With 419 options, planning a trip to a National Park can seem a bit overwhelming. Lucky for you we are putting our 30+ years of working with and vacationing in National Parks to good use.
1. First things, first decide what type of adventure you want and what best meets your group’s abilities and interests. If you’re looking for an historic getaway Pea Ridge National Military Park in Garfield, AR the multitude of National Parks and Historic Sites in and around Boston might be best for you. If you are more of a thrill seeker check out Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Arches is packed full of adventurous activities like backpacking and hiking, biking, canyoneering, and rock climbing. At the end of the day spend the night under the stars enjoying the epic stargazing.
2. Once you’ve decided where you are going and what you will be doing, you’ll need to pack the appropriate gear. Retailers like Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shop, REI, and the National Park Foundation partner, L.L. Bean, offer one-stop shopping to meet all of your park adventure needs. When planning what to pack and what to wear it’s important to remember that temperatures may vary greatly within a 24-hour period so you’ll want to dress in layers, pack plenty of water, bug spray, and sunscreen. You may also want to consider the sustainability factor of what you are packing. Reusable water bottles and the first of its kind compostable cooler, Recool by Igloo are two must haves for an eco-friendly trip.
3. If you’ve decided to go the more adventurous route there are several things you should keep in before hitting the trails:
· Try to avoid exploring alone.
· Check-in with rangers and leave written plans describing how many people are in your group, where you are going and your estimate return time.
· Bring extra food, water and clothing in case of a change in weather conditions.
· Bring a first-aid kit and know how to use it.
· Wear sturdy shoes.
· Apps like Viewranger Skyline, Gaia GPS, and Chimani National Parks are extremely useful offline navigation apps, but they should not be your only navigation tool. A map and compass is a necessity. And remember you cannot rely on your cell phone to have service or the battery life to sustain your full outing.
· You must filter, boil, or treat water from a natural source, before drinking it.
· Store food properly. Use bear-resistant food and lockers and always check with the rangers for the best food storage methods in the area.
· Do not feed wild animals. It’s not good for them and could mean injury to you.
4. If you’re traveling with a young one then the Junior Ranger Program is a must. Designed for children ages 5 to 13, the Junior Ranger Program is an activity based program in almost all parks.
5. When booking your trip try to keep peak travel times in mind. If it’s possible avoid weekends and holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. If you’re staying in a park make dinner reservations when you book your lodging. Expect availability at lodges like the El Tovar in Grand Canyon National Park, all of the in-park lodges at Yosemite, Glacier and Yellowstone, and the Rock Harbor Lodge at Isle Royale National Park to be limited. According to Travel + Leisure these were the most visited parks in 2018.
· Great Smoky Mountains National Park — 11,421,200 visits
· Grand Canyon National Park — 6,380,495 visits
· Rocky Mountain National Park — 4,590,493 visits
· Zion National Park — 4,320,033 visits
· Yellowstone National Park — 4,115,000 visits
· Yosemite National Park — 4,009,436 visits
· Acadia National Park — 3,537,575 visits
· Grand Teton National Park — 3,491,151 visits
· Olympic National Park — 3,104,455 visits
· Glacier National Park — 2,965,309 visits
6. Now that you’re in the park your first stop should be the Visitor’s Center or Ranger’s Experience Station. Engage with the Park Rangers. Don’t be shy, ask questions and take their advice. These parks are their backyards and they are their caretakers. They know them like the backs of their hands and are there to help make sure you have the most enjoyable trip possible.
If you’re going to be in the park for more than a day or two look for in-park volunteer opportunities. What better way to round at your trip and leave your parks better than you found it, than to pitch in and give back.
7. Before heading for home be sure to thank the rangers and make a donation if you can. And, once you are home start planning your next trip.
A few additional quick tips and resources: Buy an America The Beautiful, National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass; websites like National Parks Traveler are a great, in-depth resource for all things national parks; many parks have Dark Sky programs with ranger-lead stargazing and night hikes.