The National Parks are truly America’s greatest natural treasures, but planning a trip to one of the 58 National Parks can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time to travel to one of the bigger parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone. If you’re in the planning stages, there are a few things you’ll need to know before you go.
6 Helpful Tips for Planning a Trip to a National Park:
1. Book early.
Booking early is a necessity if you want to stay at a national lodge inside the parks. Oftentimes, park lodging fills up almost a year or more in advance, and it can be quite a drive if you decide to stay outside of the park. If you’re considering a trip, check lodging availability first and make reservations as early as possible.
2. Read the fine print.
If you do book a cabin or room at a historic national lodge, make sure you read the fine print. Some cabins are a bit on the rustic side, described as “a bed in a shed,” in online reviews, and many rooms/cabins do not include private bathrooms.
3. Know when to go.
Do your research to determine the best time to visit certain parks. For instance, many parks are most crowded during the summer, but some parks close roads during the winter – (like Yellowstone, which closes most of its roads from early November to mid-April). Spring can be a great time to see baby animals, and during the hot summer days you will need to get out early or stay out late because animals are harder to find on hot summer days. Simply decide what’s most important to you, and schedule accordingly.
4. Get insider tips.
Talk to a Park Ranger or friends who have visited the park before, to get an insider scoop and help you make a list of all the “must-see” sites. Or, if you don’t mind paying the extra money, consider signing up for a guided tour via bus, horseback, or even a guided backpacking trip.
5. Plan each day in advance.
Some parks like Yellowstone are bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all of the hiking and sightseeing options. Again, do some research and map out all the different sites on your “must-see” list, so that you can maximize the time you have. Remember that travel times can differ from what your GPS says (especially if you get behind a big camper or trailer on a two-lane road).
6. Download helpful apps.
Don’t forget to download helpful apps like the REI – National Parks Guide & Maps, a free app which will show you lists of the best hikes at several favorite National Parks. It can also help you from getting lost with satellite maps and GPS tracking, and you can even send your location to get help in case of emergency. Other apps you might consider include: National Parks by National Geographic, AllTrails, Map My Hike, Survival Guide, and Passport to your National Parks.
Start planning now, and enjoy the adventure!