Apps, passes and a birthday party mean you can save at on a park visit

A butterfly lands on the foliage along the Mica View trail in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Ariz.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

For author Wallace Stegner, the West embodied what he called “the geography of promise.”

“National parks,” he wrote in 1983, “are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Here’s a look at a few ways to stretch your dollar to celebrate our best idea this summer.


An app up for savings

App-maker Chimani has, in the last few years, introduced 65 free national park apps for iOS and Android, including individual apps for each of the 59 national parks.

The Chimani National Parks app offers a comprehensive guide to the national parks along with national recreation areas, scenic trails and more.

Now the company has introduced a member savings program called Chimani Perks that offers savings on lodging, dining, activities and gear for a $29 annual membership fee.

Kerry Gallivan, Chimani’s founder and chief executive, said the program was designed to help families save money on park activities.

The goal is to offer savings of up to $200 per park. A $10 discount per person means a family of four would save $40.

After enrolling in the program, you can attach your Perks card to any other Chimani app by signing into your profile.

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

— Wallace Stegner

Caveat: Remember how you join (Google, Facebook or email). I forgot I used Google, and when I signed in with my email into the Yosemite app, it wanted another $29.

Among the benefits to your vacation bottom line: Visitors to Montana’s Glacier and Yellowstone national parks can find savings on six whitewater rafting trips, Gallivan said.

Zion Outfitter, a gear rental shop near the visitor center at Zion National Park in Utah, offers a 10% discount on rentals.

In Yosemite, members can save on three hiking tours. Members get $10 off per person on any of YExplore Yosemite Adventures , 10% off a backpacking tour with Lasting Adventures or $25 off a custom tour with Yosemite Family Adventures.

Members also can grab discounts on the way to the parks. For example, on your trip to the Grand Canyon, you can save 15% off a meal at the Black Bridge Brewery in Kingman, Ariz., or get 10% off drinks at the cowboy-friendly Black Cat Bar in Seligman, Ariz. (on Route 66 halfway between Kingman and Flagstaff).

Save with a pass or a class

One of the best investments around is the $80 America the Beautiful Pass free to qualified volunteers, fourth-graders and members of the U.S. military.

The pass provides entrance to all national parks and national wildlife refuges and includes day-use fees at national forests and grasslands as well as land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

For instance, an annual pass to Grand Teton in Wyoming or neighboring Yellowstone National Park costs $60, so $80 is a steal.

U.S. citizens and legal residents older than 62 can buy a lifetime pass for $10.

Yellowstone Forever, a nonprofit educational and fundraising partner of Yellowstone National Park, offers several backcountry programs taught by artists, photographers, naturalists and other experts.

Although the workshops aren’t on sale, the more economical trips are from the historic and remote Lamar Buffalo Ranch, which generally costs $37 a night for shared accommodations.

If you booked the Keeping a Travel Sketchbook, for example, you would pay $250, which includes an overnight stay. Bump that up against the five-night Old Times on the Grand Tour, on which you stay at Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and Lake Yellowstone. The total — $1,899 — averages out to $378 a night.

A great exchange rate

Glacier National Park in Montana is so close to Canada that you will want to pack your passport even if it’s just to cross over and say, “Happy 150th, eh?”

The country celebrates 150 years of confederation on July 1, but Parks Canada is celebrating Canada’s Sesquicentennial with free admission to its parks for all of 2017 for everyone.

The U.S. dollar is strong against the Canadian dollar, so your vacation bucks stretch farther.

To wit: $1 U.S. gives you $1.37 Canadian; if you were to book a midweek stay in June at the Prince of Wales Hotel, for instance, you’d pay $137 U.S. At 2015 rates, you would have paid $158. That extra $21 a day means you just might be able to stay longer. And who could object to that?