In the U.S., we love our national parks. In fact, there are 60 sites protected by the federal government across the country. From hiking to archeology, every location offers its own set of adventures, making the parks a prime spot for travel. If you’re ready to take on an outdoor adventure of your own, follow these national park visit tips for a successful trip.
1. Find the Right Fit
While there’s an enormous selection of parks to choose from, each site has its own features and restrictions. For instance, many locations restrict access for pets. If you’re traveling with your dog, then you’ll need to choose a pet-friendly park, like Acadia National Park in Maine. The same sentiment applies to families. A park with a kids’ ranger program and easy-level trails are better suited for families than more rugged terrain. For those reasons, you need to learn more about a site before you delve too far into the planning process.
You also need to consider the type of outdoor experience you want to enjoy. Most sites offer hiking trails, but certain locations also offer other types of adventures, like camping, fishing, and whitewater rafting. First, determine what your ideal getaway entails, and then research national parks to find the right match for your needs.
2. Create a List of Must-See Landmarks
Many parks cover thousands of acres, with each location offering its own set of popular landmarks. However, it’s virtually impossible to see all of the attractions in one trip, and attempting to do so will only create a stressful visit. Instead, review the most popular options at the national park you’re planning to visit and choose three to five that you want to see first. Prioritize the first two, and then fit more in if there is time. This step prevents you from getting overwhelmed and allows you to take in and fully appreciate each landmark you see.
3. Pack the Right Supplies
Wearing the right outfit is one of the most valuable national park visit tips to take to heart. Clothing has a significant impact on your experience, especially in an outdoor setting. For example, wearing flip-flops on the trails in the Grand Canyon National Park is sure to cause blisters as well as a potential serious injury from slips or falls.
To ensure you’re able to actually enjoy your visit, pack clothing that matches your itinerary. Comfortable shoes are a must-have, but if you’re taking on rugged trails, then opt for proper hiking boots. It’s also wise to come prepared for the elements by packing a raincoat or poncho, and dress in layers so that you can easily accommodate changing temperatures.
4. Utilize the Park’s Resources
During your first national park visit, it’s incredibly helpful to seek assistance and guidance from individuals that are well versed in the area. The U.S. National Park Service offers an abundance of online resources for all of the parks, including operational hours, closures, and maps. These are vital tools when planning your trip to ensure you know where you’re going and what to avoid.
On-site, most parks also offer a visitor center or welcome station. In many cases, there are ranger-led walks and programs designed specifically for the needs of first-time visitors. Such services can help you get your feet wet before diving into a self-guided adventure. Some locations also offer safety tools, like Yellowstone National Park’s bear spray rental, and camping equipment for convenience.
5. Respect the Site
One of the most important things to remember when visiting a national park is that it deserves respect. Every location is filled with a plethora of wildlife and plant species, all of which are vital components of the local ecosystem. As a result, you need to care for the park while you’re there. Be sure to take all trash with you, and avoid disturbing wildlife or trekking into restricted areas during your adventures. Additionally, follow all rules set forth by the NPS to limit the impact of human visitors.
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