State Parks: A Gateway to Inexpensive Summer Fun - USAA Member Community


Finding an inexpensive location that still offers a lot to do for a summer trip can seem like a daunting task. A superb vacation resource that is sometimes only a few miles away is the state park. Oftentimes, the great National Forests get our energy and focus, but state parks offer amenities, lots of activity options, thousands of locations, and they are inexpensive.


Follow these tips to get the most fun and least expense out of a summer trip to your state park.


State Park Summer Trip Tip #1 – Explore State Park Options. There are almost 8,000 state parks in the United States. The vast majority of state parks have good websites that list reviews, hours of operation, and activities available. Starting online to find a state park that is close to your residence, offers the activities that you want, and offers good reviews is the best and most efficient way to start. State parks offer playgrounds, swimming pools, picnic spots, hiking trails, canoeing, and some even offer archery ranges complete with tomahawk throwing! Phone numbers are a good way to confirm what you have read and answer any questions.


State Park Summer Trip Tip #2 – Can You Do a Day Trip? Vacations start to get expensive when hotels, meals at restaurants, and other overnight expenses come into play. Try to make plans to visit a State Park that is within one to two hours of your residence. You can avoid the expense of a hotel and still get the relaxation of a vacation. Day trips are a great way to extend your relaxation dollars and still create some great family memories.


State Park Summer Trip Tip #3 – Use Online Reservations. For many state parks, summer is the season of greatest demand and the largest number of visits. Many state parks use their own or a third-party reservation system to help them manage cabin reservations and activity reservations. The use of online reservations systems help you ensure the activities you are traveling for are ready for when you arrive.   


State Park Summer Trip Tip #4 – Use a Packing List. Military members think of packing lists and wince at the memory of a three page deployment packing list. Packing lists also matter for vacations, especially with children. Packing lists are the most useful during days with multiple activities and on days when the weather is uncertain. Spare clothes for after a hike, swimsuits, lawn chairs, sunscreen, insect repellant, beach towels, swim goggles, and the list goes on of “essential” summer items. Sitting down for 15 minutes and making a list before packing the car will return big savings when you do not have to purchase that expensive can of sunscreen at the pool. Finally, make sure that you save and modify the packing list so you can use it on future trips.


State Park Summer Trip Tip #5 – Bring Your Food & Drinks. Packing food and drinks is another way to save during a trip to a state park. Packing a cooler with drinks, snacks, and side dishes will allow you greater control of your day because you will not have to halt your activities and find a restaurant. Another way to save is to only buy the main food item, a sandwich in this case, and bring the rest of your side dishes and drinks with you. If you are going to be at a state park in the evening, make sure you reserve a fire pit and bring marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for s’mores. The memories of a family making s’mores last a lifetime.


State Park Summer Trip Tip #6 – Say Yes to One Small Gift Store Item. Most parents wisely cringe when their children enter a gift shop. A technique is to allow each child one item that costs no more than a precise amount, perhaps five dollars. The older children can help the smaller ones find items under the limit and everyone can work together to find something to remember the trip. The “one item rule” is a good way to create limits around an area where parents and children can disagree.


State parks are a superb vacation resource that is sometimes only a few miles away. State parks offer amenities, lots of activity options, thousands of locations, and they are inexpensive. Follow these ideas to get the most fun at the least expense.


Let me know which state parks you went to this summer!

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About the blogger:
Chad is the author of two books: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to Business Success. Chad’s brand message is that organizations & individuals need to translate and apply military skills to business because they immediately produce results and are cost effective. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.  Chad is an adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in over 110 different articles in over 85 separate publications including The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.




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