IRS Confirms: Parks are an Expensive Visit

Internal Revenue ServiceIf you've ever thought that a burger in some National Parks cost way too much money, you may be right. I'm still finishing up my taxes here, and noticed something interesting today about what the IRS allows businesses to deduct for employee travel expenses. If you own a company, you are allowed to give your business travelers some spending cash on the road (called a "per diem") and take a tax credit for that cash. The IRS doesn't want you to take too much of a credit though, so each year they publish what the maximum allowable per diem rate is around the country.

As of October 1st, if you are traveling in most places around the USA, the IRS allows a $39 tax credit for Meals & Incidental Expenses (M&IE). But, there are places around the country where $39 just will not cut it. So, IRS makes a special publication [pdf] that lists all of these places where the maximum allowable M&IE is more than $39. As I scanned the list, I was surprised to see a few National Parks listed by name. I've included these parks and their M&IE rates below.

IRS Meals & Incidental Expenses For National Parks
Park NameM&IE
Death Valley$49
Grand Canyon$44
West Yellowstone$49

These are the only parks listed by name. Crater Lake is also named specifically in the list, but it's M&IE is $39, the national rate. There are other parks located in or near cities on the list that I did not include (for instance Olympic National Park's main entrance located in Port Angeles, WA is listed at $59).

This list confirms a notion I've had for awhile: Once at the park, life becomes a little more expensive. After paying at least $20 to get past the park gate, you'll find that concessionaires that provide food services don't have to compete for your business. I suspect that this may lead to above average prices on the menu. Take Death Valley for instance, in the middle of nowhere its M&IE rate is $49. This happens to be the exact same rate for tourist heavy Orlando, FL. In defense of the Death Valley concessionaires, I know that it may cost them more money to transport their goods into the park, which would also help drive up cost. Either way, plan to spend a little extra for that piece of huckleberry pie at the end of your next hike in a National Park.