You can drop thousands of dollars hitting theme parks and other attractions, but as fun as those kinds of vacations are, you'll never match the inexpensive, amazing adventures waiting for you in nature at a National Park.

Vacations are the most indelible memories you carry from childhood. Our family lives by the principle that stuff is fleeting. We don't need all the gadgets, gizmos and fancy clothes. We give up material things for experiences. By far, some of our best experiences in recent years have happened at National Parks.

This summer we had the time of our lives at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. These parks join each other in Wyoming. Yellowstone ranks as the top National Park in the system, and the Tetons make it into the top five.

We didn't plan far enough out so we didn't stay at one of the lodges in the park. If that's your plan, book now! Instead we logged on to VRBO.com and rented a mountain cabin in Idaho for the week. We packed a picnic every day. You can get by much cheaper if you pitch a tent at one of the many campsites in the park.

For just $25 dollars a carload, you can get a seven day pass into both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. They're pretty busy places in the thick of summer. Instead you might check out some of the underrated and less visited parks in the National Park System .

The United States has 58 National Parks to explore. If you don't want to make a long haul, check out one of the six here in Missouri. For that matter, hit up one of the many State Parks or Historic Sites near you. You can make memories for a lifetime without breaking the bank.