Affordable vacations at national and state parks

Lauren Lyons Cole

Affordable vacations at national and state parks

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Getting stressed out while planning your family vacation saps the fun from the whole thing. A new survey finds 89 percent of Americans worry about choosing a destination that everyone will enjoy and that isn't too expensive.

Lauren Lyons Cole, a personal finance contributor to, talks about some of her favorite destinations: our country's beautiful national parks.

She says parks are great destinations because many are free or have very low fees. For example, a family of four can spend a week at a national park for less than $1,000, she says.

The National Park Service runs more than 400 sites across the country, including many in the New York area. If you visit several parks a year, you can save money by buying the annual entrance pass, which is accepted at national parks, national wildlife refuges, and lands managed by other federal agencies.

Cole says you can find a national park for your next vacation by searching by state and activity. National Geographic also has an app that will help you plan your trip, she says.

Also consider visiting state parks, including many close to home in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. One way to save on vehicle entry fees is to buy an annual pass offered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Cole also suggests taking your family to zoos and gardens in and around New York. If you visit often, you can save money by buying annual memberships. A membership to the Wildlife Conservation Society, for example, grants you admission to the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and New York Aquarium.

Online resources:

Lauren Lyons Cole online

National Geographic national parks app

New York State Parks (Empire Passport)

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

New Jersey State Parks and Forests

Connecticut State Parks and Forests

Wildlife Conservation Society

Zoos and Gardens memberships

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