Tools for

Click Here to Add to Your Favorites

Travel Information and Arrangements

Preparations: Luggage, Travel Clothing, Gear, Gifts,...

Tips: Photography, Packing,...

Shop OnLine  -  SAVING   Time  +   Gas  =   Money     



  Print This Page

 Add To Favorites

Cheap Vacations | HIKING (part 2)
Lodging choices, preparing for a hike, and knowing where to go


Hotels / Motels

Many National Parks have lodging that not only makes it convenient for hiking, but also affords you even more time in your beautiful surroundings. It makes for a true escape from civilization. To find parks with lodging, go to the National Park Service site ( and do a search for "lodging". Though the result is not broken down by State, this may be a faster way to locate parks with lodging than to open each park site to see if it has lodging. Once you have found a park with lodging, check out the hiking it offers.

Though reservations well in advance are needed for the park lodges or hotels, since they are popular places, I was successful once with only one month's notice (but don't depend on it!).

If you cannot get lodging in the park (don't forget about cabins) you may be able to get into a local hotel/motel just outside of the park. Note the zip code of the park and do a search for lodging by zip. To do this, instead of using our standard travel site search box, click on whatever travel or hotel site you wish to use and look for their "search by address" option. When you search by zip, city or attraction (if zip is not available), the list of hotels you get will be ordered by proximity to whatever you entered.


While park lodges and hotels are reasonably priced, you can save even more by camping. You can find camping opportunities in the National Parks by going to their main site and doing a search for "camping". You will get the same unordered list of parks, but it will save you time searching otherwise. If you are a camper, you know that you also have to check for the type of camping you plan to do: tent camping or RV.

Most who are new to camping will start with tents since the price tag is a bit steeper for the self-propelled alternative. Though there are many who would rather take a "staycation" than camp, I am not one of them. Yes, it is not fun to camp in the rain, but it is not the end of the world if it does (unless, of course, you get a monsoon), and there are always hotels in the area that might be available as a backup. Do factor in average weather conditions for your chosen destination when timing your stay.

I have camped in Yellowstone NP and loved it. How many can say that they have heard the howls of coyotes at night? What an experience for a city folk like me. Want to blend some of the lodge amenities into your camping experience? Get a drink in one of the lodges before going back to the campsite for dinner. For experienced campers, have you noticed how much better food cooked at a campsite tastes than the same thing at home? Don't know if it is the simply the weariness of the day's activities or the fresh air and natural surroundings that does it, but how good it tastes!

Another downside to camping is best understood by those who might enjoy adult beverages at night around the campfire before going to bed. Climbing out of a sleeping bag to answer the call of nature is perhaps not what anyone wants to do, but what if your loving drinking partner holds your hand while you both walk by flashlight to the latrine? Not so bad, eh?

The gear necessary for camping would be the subject of another article. While there is some investment necessary to put the necessary gear together, you might choose to borrow, or rent if available, as much as you can for your first experience before investing.

If parks don't have tent camping available, use Woodalls to search for campsites elsewhere.

You won't just be hiking

Unless you are experienced and fit hikers, you will need rest days between long hikes, so looking for other activities offered by each park is important. Most large National Parks have many activites, but if not, hopefully the surrounding area or next closest town will have an attraction or activity you can do as a day trip. A way to search for such options would be through this link to for State travel and tourism sites to research.

Preparing for your hike:

On the Park web sites, also look for any precautions they give regarding the hikes in their park. Since you are "communing with Nature" you need to be aware of problems unique to the environment you are visiting. On the bottom of the Channel Island NP "hiking" page is a link to a page on "hantavirus", a virus that has been found in their deer mice population, and the precautions they suggest you take while in their park. Some of the precautions may require advance preparation. Will you need to wear hiking pants rather than shorts? Will you need insect repellant (usually a good idea to carry some anyway)...

If you forget to print a trail map from the park web site, you can generally pick one up in the park Visitors Center. This would also be a good opportunity to get last minute advice from a ranger regarding the hike: weather, trail or road closures, animal sightings (to see one or to avoid one).

So, how do you know where to go?

Trailhead: To start your hike, you will need to find the trailhead, the beginning of your trail. To find it, follow your park map or the directions given in the hike details you are working from. Often, people will want to do hikes listed in a hiking book or web site. While this can be a way to find great hikes outside of the National or State Parks, directions to the trailheads aren't always clear so bring any accompanying map information. If you are familiar with using GPS coordinates, the trail description may also list the coordinates of the trailhead.

Trail Blazes / Markings: Observe what the marking for your trail will be. It may be posted at the trailhead or will be immediately obvious on the first tree you see. These will be the markings that keep you on trail. While some trails are very obvious by the wear created by those before you, some are not so you will need to look for periodic markings for your trail. They will generally be painted on trees or boulders with a pattern, shape or color distinctive to that trail, but could also be a notch made in the tree or a sign attached. In areas where trees are sparce, you might see rock cairns, distinctive piles of stacked rocks that mark your trail.

If your map shows another trail to cross yours, you need to know your trail's specific marking to remain on it. There may also be a change in the markings for turns. For example, if your trail is marked with a single slash, a double slash may signify a turn. If your trail suddenly becomes much more difficult to follow, you may have to backtrack to see if you may have missed a turn.

Finally, look for downed trees that have intentionally been moved to block your progress down a worn path that resembles a trail, but is not. This can be tricky because you will be routinely jumping over or under trees that have naturally fallen across your trail. Always follow the progress of your trail blazes to confirm that you are still on your trail.

Go to the American Hiking Society web site for more "How To's and Hiking Information"

The next article - Cheap Vacations | Hiking | GEAR is about the Gear Needed for Hiking. While there is again some investment needed, like camping, start slowly and only with the most necessary items at first.


PLEASE NOTE:  If you are reading this article outside of the site, you will be unable to view and use links included with the original article.  To take advantage of these live links go to:

Ted Grellner, the author of this article and creator of, enjoys travel for hiking, photography, and the discovery of new places, faces and food.  After many years of traveling, a trip that was successful and fun was often the result of much planning and research. is a website with many resources devoted to trip planning, travel information and travel preparation to make travel much less burdensome. Go to to make the planning of your next trip easier and more fun.

by Ted Grellner - September 17, 2009


Back to Top