My family spent 3 nights at a national park. Camping was only $20 a night and we saw so many stars.

My family spent 3 nights at a national park. Camping was only $20 a night and we saw so many stars.
  • My family spent $500 going to Great Basin National Park's astronomy festival.

  • We paid $60 for a campsite but the activities we participated in at the festival were free.

  • The most expensive parts of the trip included gasoline and food.

The first time I visited Great Basin National Park, I was struck by its isolation and the incredible beauty of the landscape.

So when I learned the park hosts a multiday astronomy festival just after the new moon each September, I knew my family had to take a trip. Due to its minimal light pollution, the park is a spectacular spot for stargazing and partaking in family sky-watching activities.

My family of three and some friends attended the astronomy festival and camped at the park for three nights.

Here's a breakdown of how we spent our money, and why I would do it all again.

We spent $90 to spend a night in a hotel near the park.

Writer and daughter in front of Great Basin National Park sign
My family drove seven hours total to get to Great Basin National Park.Katie Joll

In hindsight, my family could've potentially saved money on our hotel.

My husband, daughter, and I couldn't embark on our six-hour drive across US Route 50 to Eastern Nevada until the afternoon of the day we left. Had we chosen to keep going the additional hour into Great Basin National Park, we would've had to set up camp in the dark.

So, we decided it was more beneficial for us to spend $90 on a one-night stay at the historic Hotel Nevada in Ely, Nevada, which has accommodated notable figures like Gary Cooper, Mikey Rooney, and Stephen King.

We paid $60 to stay at a campsite for three nights.

Families roasting hot dogs over fire
My family and our friends enjoyed our campsite.Katie Joll

Camping in Great Basin National Park is relatively cheap at just $20 per night.

We planned our trip before September when about one or two of the campgrounds were available to reserve ahead of time. The rest were available on a first-come, first-served basis.

I tried to make reservations for the Upper Lehman campground, but no sites were available when reservations opened a month before our trip. So, we had to try for the first-come, first-served camping.

Since we had a hotel room nearby in Ely, we got to the park around 10 a.m. and found a spot in the first campground we tried, Baker Creek.

The campsites were pretty basic, with a fire pit, picnic table, and shared composting toilets. I noticed that although Baker Creek had plenty of RV sites there were more campsites meant for pitching tents overall.

We already owned camping gear, including the tents. My friends and family spent $60 on camping for three nights.

A visit to Lehman Caves costs $40.

Lehman Caves with water pool and stalagmites
I thought the Lehman Caves were really cool.Katie Joll

I think the Lehman Caves are the highlight of any visit to Great Basin National Park. They formed over the course of thousands of years and have spectacular cave shields, stalactites, and stalagmites.

Visitors must book reservations, which open about 30 days in advance. I was able to book tickets as soon as they became available, though, on my end, it looked like they sold out within only a few minutes.

I paid $15 per adult and $8 for my child, which was about $40 for my family.

We booked the Grand Palace Tour, which is available outside of the winter months. The rangers who led this tour were engaging and knowledgeable so I felt that it was well worth making the effort to secure tickets ahead of time.

The astronomy festival programs were free.

Children under stars during Astronomy Festival
The kids got to partake in fun astronomy activities and gaze at the night sky.Katie Joll

There was no extra charge for the astronomy festival programs we took part in, though some events had limited seats and required a free reservation ahead of time. I noticed that those reservations typically opened up about 30 days ahead of the program.

We participated in an "Art in the Dark" program, during which rangers gave a presentation on how our eyes work in the dark and provided us with canvases for a painting activity.

We painted under red light, which was meant to help maintain night vision, and were left with artworks full of interesting color choices.

We also took a free observatory tour, which I was excited about since Great Basin is home to the only research-grade observatory in a national park.

Gas for the trip cost $150.

A child looks toward sky in front of forest, mountains, and orange clouds
Great Basin National Park was a long drive from our home.Katie Joll

We had a long seven-hour drive from South Lake Tahoe, California, to Great Basin National Park. We drove straight through Nevada, stopping once to fuel up.

At $150, gas was the most costly part of the trip for my family.

We spent $140 on food.

Kids surrounding birthday cake
We bought a cake to celebrate two children's birthday.Katie Joll

Throughout our trip, we ate three breakfasts, four lunches, three dinners, and several snacks, and even had a 10th birthday celebration.

We purchased most of our food from a small grocery store in Ely on our way to the park but discovered a gem even closer to Great Basin.

I ordered fresh pretzel buns and a birthday cake from Sugar, Salt, and Malt, a restaurant, bakery, and caterer located near the entrance to Great Basin National Park. We were not disappointed.

In total, my family spent about $140 on food, making this the second-largest expense on the trip.

Though some parts of the trip were pricey, we'd do it again.

Smiling girl hammering peg for tent into ground
My family can't wait to go back to Great Basin National Park next year.Katie Joll

We had a beautiful, peaceful camping trip at Great Basin National Park, even with the busier astronomy festival going on.

The stargazing was phenomenal and the rangers and volunteers who shared their expertise and telescopes with the public did an amazing job.

We spent a total of $500, although we could've spent even less without the hotel stay.

Overall, the adventure was a budget-friendly trip and a memorable backdrop for a fun-filled 10th birthday.

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