Exploring National Parks in 2019: Where to Stay Using Points

May 30, 2019

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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.

Angels Landing Zion National Park
Hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park. (Image courtesy of the National Park Service)

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.

In This Post


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.

Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes, America’s newest national park, created in 2019. (Image courtesy of the National Park Service)

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

The Gateway Arch Museum in St. Louis. (Photo by traveler1116 / Getty Images)
The Gateway Arch Museum in St. Louis. (Photo by traveler1116/Getty Images)

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

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park El Capitan
Points hotels can be a challenge near Yosemite. (Image by Leslie Harvey)

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

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.

Everglades National Park Alligator
An alligator in Everglades National Park. (Image courtesy of the National Park Service)

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

Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia. (Image courtesy of the National Park Service)

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

Springdale, Utah & Zion National Park

Zion National Park. (Image by Leslie Harvey)

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

Springhill Suites Zion National park entrance (photo courtesy of the hotel)
Springhill Suites Zion National park entrance (photo courtesy of the hotel)

Volcanic Activities: Hawaii’s Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
(Image courtesy of the National Park Service)

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

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.

Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim (Photo by Getty Images / benedek)
Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim (Photo by Getty Images / benedek)

Where to Stay Near the South Rim Using Points:

If you are planning a multi-night visit, keep in mind that the IHG Rewards 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):

Here are some additional tips for activities and camping in and around the Grand Canyon.

Bottom Line

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:

Featured image by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash.

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