their cross-country skis to the luxe cabin in the woods. They had a journey of about seven miles to a location picked for it’s idyllic views. In the summer, I learned, you can hike it.
Literally removed from civilization, Skoki Lodge is a hidden B&B that includes three square meals for its up to twenty-two guests. It looks gorgeous and is a priority the next time we go back.
For sure. The sheer value of Lake Louise in and of itself is overwhelming. Add to that the awe-inspiring views and it becomes a must-see for every skiier, snowboarder or person who wants to try snowshoeing. They’re open through May 7 this year, so you still have some time this season.
Like I said, I’m going back. Mainly for the reasons I just stated. On top of that, though, I’m not about to let a mountain defeat me.
*Our tickets and rentals were comped for the purposes of facilitating this review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.*
Booking a beach getaway is exciting. But when you start looking at the prices on vacation homes, that excitement may screech to a sudden halt.
If you find yourself stressing over the cost of renting a vacation home for a week, stop and take a deep breath. Our friends at Outer Beaches Realty are sharing some expert, insider tips today on how to bring those rental costs down.
Decide What You Want in a Vacation Home Rental
Do you want to be able to step right out onto the sand? How many bedrooms will you need to house everyone that’s coming with you? Do you need a pet-friendly property? Are the kids going to freak out if there’s not a pool?
Look at these things first; nothing’s worse than getting excited about a property’s price tag only to find out that it doesn’t meet your needs.
This is especially important if you’re traveling with someone with mobility issues. A lot of beach properties are elevated on stilts, so even if they have an elevator it may not go to the ground floor. Be sure to ask extra questions when you book since being labelled “handicap accessible” doesn’t necessarily mean it will suit your exact needs.
Look for Companies with All-Inclusive Rates and Zero Booking Fees
Another way to hedge price disappointment is to make sure the properties you are considering are rented by a company whose rates are all-inclusive and doesn’t charge booking fees.
Advertised rates can be hundreds of dollars less than what you actually end up paying after booking fees. If the extras that drew you to the vacation home are a la carte, you can tack on even more.
Want to find up-to-the-minute deals? One of the best ways to do this is to follow realty companies on social media. For example, right now if you follow Outer Beaches on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll see that they have their Golden Ticket promotion live. All you have to do is request a brochure before January 31 and you’re entered into a drawing for $1,000 off your rental.
Another great way to catch these deals is to sign up to realty companies’ email lists. That way they’re delivered right to your inbox.
This is probably the most effective way to trim your costs once you’ve found a suitable summer property. But tread with caution: if you spend too much time waiting for that “perfect” deal, someone else may just grab up your perfect property before you actually book.
Book Early and Use Payment Plans
If you can’t stand the risk of waiting, you can always book early and use a payment plan to spread your costs over multiple months. Outer Beaches gives a 5% discount on advance year bookings and offers payment plans that span 3-12 months.
Five percent may not seem like a lot, but when you consider how much money you’ll be spending on a vacation home for a week, you start to realize that the savings adds up quickly, even with a seemingly “small” percentage.
With Outer Beaches specifically, five percent could save you up to $725—not exactly chump change!
Book Your Vacation Home During Shoulder Season
Want to save a ton of money? Go on your trip in May before Memorial Day or September after Labor Day. In the Outer Banks and most vacation destinations, all the shops and attractions are already open, but there’s less tourists to compete for so prices are incredibly low.
Not only do you get a discount on everything from a vacation home rental to tchotchke shops, but the weather is also still idyllic if you’re visiting a southern beach. You get the same experience with less crowds and lower costs.
My Favorite Reasons to Book a Vacation Home
There’s a reason we decided to rent a home when we went on our trip last year.
Even though the price tag may look big at first, it’s actually a cost-effective way to stay at the beach. It’s way cheaper than getting everyone individual hotel rooms.
We also didn’t pay a lot for entertainment as we had lots of entertainment on site for the adults and kids that didn’t involve watching TV. We had a pool, a basketball hoop and a billiards table—and never once heard, “I’m bored!”
Then there’s the second biggest expense that comes with vacation: food. Because we had a full kitchen with lots of storage and a full set of pots, pans and plates, we cooked almost all of our meals ourselves. If all we had was a mini-fridge, we would have been dropping copious amounts of cash on eating out.
