Go here: Redwood National Park, Calif., 350,000 annual visitors
Skip: Yosemite National Park, Calif., 3.85 million annual visitors
Why Redwood: If the thought of sitting in Yosemite's infamous summer traffic jams makes your skin crawl, head north to Redwood and its adjacent state parks.
The area has two big selling points: its towering trees and the 40 miles of jagged coastline that house many of them. To take in the redwoods and possibly spot a grazing elk, ranger Candace Tinkler suggests the 10-mile drive on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, where you'll marvel at trees over 300 feet tall.
Walk the Klamath River Overlook to see bald eagles, harbor seals, California sea lions, and if you're lucky, gray whales.
Looking for a day trip? Tour the marble caves of Oregon Caves National Monument, an hour and a half away.
How to save: Yosemite has plenty of in-park lodging options, but few are easy on the wallet. Even the fairly basic Yosemite Lodge starts at $193 in the summer.
At Redwood, tracking down a place to stay is tougher (campgrounds are the only in-park option), but you will find good value. There's the charming Historic Requa Inn, 10 minutes from the park entrance, where rooms start at $119 in peak season, breakfast at the property's well-regarded locavore restaurant included.
In nearby Orick you'll find modern three-bedroom, two-bathroom units for $269 at Elk Meadow Cabins, named for the enormous creatures often seen moseying around the property.
They soar above ordinary trips and perform feats of vacation derring-do, all while nailing their budget. Here are their travel tips.