Exploring National Parks in Retirement

By Andrew Maisch -
April 21, 2023

Do you enjoy the great outdoors?  

Retirement Adventures
For many older adults, finding time to experience nature can be one of the greatest pleasures in retirement. And what better place to take in America's splendor than one of our over 400 National Park Service sites? For over a century, generations of retirees have explored these stunning landscapes, marveled at the diverse wildlife, and discovered the physical benefits of a retirement spent in the great outdoors. But recent research suggests that the mental benefits could be even more important for retirees. Read on to learn more. 1

The Cortisol Connection
Do you feel stressed out? Those feelings are most likely caused by the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol serves an essential purpose in the human body of helping to regulate your mood, motivation, and fear. However, when someone experiences sustained stress, their elevated levels of cortisol may greatly increase their risk of heart disease, depression, and even negatively impact their memory. Luckily, multiple studies show that connecting with nature for at least 20 minutes each day may be correlated to significantly lower cortisol levels. But the benefits don't stop after 20 minutes. In fact, longer durations spent in a natural environment may further enhance feelings of peace and wellbeing as well as increased mental performance. 2,3

A Thrifty Option
The American National Park system is considered by some to be one of the healthiest and financially smart ways to vacation in retirement. After all, of the 417 current National Park Sites, roughly 300 allow free admission. For those who want access to everything the National Park Service (NPS) offers, the Lifetime Senior Pass ($80) or the Annual Senior Pass ($20) are both a steal.

The Senior Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees, such as those related to camping, swimming, and specialized interpretive services.
The Senior Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.
There may be a service fee depending on how you purchase your pass. For more details, including the most recent ticket prices, visit the National Park Service website before planning your next trip.4,5

Exploring Nature
There are many ways to enjoy a visit to our National parks.  You can rent an AirBNB, stay at a camping resort or hotel. You can also rent a camper/RV. We’ve experienced the parks in a different way each time.  If you stay at a resort or campground, you’ll have staff to assist you with planning your hikes, etc.  If you rent an AirBNB, the owner will usually provide you with resources to make the best of your stay.  Also, there are many online resources that can help you in planning too such as Facebook Groups and Trip Advisor. They offer insider tips and forums that you can search and ask questions as well.

Once you get there…Take a deep breath and enjoy the majestic beauty of nature!

Photo: Maisch Family at Acadia National Park

1. NationalParks.org, 2021
2. WebMD.com, 2020
3. AnxietyCentre.com, 2021
4. NPS.gov, 2020
5. NPS.gov, 2021

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