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For many travelers, the summer travel season is all about visiting America’s national parks. The parks have exploded in popularity in recent years, buoyed by the publicity around the centennial in 2016 and programs such as Every Kid in a Park program that provides free entrance to fourth graders with their families. More than 318 million visitors enjoyed the national parks in 2018.
If national parks are in your 2019 travel plans, TPG wants to help you use your points and miles most effectively to make these already relatively inexpensive destinations even more affordable.
Some national parks are in such remote locations that finding a hotel in the major chains where you can use points is pretty challenging. In those cases, consider flexible points currencies like those offered with the Discover it® Miles, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard so you don’t have to stick to a specific chain or booking site and can use the points to book travel directly.
But you’ll often find that you can use your Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Choice and other hotel chain points to stay near some of the most visited national parks, especially those closer to mid-sized and major cities. The National Park Service is responsible for many more destinations than just the 61 national parks, including national monuments, national historic sites and more. It’s entirely possible to have a very urban escape when visiting many of these sites.
Here are some of our favorite destinations for 2019 that will position you for a visit to some of the top national parks and NPS-managed sites. Points-friendly hotel recommendations and mid-summer approximate prices are included.
America’s Newest National Park: Near Chicago, Illinois
When most travelers think of national parks, the city of Chicago is probably pretty far from their mind. Few travelers realize, however, that Chicago is less than an hour’s drive from America’s newest national park: Indiana Dunes National Park. Formerly the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the area got a promotion of sorts in February of this year. The park stretches 15 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan and is a popular outdoor escape during the summer months. Beach-going and hiking are some of the best activities to experience.
Travelers can easily make a day trip there from Chicago or can find a home base closer to the park in cities like Chesterton or Portage, Indiana, where budget and moderate hotels are available. Here are a few options in both areas (also check out TPG‘s recommendations for the best family-friendly Chicago hotels to redeem points and advice on how to plan a family trip to Chicago).
Where to Stay
- Hyatt Regency Chicago: from $199 or 12,000 Hyatt points per night (Hyatt Category 3). As a Category 3 hotel, it might be a good value for use of a Category 1–4 certificate that is awarded on the card holder anniversary with the World of Hyatt Credit Card.
- Hilton Garden Inn Chesterton: from $117 or 30,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- Holiday Inn Express and Suites Portage: from $114 or 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
Gateway to the West: St. Louis, Missouri
While Indiana Dunes is the newest national park, there’s another park that is also a very recent addition to the NPS list. St. Louis’ Gateway Arch became a national park in 2018. The area around the arch recently underwent a major renovation to make it even more of a destination for visitors.
Where to Stay
- Hotel Saint Louis, Autograph Collection: from $244 or 35,000 Marriott points (standard Marriott Category 5 award) per night. As a Category 5 Marriott hotel, it can be a good value redemption of the an up to 35k free night certificate like the one given out on card holder anniversaries with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.
- Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch: from $159 or 8,000 Hyatt points per night (Hyatt Category 2).
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park in Northern California needs no introduction. Seeing sights like Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls are on many a traveler’s bucket list.
During the summer of 2018, Yosemite was sadly all over the news for all the wrong reasons due to devastating fires in the region. Flames and smoke closed the park for several weeks during peak season. The demand to see the park is likely to be bigger than ever in 2019 now that it is fully reopened.
Even though Yosemite is a very popular park, hotels where you can redeem traditional hotel loyalty points are few and far between. Travelers will need to commute from towns like Mariposa or Oakhurst which can be a 45+ minute drive to destinations within the park. Long lines can form at the park’s entrances during peak summer dates. Consider redeeming flexible points currencies for a more accessible stay, if you have those available to you.
Where to Stay
- Quality Inn Yosemite Valley Gateway (Mariposa): from $182 or 20,000 Choice Privileges points per night.
- Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn (Oakhurst): from $249 or 36,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.
- Comfort Inn Yosemite Area (Oakhurst): from $194 or 20,000 Choice Privileges points per night.
Everglades and Beyond: Miami & the Florida Keys
South Florida was hit hard by Hurricane Irma in 2017, but the region has recovered well and is ready to welcome tourists this year. South Florida is home to three magnificent national parks that are unlike the offerings anywhere else in the country: the Everglades, the Dry Tortugas and Biscayne National Park.
The Everglades are an easy drive south and west of Miami and are where alligators and wildlife abound. Dry Tortugas and Biscayne National Parks both require some additional effort to reach, as both protect areas that are largely underwater.
If you want to hit all three in a single trip, Key Largo is likely your most central spot for lodging. Alternatively, spend a few days in the Miami area in order to visit the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, and then road trip down to Key West where you can see the Dry Tortugas on a day trip.
Where to Stay
- The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne: from $324 or 50,000 Marriott points per night (Marriott Category 6). Use an up to 50k free night certificate like the one given out on card holder anniversaries by the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
- Hyatt Regency Miami: from $136 or 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night (World of Hyatt Category 3).
