National parks: 4 cheap and scenic picks

Choose a lesser-known national park to save yourself aggravation and money. Here's where to go and where to skip.

Pacific Northwest
tra national parks
Cliff-top lookouts offer incredible views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island at Crater Lake National Park, Ore.

Go here: Crater Lake National Park, Ore., 450,000 annual visitors
Skip: Olympic National Park, Wash., 2.82 million annual visitors

Why Crater Lake: Like Olympic, Crater Lake is more than 90% wilderness. But whereas Olympic is surrounded by water, the heart of this park is a lake -- one of the world's deepest.

See it by driving the 33-mile path around the rim, or get closer on a two-hour boat tour, including an option to explore Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone that rises 750 feet above the lake ($42 with the island, $32 without).

Don't miss the Pinnacles, a striking outcropping of tall, thin volcanic rocks. Make the 30-minute Pinnacles Trail hike for a great view.

How to save: Fly into the Medford airport rather than Klamath Falls. Medford is about 90 minutes from the park (compared with an hour for Klamath Falls airport), but you'd save 30% on a July flight from New York City, says Hotwire.com.

Staying in-park at Crater Lake Lodge will cost at least $164 -- and that's if you can get a room. Choosing a nearby B&B or hotel could cut that substantially, says Jim Chadderdon of Discover Klamath.

About a half-hour away, the Crystalwood Lodge has doubles for $120. Or go 35 minutes or so southwest of the park to the Prospect Historic Hotel, where a basic, comfortable motel room starts at $90.


  @Money - Last updated May 09 2013 05:14 PM ET
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