**None of the pictures in this post have been altered or enhanced in any way. And yeah, I took them all. Except maybe the ones I’m in… 😉 But they’re mine so please don’t use them. **
I can still remember the first time I went to a National Park. I moved up north to go to college, and I was within a few hours of Yellowstone National Park. Some of my roommates and I went up there, and I was blown away. This was back in the day of film cameras, mind you, and I think I took probably at least an entire roll of just the buffalo walking on the road.
There were buffalo. Walking. On the road! It was insanity!
I loved it. (And by the way, it’s bison, not buffalo. 😉 )
When I married a local boy and we settled down in the area, I was thrilled. As of just last week, we’ve been to six National Parks (He’s been to seven. He went waaay up north to Denali. Without me.) and several more State Parks.
I’m in love with National Parks, for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t matter what National or State Park you plan to visit, these tips can help you make it a perfect trip!
I can be rather long-winded, so I’ll just get right to what you want to know. With these tips, you’ll be ready for your summer trips and fall in love with National Parks too.
Check the Website – Every National Park has a website with vital information, like road closures, parking tips, weather predictions, and so on. In some areas, National Parks close for a season. Nothing would be worse than driving hours and hours just to reach your destination and find you can’t enter.
Use Your Resources – Just like the website, there is useful information available to you in every NP. When you drive through the park entrance, they will hand you a map and a newspaper. These are valuable tools! They give you great information about the park, trails, hikes, parking and more.
When we went to the Grand Canyon, we wanted to do two hikes. The website said both were easy, paved walkways. The first one we chose was a little on the strenuous side, and we worried for my Mother-in-law’s health. We wanted her to come on the next hike, but we didn’t want to risk it being as difficult as the first hike. So we talked to a park ranger. She told us the next hike was easier than the one we had just done, and she even told us where some picnic tables were for lunch. The spot she told us about was secluded and RIGHT on the edge of the cliff! (You’ll see a picture a little ways down.) It was one of my favorite memories from the trip and we would have never known if we hadn’t asked the park ranger. Also, many NPs have radio stations you can tune into or numbers you can call on your cell phone and they’ll give you info or a mini park tour. Every park has a visitor’s center. These are awesome and have engaging activities for kids as well as adults.
Visit More than One Park – If you can manage to visit more than one National or State Park during your trip that would be the best. Sometimes there are more than one in the area, and you can see a few on your trip.
Dress for the Weather – Higher altitude NPs will be colder. Desert parks will be hotter. It will be cooler in spring and fall than it is in summer. It seems like common sense, but trust me, sometimes it’s hard to predict. If you’re going to a higher elevation NP, take a sweater, just in case. It never hurts. We went to Bryce Canyon NP (in the desert during the summer!) and got caught in a rainstorm. You just never know. Even if it’s sunny, it can still be cold (as seen below – we’re wearing winter coats at Old Faithful during the fall).
Bring food and WATER – There is no Walmart or McDonalds in a National Park. You will be hard pressed to find any food in a NP unless there is a lodge. Which means you’ll have to eat at a fancy restaurant. Water is super important. You’ll be walking trails and you’ll get thirsty. Bring lots of water and eat a salty snack every time you hydrate. And as always, be a good Boy Scout. If you pack it in to the park, pack it out.
Bring Sunscreen and Bug spray – There are bugs everywhere! You’d rather they didn’t hitch a ride!
And you can get a sunburn even on cloudy days.
Make the Car Ride Fun For Kids – A lot of National Park visiting is riding in a car. Most of the time you have beautiful scenery to enjoy. Even with the most stunning views, young visitors can get weary. Give them the map and let them “navigate.” Most maps come with a list of wildlife you can expect to see in the park. Give them the list and a pen and tell them to be on the lookout for the animals. Better yet, give them their own pair of binoculars.
At some National Parks, they have a park stamp, almost like a passport stamp. It’ll be at the Visitor’s Center or the gift shop. They’ll keep it behind the counter, so ask them if they have a park stamp. If you take your own piece of paper you can put it in a blank photo album and make your own park passport.
Wear walking shoes – You’ll want to get out and walk while you’re at a NP. Maybe you’ll want to do a 5 mile hike, or maybe you just want to do an easy trail to a vista overlook.
Whatever you decide, make yourself comfortable by wearing good shoes. This will make your trip more enjoyable! (I bring flip flops for the long car rides there and back and wear my hiking boots on the trails.)
Be Aware of Wildlife – Some of the wildlife you will see will be small and cute. They’re still wild. Some of the wildlife you see will be big and intimidating. A National Park is not a zoo. These animals aren’t caged and tame. They are wild and dangerous. All of them. Even the cute little ones. Keep a safe distance. This picture was taken with a telephoto lens.
I was a safe distance away, and yet I got a gorgeous picture of this majestic animal.
Bison will gore you and bears will attack you. It’s not just a scare tactic, it’s a warning to preserve your health and life.
Do not approach animals. Stay a safe distance away.
Don’t Take Anything – Every rock, tree, bone and grain of sand is protected in a National Park. It might be tempting to take something out of the Park. Don’t. Even if you think no one will ever know. It’s illegal and not worth it.
My son found this beautiful geode on his own!
I desperately wanted to let him keep it as a “free” souvenir from the Grand Canyon. Instead, we took pictures. It was hard and I hated telling him no, but he’s been to enough NPs that he knows the rules too.
STAY ON THE TRAILS – I capitalized this on purpose. Stay on the trails!
They are there for your safety. The National Park Service Agency has found the safest trails and areas for you. They’re protecting you from dangers you may not even see or understand.
And they’re not only protecting you, they’re protecting the National Park.
There are hundreds of places in Yellowstone alone that if you trod them, you’d ruin the landscape. True story. It makes us fuming mad when we see footprints in bacteria beds.
When we were at the Grand Canyon, a lady had left the trail and sat atop a rock nearby. It wasn’t far off the trail, and she wasn’t in any immediate danger, but it still wasn’t wise. My five year old announced (rather boisterously), “Mom, that lady’s gonna die.” I don’t know if she would have, but it wouldn’t be worth it to me to find out. My father-in-law designed walkways for a nearby State Park and he said they’ve had more deaths since they put in the walking paths than they did before because people climb over the rails.
Stay on the trails!
Have Fun! – Visiting a National Park is not like anything you’ll experience anywhere else. No, there’s not games or electronics, rides or mascots. But there is peace and beauty and majesty.
What fun trips do you have planned this summer?