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There are few travel experiences more distinctly American than a visit to a national park. Generations of families have piled into the station wagon (and now its modern cousin, the SUV) to road trip through iconic destinations such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains.
National parks in the United States can be some of the most rewarding destinations for travelers to visit. Whether you have a toddler or a teen, or are looking for a rewarding solo trip, national parks offer a wide variety of travel experiences — from the educational to the more adventurous. It’s no wonder the parks are often called “America’s best idea.”
This country’s national parks can also be fairly inexpensive destinations. Of course, their growing popularity has raised prices, along with increasing crowds, especially during peak season. In fact, national and state parks have never been in higher demand than now, with travelers everywhere escaping to the great outdoors and wide-open spaces.
Fortunately, there are many ways to make a national park vacation more budget-friendly. Don’t worry, I’m not going to say you need to sleep in a tent to save money — although camping can
The drive to New Glarus, Wisconsin, 25 miles south of Madison, winds through a classic midwestern landscape. Barns painted a dark red frame the country road beside tall silos stacked with corn. There are Victorian farmhouses flying American flags, ripe green fields rolling to a low horizon, and groups of grazing Holstein dairy cows, standing in bovine formation.
When Highway 69 dips down into a valley and turns a corner into New Glarus itself, though, you enter an entirely different scene that’s anything but midwestern. The Stars and Stripes gives way to Switzerland’s red-and-white flag, mounted on the wooden chalets that line First Street.
Murals of Alpine meadows splash across storefronts; overhanging balconies sprout banks of flowers. And adding to the sustained yodel of Swiss pride are 16 life-size, fiberglass cows popping up all over town, decked in folk costumes that would do Heidi proud.
The only thing more Swiss than New Glarus, in fact, is the original Old World canton of Glarus itself. Too often dismissed as a blandly homogenous landscape, southern Wisconsin, like much of the Midwest, offers pockets of diverse, deeply authentic European cultures imported and zealously preserved by their original settlers.
And the payoff for Americans is especially meaningful now. In the middle of our pandemic lockdown, when so many borders are shuttered, it’s still possible to set off on a European marathon without ever leaving the country.
(Related: Borders are closing to Americans. Here’s where you can still go.)
New Glarus’s own immigrant