As summer approaches, many of us are thinking about ways to get outside. The U.S. National Parks system offers one of the best ways to do just that. The National Parks are some of the most beloved and sought-after destinations in the U.S. But you shouldn’t just get up and go to a park. There’s some important information you’ll need to be fully prepared for your outdoor experience.
If you’re wanting to take a trip to a National Park in 2021, you’ll need to do a few things first…
1. Choose the park!
The first step, of course, is to choose which National Park you want to go to! Several factors should go into this decision. Are you bringing children with you? How far are you wanting to travel? What kinds of activities are you wanting to do? What kind of landscape do you want to see? The National Park Service has a great online tool to help you find a park near you.
You’ll also need to think about how you’re going to get there. If you’re planning to camp at a National Park, then road tripping is probably your best bet. Logistically, having a car when you’re visiting a National Park makes things so much easier. Road tripping also adds extra fun to your summery, National Parks experience!
While you’re at it, you might want to take into consideration the time of year you’ll be visiting the park. If you’re going during peak season, you probably won’t see quite as much wildlife, and you won’t get quite as much peace and quiet, but the weather will probably be great.
2. Choose your activities
Maybe you’re a hiker wanting to get some miles in. Or maybe horseback riding or whitewater rafting are more your thing. Whatever it is you want to do, once you’ve chosen the park you want to go to, it’s a good idea to check out the kinds of activities that are available in and around your chosen park.
Along with choosing your activities, you’ll need to choose what kind of accommodations you want. Plenty of National Parks have great hotels and resorts nearby. But camping is, of course, always a great National Park trip option!
3. Know the regulations
It’s always extremely important to understand regulations surrounding the park that you are wanting to visit. Some parks have parking fees or restrictions about how many people can camp there and what kind of camping is allowed. Make sure you check out the regulations section of the website of the park you are planning to visit.
But this year, knowing the regulations includes making sure you know about the COVID regulations around each park. Each park has a section on its website regarding any policy changes surrounding COVID.
4. Make a reservation or permit
If you are planning to camp, or if the park you are planning to visit requires reservations, you’ll need to do that in advance. Parks like Yosemite require permits for certain activities like filming and educational or business activities. Other National Parks, like Rocky Mountain National Park, require permits and or reservations for activities like camping and entry to the park in general.
5. Know the park
Before you go, it’s a great idea to check out some maps of the park you’ll be visiting. You should look for things like restrooms, camp sites, trails you would be interested in going on, where popular sights are, and if there is a place to get water.
Knowing these things will help you prepare for your trip. If you are road tripping, then you’ll probably have a cooler packed with snacks and water, so you don’t need to worry about food. Just make sure you wear the right clothes and bring enough water, so you can enjoy your adventure!
6. Pack the right things
Speaking of being prepared, you’ll want to make sure you pack the right things for your trip. Take into consideration the way you’ll be traveling, the activities you’re hoping to do, how long you’ll be there, whether you’re camping or staying in a resort, and what the weather will be like.
Some good things to always bring are lots of water, sunglasses, a map of the park, good shoes, sunscreen, and a backpack to put all of these items in.
7. Make a travel plan
If you’re planning to drive to the park, you’ll need to plan out your road trip route. If you drive, you can also incorporate other destinations along the way, maybe other landmarks or even multiple National Parks!
If you’re going to be flying to the park, you’ll need to make sure you have a plan for how to get from the airport to the park and back.
8. Check the weather
As mentioned above, weather impacts every part of your trip. From what you’re going to bring to where you’ll stay to what activities you’ll be able to do, the weather has a hand in your planning. Probably the best website for planning around the weather is the National Weather Service website. This website provides up-to-date and accurate information for travelers of all kinds.
Some National Parks, like Joshua Tree National Park, are in slightly more temperate climates. Others are known to be rainy, like Olympic National Park in Washington state, or snowy, like Rocky Mountain National Park.
If you are planning on camping, especially in the spring and early summer, it’s important to check the day time and night time temperatures as well as the overall week-long forecast.
9. Be conscious of your surroundings
Whether that means looking out for other visitors or keeping an eye out for wildlife, it’s important to be conscious of your surroundings. Being aware of wildlife around you is important for your safety and for the well-being of the animals. Many National Parks are also in mountainous areas, which are famous for having unpredictable weather. Be on the lookout for incoming clouds.
10. Once you’re there – Leave No Trace
Remember to respect the space that you’re getting to use. The Leave No Trace (LNT) philosophy starts and ends with making sure you leave the space the same (or better – pick up a few pieces of trash!) as you found it. Doing this ensures that other people, including yourself, get to use this space for years to come.
LNT even goes so far as considering things like playing music during your outdoor adventure – playing music in a national park can disturb the experience of other visitors, hinder your own personal wilderness experience, and scare away wildlife. Use this time to unplug – it’ll be better for you and for the environment around you!
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories