The national parks are America’s wild playground. Some charge a nominal entry fee, but once you’re in, they’re full of fantastic free escapades.
Go on a budget-friendly adventure with this extract from our new money-saving guide, The Best Things in Life are Free.
North America vertical hiking
The 1.8 mile/3.2km-long Precipice Trail dramatically ascends the east face of Champlain Mountain, along super-narrow ledges with vertical climbs up via ferrata-style rungs.
Park on the 45th parallel and follow the steam to Boiling River, a bathing spot where hot springs enter Gardner River to create perfect soaking conditions.
More than 1500 wildflowers explode into colour beneath the Appalachians during spring. Go backcountry hiking and wild camping ($14 to $23 per night) amid the blooming ephemerals. Watch out for black bears.
Snorkel around a fort
Seventy miles (110km) from Key West, perched on a coral atoll, Fort Jefferson is the scene of much marine activity. Snorkel around the moat and sea wall, amid fish, coral and wrecks.
Nps.gov/drto; Dry Tortugas National Park, FL; 24hr; $5 7-day pass.
The best short hike in an epic Sierra Nevada nirvana, this 6.5 mile/10.4km-long trail passes through the thundering mist created by two magnificent cascades: Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.
Few encounters are as exciting as running into a big brown bear. Fortunately, at Brooks Camp, the bears have tastier fish to fry than you. July-September is the best time to see them.
Two hours’ drive from the neon glow of Vegas, the night sky is so clear you can regularly see five planets. Rangers offer free lunar-lit night hikes in summer when there’s a full moon.
Surf’s up in Hawaiʻi, and so is the lava… Kīlauea volcano remains active, and the spitting vent in Halemaʻumaʻu crater can be viewed from the overlook at Jaggar Museum.
Follow in the footsteps of the Conservationist President in the park named in his honour, by exploring the badland prairies and fixing a mighty bison in your camera’s crosshairs.
Travel through space and time
A dark-sky park, Chaco has terrestrial wonders to complement its heavenly delights, with 1000-year-old Puebloan ruins, built to align with the stars during the equinox. Rangers offer free tours.
Nps.gov/chcu; Chaco Culture National Historical Park, NM; 7am-sunset; $6 individual 7-day pass.