Have you ever booked a vacation home rental? How did you save money?
*We received a discount on this Outer Beaches property thanks to a partnership with this blog. Regardless, all content and opinions are 100% honest and my own.*
We got to experience the great outdoors and bond with our extended family in a way that we don’t always take the time to do when we’re back home.
Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house’s mast. #RaiseIt!
We also got to stay at a home that literally flew the Jolly Roger, making the yinzer inside each one of us feel appreciated.
You know you’re a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.
Save a ton of money on your 2017 OBX Vacation
This year, I learned something in the world of tourism that I wasn’t previously familiar with. I knew that booking summer vacations to popular destinations like the Outer Banks early was a smart idea, but I didn’t know that Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales were so great in the world of tourism.
Because we had such a great experience with the realty company we used, Outer Beaches Realty, I wanted to let you guys know about the sales they have going on this week so you can have the same great experiences we did—for less.
Outer Beaches Realty Black Friday Sale
Watching the sunset on the free ferry to Ocracoke Island was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
On Friday, November 25th, you’ll be able to score an awesome deal if you book your vacation rental on layaway. Layaway reservations already get 5% off, but the Black Friday sale gives you another 5% off on top of it, for a grand total of 10% off.
Ten percent may sound like a relatively modest discount when you’re talking about Black Friday sales, but you have to remember that this isn’t 10% off a coffee maker or a DVD/Blu-ray set. This is 10% off of a week-long beach house rental.
This time you’ll save an additional 3% off layaway, for a grand total of 8% off. That’s still massive savings, and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re booked and don’t have to stress about your week being taken by another beach-going family.
*We received a discount on our Outer Beaches property thanks to a partnership with this blog. Regardless, all content and opinions are 100% honest and my own.*
Guys, it was the coolest thing I’ve done in a long time.
The Imaginarium Escape Rooms
The Imaginarium is an escape room. For those of you who haven’t visited one before, essentially you have to figure out puzzles with little to no explanation before time runs out. In the case of the Imaginarium, escaping one room leads to another.
If you like murder mystery parties, puzzles or Murder She Wrote, this kind of thing is right up your alley. The tour we took, The Inventor’s Paradox, had nothing to do with murder or anything horror-esque though. While it was creepy and involved enough for me to not take my young children, it wasn’t “scary.”
Note: The Imaginarium is recommended for kids ages 12+. Any younger than that, and you’ll have to buy 10 tickets to buy out the time slot.
The premise was that we entered the Imaginarium creator’s mind. Time plays a huge role in this experience as the creator is stuck in the past. Your goal is to release him.
We hurriedly looked around the rooms for clues, tried to use our wits to solve puzzles and in some cases, used blunt force logic to circumvent having to do mental gymnastics. (Okay, this last one was me. And while it sometimes worked, it was far from the most effective method.)
We were in there for an hour before we got buzzed out. It felt like way longer than an hour, though—in a good way.
Ultimately, we failed, though we did make it almost all the way through the second room.
Is the Imaginarium worth the spend?
When we sat down for dinner afterwards, we couldn’t stop going on about it. In a world where our entertainment is primarily digital, Bricolage did a great job creating an experience that was purely physical and exercised our brains in a way we don’t typically experience. I mean, most of the time if we have a question we can Google the answer. Every. Time.
The Imaginarium changes that.
The brain exercise wasn’t the only thing they did well, though. The rooms were extensively staged with real props—no small detail was left behind. The people they had manning the experience were so into it the performance that you really felt like you were entering another world.
I don’t normally advocate entertainment that costs $29.99 per ticket, but this one I do. For two reasons.
It was over-the-top fun. Like I said, the coolest thing I’ve done in a very long time.
While tickets might be expensive, it’s not really the kind of thing you can do twice. While they do have another experience, Chamber of Illusions, once you’ve solved the puzzles once the novelty will wear off. So I know you won’t be spending $29.99 per ticket every weekend.
Win Free Tickets
While it’s totally worth the spend, I do have a special treat for all of you today! You can use the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance to win two (2) free tickets to The Inventor’s Paradox! This giveaway is open until 11:59 PM EST on November 21, 2016.