The national park system is one of the US’s greatest treasures. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or wanting to reconnect with nature, a trip to any national park is a rewarding experience. Make the most of your vacation by knowing these essential things to remember when visiting national parks.
Book Ahead of Time
Before embarking on your national park adventure, research the park you’re visiting to know what you need to book. Look at the authoritative website for your chosen park for booking prices and timelines.
Obtain Necessary Park Permits
Some national parks require visitors to have park permits. Day hiking permits are required in select locations, but backcountry permits are necessary in many parks. You will need a permit and advance reservations to camp overnight in the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yellowstone, among other places.
Know Your Priorities
One thing you must remember when visiting national parks is that they are huge. You won’t be able to see and do everything in one trip, so it’s important to prioritize the landmarks and activities that interest you.
Rather than lose yourself in a whirlwind of activity, give yourself ample time at every site on your itinerary list so you can enjoy your experience more. Research how long other visitors recommend staying at landmarks and know the travel times between sites so you can create an efficient but relaxed schedule.
Stay Up to Date on Park Info
The park’s official website will have the latest updates on weather, road closures, and alerts that might affect your visit. Know the most up-to-date information for the smoothest experience, but be prepared to adjust your plans if the weather changes or trails close unexpectedly.
Respect Wildlife From a Distance
National parks are home to diverse wildlife, and encountering these animals can be a highlight of your trip. However, you must always respect that these are wild animals that can be unpredictable.
Maintain a safe distance and use binoculars or your camera’s zoom function to observe them without endangering yourself or distressing the animals. Never feed wildlife, as doing so can negatively affect their health and disrupt how they hunt, forage, or scavenge.
Don’t Let Pets Roam
National parks are fun for the whole family, including dogs and cats. When outside your vehicle, your pet must be in a crate, carrier, or on a leash six feet or shorter.
Stay on Designated Paths
Roaming scenic areas is part of the charm and adventure of a national park trip. Whether hiking, riding a horse, or biking, be sure to stay on marked trails for your safety and to protect the ecosystem.
Most parks prohibit off-road driving, and the National Park Service regulates off-road driving where allowed. Learn the rules for your specific park before going, and always stay on designated trails to avoid widening the path and harming the environment.
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