Prepping for your U.S. National Park Visit

There are over 400 National Parks and Monuments in the U.S.A and territories. Most are beautiful and wild, and all are open to the public to enjoy. With such an array of sites to see it can be hard to choose! At any rate, you’ll need to do your due diligence when getting ready to visit. Here are my top 7 suggestions for you to take on when planning your trip. 

1) When you’re looking for the ‘best time to visit‘, think about crowds and weather. With certain popular parks like Glacier and Yellowstone, you’ll have to think about winter road closings and high season park reservations filling up. If you don’t mind a little cooler weather, shoulder season (March/April, September/October) for parks like those mentioned can be easier to get into, If you wait until summer you’ll be met with more lovely temperatures, but more people in the park for sure.  Be sure to ask your travel advisor what they suggest in regards to your personal likes and dislikes. 

2) If you’re staying in the park for more than a few days or you’re visiting more than one park in a year, you should definitely pick up an America the Beautiful Annual Park Pass. For $80 you get gate entry to all the parks and some monuments for a whole 12 months from when you purchase. Most entry fees are $20-30 per personal vehicle, so if you use your pass 3+ times it’s well worth it. A regular annual pass can be picked up at any ranger station, or ordered online here. The National Park System also has an “Every Kid Outdoors” Program which gives any child in 4th grade AND their families free entrance into the parks. They also have senior and military passes as well. 

3) Checkout and reserve your campsites/hotel/resort stays EARLY. Gone are the days of just “pull up and park” for lots of the national parks. Even before the pandemic, park rangers have struggled to mitigate the summer crowds. Reservations for park visits aren’t going away anytime soon, so don’t wait too long to get yours. 

4) Don’t skip out on the Ranger-led tours and talks. These are truly hidden gems! Many rangers have years of experience to share, especially if they are natives to the area. In some areas like Mesa Verde National Park (known for its ancient cliff dwellings), you can get much closer to the excitement when you do a small group tour with a ranger. These specific Cliff Dwelling tours are ticketed, and must be purchased 14 days in advance (at least). The rangers will take you on the “less-beaten path” to places the public do not usually have access to if the conditions are right. There are all sorts of tours given by the National Park Service; rich history and conservation right at your fingertips. Don’t miss them! 

5) Pack well. Hiking? I think you already know that you’ll need to be prepared for anything. Proper boots, sweat-wicking clothing, and a water carrier. Going to the snow? Get those under layers ready. Headed to the hot sands? Water, sunscreen, head covers, etc. What you need depends on where you go. Access a full National Parks Packing List to get you started. 

 6) Eat local/ shop local. One of the best ways to support our National Parks is to support the communities around them. When you find a mom-and-pop cafe or a local non-chain restaurant, you can be sure the money isn’t just going to a big corporation, it’s going to the families that live there. Also – who doesn’t want to try local cuisine when they are in someplace new? Many of the parks also have restaurants and eateries connected to them. For instance, Yellowstone National Park lodges have dining rooms open to the public. Yosemite boasts a beautiful lodge called the Ahwahnee Dining Room. At any rate, if you’re going to spend your hours taking in the national park scenery – why pair that with greasy fast food? Take some time to pick a few options before you go. 

7) Most importantly, be respectful of all wildlife and local establishments. Great lengths have been taken by the conservationists to keep the parks clean and safe for all living things in them. The national park system has decades of work built in to making the roads, bridges, and trails safe travelers without too much interference with wildlife. Just follow the well-laid out rules : don’t feed the animals, don’t bring in wood from other areas (a good way to spread invasive species), and take out what you bring in. Let’s work together to keep our forests and waterways clean for future generations! 

So what do you think, do you feel more prepared for your trip? You can always contact us for more information and help planning. 

What can we add to this list? Comment below! 

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