- Courtyard Key Largo: from $171 or 35,000 Marriott points (Marriott Category 5) per night. As a Category 5 Marriott hotel, it can be a good value redemption of a Category 1-5 certificate.
- Hyatt Centric Key West: from $273 or 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night (World of Hyatt Category 6).
Beauty and History: Charlottesville, Virginia
The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, is an ideal jumping-off point for a number of national park adventures of many types. Charlottesville is located not far from Shenandoah National Park as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway, both of which are full of outdoor pursuits. While the area is popular in summer, I also recommend visiting in the fall when the colors are some of the prettiest anywhere in the country.
The more historical-minded traveler can also find NPS sites of interest nearby. Within an easy 90-minute drive of Charlottesville is the Appomattox Courthouse, now a National Historic Park protecting the site where the Civil War’s end was negotiated. Alternatively, road trip north the same distance to visit Manassas, where two pivotal Civil War battles were fought.
Where to Stay
- Residence Inn Charlottesville Downtown: from $264 or 35,000 Marriott points (Marriott Category 5) per night. As a Category 5 Marriott hotel, it can be a good value redemption of a Category 1-5 certificate.
- Hyatt Place Charlottesville: from $120 or 8000 World of Hyatt points per night (World of Hyatt Category 2).
- Hampton Inn & Suites Charlottesville-At the University: from $184 or 40,000 Hilton Honors points.
Springdale, Utah & Zion National Park
Interest in Zion National Park has exploded in the past several years, making it one of the nation’s most-visited national parks. According to NPS statistics, over 4.3 million visitors entered Zion in 2018 up from 2.7 million just 10 years earlier. The area has some epic hiking opportunities, from the easier Angels Landing to the Narrows for the more adventurous. There are also plenty of family-friendly hiking and biking opportunities for travelers with younger kids.
For points travelers, Zion is also one of the easier national parks to visit when redeeming hotel points. The town of Springdale, Utah is just steps from the park’s main entrance and moderate chain hotels abound.
Where to Stay
- Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park: from $198 or 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springdale Zion National Park: from $254 or 50,000 Marriott points (Category 6) per night.
- Best Western Plus Zion Canyon Inn & Suites: from $242 or 36,000 Best Western Rewards points per night.
- La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham at Zion Park/Springdale: from $177 or 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night.
Volcanic Activities: Hawaii’s Big Island
For much of 2018, Hawaii’s Big Island was another region regularly in the news for all the wrong reasons. In the spring of that year, Kilauea, the volcano protected as part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, began a major eruption. The landscape was permanently altered and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has changed dramatically. There’s no longer visible lava in the park, but the crater is much more massive as a result of the geological changes. There are no major hotels near the park, so pick either the Kona/Kohala Coast (two hours away) or Hilo (one hour away) as a home base for more options.
Another option to cut the commute to the park is to stay in a room at the Volcano House, that operates in partnership with the National Park Service. During the summer, rooms are often available for $200 – $300 per night (crater views cost a little extra). Or, you can rent your own little cabin for less than $100 per night. In either case, you’d want to use your fixed value points to cover that cost.
Island-hopping travelers can also potentially visit one more national park while in the state: Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. Here are some tips for using miles to island hop around Hawaii.
Where to Stay
- Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – A Doubletree by Hilton: from $179 or 40,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel: from $244 or 25,000 Marriott points (Marriott Category 4) per night.
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: from $546 a night or 50,000 Marriott points (Marriott Category 6) per night.
The Grand Canyon
Perhaps the grandest of National Park of them all, the Grand Canyon is massive both in size and popularity. As there are multiple rims to the canyon to choose from, there are different lodging recommendations based on where you plan to visit.
Where to Stay Near the South Rim Using Points:
- Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn: From 24k Best Western Rewards points
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon: For 40k IHG Rewards Club points
If you are planning a multi-night visit, keep in mind that the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card will give you the fourth award night free.
Where to Stay Near the North Rim Using Points (OK, about two hours away):
- Holiday Inn Express Page – Lake Powell: 30k IHG points per night
- Days Inn Page – Lake Powell: 15k Wyndham Rewards points per night.
- Best Western Plus at Lake Powell: Rates vary, but can be 32,000 points in the summer
Our country is blessed with many fantastic national parks, monuments and outdoor spaces. Make a plan to visit a national park in 2019 and use your miles and points to help you get there.
Considering a National Park trip this year? Other articles of interest:
- How to Visit America’s National Parks for Less
- You Need the $80 National Park Pass – Here’s Why
- Top Tips for Visiting National Parks with Kids
- Here are the 10 Most Popular National Parks in the US
- Visiting the Grand Canyon With a Family: Where to Camp, Stay and Play
- Family Camping Adventures in Yellowstone National Park
- The Best Times to Visit Yellowstone
Featured image by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash.
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