Your Guide to Visiting National Parks

Our National Parks are some of the most beautiful places on this planet. With a little bit of planning, you can create memories to last a lifetime. Check out these 7 tips to make your trip to the National Parks the best one ever!

1.Buy a National Parks Pass– If you plan to visit more than 2 parks in a year, this is a valuable investment. The America the Beautiful Pass is valid for 2 people for a year and only cost $80. At $30-$35 a park, this pays for itself quick if you plan to visit multiple locations. You only need 1 pass for a vehicle of 4 people. This pass is good for basically anything with “National” in front of it, this includes parks, monuments, forests, lakeshores, etc. The National Park Services offers a pass for free for US Military, disabled persons, and 4th graders. Seniors over the age of 62 can get an annual pass for $20, and a lifetime pass for $80. This is a great way to save some money and support our national parks.

2. Get to the park early– they say the early bird gets the worm! We try to be in the park by at least 7 AM most days. If there is a shuttle system you can bet we’re on the first bus. This has paid off many times for us. If you are planning to hike a popular trail, make sure you put this trail first to beat the rush (unless the trail is better at a certain time of day i.e. sunset).

Sunrise at Bruce Point for the Peekaboo Loop

3. Go in the shoulder-season or the off-season- If you have control over when you are travelling, try to go in the shoulder season. Visiting parks when they are massively overcrowded can be a buzz-kill. We have had so many incredible experiences in parks by planning our trip at the tail end or right before peak season. We visited Yosemite during the 2 weeks of the year where 4 mile trail to Glacier Point was open however the road to Glacier Point was still closed. This meant the only people up at Glacier Point had hiked there. It was such a unique experience to see this view without all of the crowds. If you go in full blown off season, some of the sites you want to see may not be open so be sure to research that. For example we went to Mesa Verde in November when they were not offering tours of the dwellings which was a bit of a bummer. We did however, have the ENTIRE park to ourselves- seriously not another person.

Glacier Point minus the crowds

4. Talk to a ranger– we cannot say enough good things about National Park rangers. They are SO knowledgeable and helpful. We have found out about trails we didn’t know about, got insider tips on the best spots for sunset, and gotten valuable information on weather patterns simply by talking to rangers. We always make it a point to stop here first. They usually have a desk in the visitor center of each park.

NPS / Jacob W. Frank

5. Visit the National Parks website– This is a great way to plan out your trip before you go. There is a wealth of information and each park has it’s own page. Check out the plan your visit tab for visitor guides, trail maps, shuttle schedules and more. You will also find information on permit only hikes so you can plan out your applications.

6. Follow the Leave No Trace policy- this will help ensure that people can continue to enjoy our National Parks for years to come. Leave No Trace follows 7 principles- planning ahead to minimize impact, traveling and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, leaving what you find in the environment, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting wildlife, and respecting other visitors. To learn more about Leave No Trace, check out their website here.

7. Check out the parks at night- National Parks have some of the best star-gazing. We love going out in the parks after the sun sets and staring up at the stars. Did you know 80% of Americans cannot see the Milky Way where they live because of light pollution? Many National Parks are designated as International Dark Sky Parks which means you have a great opportunity to catch a view of the Milky Way.

Playing with astro-photography in Arches National Park

We hope this post has provided you with valuable information to explore our National Parks. Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!

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