One of the best parts about being retired is the ability to travel where you want, when you want, and National Parks are one of the best places to book for senior travel! National Parks cover more than 84.6 million acres (or 3.4%) of the United States, however they’re often overlooked when it comes time to making travel plans. Yet we would argue that National Parks should be at the top of any senior travel list! Here’s a few reasons why:
- Budget-friendly travel
- Easily accessible
- Year-round availability
- Activities and hiking for all ability levels
Of course, National Parks are more than just pretty places. Research shows that there are significant health benefits to being outdoors including increased cognition and decreased stress levels. A 2016 Nielsen survey showed that 63% of Americans surveyed believed that spending time outdoors could help them live a longer, healthier life.
With 424 National Parks spanning all 50 states including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam, there’s a good chance you won’t have to travel far to find an amazing travel destination. If you need more inspiration to plan your National Park visit, here’s some tips to help you explore.
Photo Credit: NPS.gov
If you’re over the age of 62 and either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you can qualify for an American the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Senior Lands Pass. This National Park Pass costs a whopping $20 per year (plus a $10 handling fee). If you’re planning on doing a lot of travel to National Parks over the course of several years, you can splurge for a lifetime senior pass for $80 (also with a $10 handling fee). Both of these passes provide entrance to all National Parks to the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private vehicle. It’s important to note that you’ll be required to show your ID with your pass when entering a National Park.
If you’re a U.S. Veteran, Gold Star Family member or a U.S. citizen with permanent disabilities, then your lifetime National Park pass is also free!
Photo Credit: Wheelchair Traveling
Our National Parks are places of wild, endless beauty, and the National Park Service (NPS) is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities receive an equal opportunity to benefit from their facilities, programs, services and activities – both indoors and outdoors. In 2012 the NPS formed its Accessibility Task Force with the goal of providing access for a wider range of visitors. This included plans to address wheelchair access, water fountains, and other potential challenges in the National Parks.
If you’re traveling to a national park with a wheelchair or mobility aid, the NPS offers accessible features in many of the National Parks. Check out this interactive map for a guide on accessibility features at each National Park. You can also contact each park directly to ask any questions to help you plan for your visit. The official NPS app also includes updated accessibility information for facilities and trails.
For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, sign language interpreters are often available for ranger programs with 3-weeks’ notice. For the visitor’s centers that offer films, most are captioned and many offer assistive listening devices.
If you use ClearCaptions Home Phone, did you know there’s also a ClearCaptions Mobile App? This is an excellent tool to use while you’re traveling to stay connected with friends and family wherever you are! You can download the FREE app on both your iPhone® or iPad® tablet.
Since our National Parks are spread throughout the country, they also span a wide variety of climates. Whether you’re looking for a tropical vacation or an escape to ice and snow, you’ll be able to find a National Park that meets the climate you seek! According to The Wilderness Society, some of the prettiest National Parks to visit in the Winter include Arches National Park (Utah), Mount Rainier National Park (Washington state) and Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah). Looking for a relaxing, tropical escape? Check out Haleakalā National Park (Maui), Redwood National Park (California) and Glacier National Park (Montana).
Activities for All Abilities
Often referred to as “America’s Backyard”, our National Parks easily have something for everyone. Whether you’re traveling with young grandchildren, teenagers or other seniors, you’re sure to find something that everyone will enjoy. Want to hike up to a waterfall or relax around a bonfire? What about stopping by one of the Visitors Centers to learn more about the park and its history? Whether you’re a beginning hiker or an experienced backpacker, there’s sure to be a trail for you to explore.
When it comes to booking your lodging near National Parks, you have lots of options! If you’re interested in camping there are more than 130 park units to choose from! Want to bring your RV along? Make sure to verify that your trailer or RV is under the maximum trailer and RV lengths. You can also book a hotel near a park entrance or consider traveling with senior travel groups who arrange the booking and logistics.
Best National Parks for Seniors
With so many incredible parks across the U.S., it’s hard to pick our favorites! However, there are a few that stand out as some of the best National Parks for seniors:
Yellowstone National Park
Located in three separate states, Yellowstone National Park extends its borders into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Take in the beauty of 3,500 square miles of wilderness (about half the area of New Jersey). Yellowstone features canyons, rivers, forests, hot springs and the infamous geyser, Old Faithful. The area is home to bears, wolves, bison, elk and antelopes, so don’t forget your camera (or smartphone with an extra charger)! This stunning park also very accessible with many of the trails featuring flat boardwalks and less than 1 mile to reach many of its attractions (such as Old Faithful!)
Yosemite National Park
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is known for its spectacular sequoia trees, waterfalls and granite cliffs. There are also shops, restaurants, museums, galleries and lodgings that make this one of the nation’s most popular parks. Sign language interpreting and assistive listening devices are available for free throughout the park, in addition to captioned movies and brochures in Braille. Check out the accessibility guide for a map of accessible parking, trails, picnic area, restrooms, campgrounds, lodging and food!
Grand Canyon National Park
Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon offers millions of years of geological history. From red rocks to viewpoints overlooking the Colorado River, this is one sunrise and sunset you don’t want to miss. According to Aging in Place data, this is the second-most accessible national park, making it a favorite senior travel destination. The entire South Rim can be accessed via a paved walkway or driven by car.
Acadia National Park
Photo Credit: Acadia National Park
Located in Maine, Acadia National Park is marked by beautiful woodland, rocky beaches and glaciered mountains. With 47,000 acres (about twice the area of Manhattan) of Atlantic coast recreation, this landscape is home to moose, bears, whales and seabirds. Most of the rugged coastal beauty can be viewed by car, or you can also take a wheelchair-accessible shuttle. The rustic town of Bar Harbor is nearby and a popular spot for tourists to dine and shop too. Don’t forget to try a lobster roll – a local delicacy!
Everglades National Park
Located in Florida, the Everglades National Park boasts 1.5 million acres (about twice the area of Yosemite National Park) of wetlands home to hundreds of animal species. Take in the marshes, mangroves and flatwoods in this national preserve known for the American crocodiles, Florida panther and West Indian manatee. Stop by the visitor centers to watch films – with captioning – about this UNESCO World Heritage site. There are also many trails and boat tours available for visitors with limited mobility.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is another one of the most-visited national parks for years, and it’s easy to see why. Gorgeous scenery and historical attractions – such as log cabins, cemeteries and churches abound. There are also road maps available for self-guided auto tours, and most of this park can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own car.
Whether you decide to camp or RV, hike, drive or travel with a group, experiencing our incredible National Parks should be at the top of every senior travel list. So, grab your National Park Pass and start planning your next trip!