Things to know before you go: Tips & Tricks you need to read before visiting all of the USA National Parks
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Table of contents
- Visit all National Parks
- When to go
- Things to do to prepare to visit any National Park
- Some of the Most Popular USA National Parks
- Road Trips to visit all National Parks
Visit all National Parks
Visiting all of the National Parks is definitely an item that’s on many travelers bucket lists. National Parks truly are for everyone! You can experience them in so many different ways by camping within the parks back country style, staying in a lodge or cabin (if the park has them), driving through during the day and stopping at the many stop offs of interest and lookout areas, or completing day hikes. Even a combination of all of them! What’s amazing about National Parks and why people should make a point to visit at least some of them (if not all of the National Parks) is their diversity and beauty! This world and country is so amazing so get out and see some beautiful landscapes in the National Parks of the United States.
When to go
Many people will visit National Parks during the summer. (It’s definitely the busiest time!) But, depending on what National Park you’re planning on visiting shoulder seasons (or even winter!) could be a great time to go and see the park in a different season with wayyyyy less people! But, summer usually has the best weather (depending on the park.) For example, if you’re visiting Grand Canyon or National Parks in Utah winter/spring or fall would be better as it can get really hot! Especially if you plan on doing hiking. So it really depends on your specific situation, what you plan to do within the park or park(s) as to when you should visit.
Things to do to prepare to visit any National Park
Depending on what National Park you’re visiting and the time of year, accommodations both in and close to National Parks fill up fast! Be sure to plan ahead as far in advance as you can to get your top place to stay and lay your head after long days of National Park adventures. Keep in mind, some National Parks have a lot more accommodations within the park vs. others. Regardless if you’re planning on staying in the park or not, accommodations that are close to the parks (including campsites) fill up fast too! Especially in the summer people plan months in advance to reserve for the dates they want to visit.
Park Specific Alerts
Depending on the time of year and where the National Park you’re visiting is located, there can be roads that are only seasonally open and detours. Check on the specific National Park page online via NPS. Or, you can also follow the parks specific account on Twitter for road status updates. But, it’s always really important to check these closer to when you visit so you’re aware of any changes and can plan your day or days in he specific National Park accordingly.
Are Advance Reservations Required?
Additionally, some National Parks require advance reservations or entry times in order to keep crowds controlled. Researching if there are requirements like this is very helpful! It depends on the specific National Park, but there’s usually a 3 month window prior to the date that you can get a reservation online. But, definitely check on the directions with the National Park Service and the specific park you plan to visit. Many of them offer times entry permits that you purchase in advance during a certain period of time. Some highly trafficked trails or hikes even have a lottery system that you need to enter into. So, as soon as you know when you want to travel to a particular park it’s really important to research these nuances.
When you visit a National Park there is a fee associated with entering the park. These Entrance fees can really add up! Especially if you’re going on a longer road trip and exploring several different National parks in an effort to visit them all. In order to better plan your visit, research the entrance fees in advance but likely purchasing an America the Beautiful pass will result in some cost savings.
You may even be eligible for a free annual pass by being affiliated with the United States Military or if you have a permanent disability. There are also lifetime passes you can purchase as well. The most common pass people purchase is the America the Beautiful pass which grants you unlimited entrance into National Parks for a year. Even if you planned on only visiting one park but stay outside of the park and will travel in and out of the park each day, it would likely make sense for you to get this pass.
Maps & Directions
Be sure to download any maps so you can access them offline. (Cell service can get pretty dicey in most National Parks!) You will want both a paper version of a map and a downloaded version on your devices. Many times when you enter the park, they will provide you with a paper version of the park with a lot of popular places marked, but not always. If there are some more off the beaten path places you’re wanting to visit, having a plan for the days in the park is definitely recommended! Some parks are so large and you can spend so much time driving and back tracking you want to ensure you have a good daily plan so you make the most out of your time visiting the National Parks.
If you’re hiking, All Trails is a great app to use. But again research when you have service and save the information so you can access it offline.
Food & Drink
Some National Parks have a lot of amenities when it comes to food & drinks. However, not all of them do! So, I always plan ahead. I pack snacks for hiking within my hiking backpack. Usually granola bars, dried fruit, trail mix, nuts etc. Nothing that will melt if it gets too hot. Then usually we’ll pack a cooler full of cold waters, gatorades & stop at a deli or make sandwiches to keep on ice in the cooler for a post hike meal. If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and staying in Estes Park, check out the deli and other Estes Park restaurants I recommend.
Another great thing I always take with me on hikes and visiting National Parks is LIQUID IV hydration multiplier. This significantly decreases the chance of you getting dehydrated. There are so many different flavors and you can purchase it on the website and use code WANDERLUSTINREALLIFE for 25% off and free shipping!
Be prepared for a multitude of different climates and weather conditions. Depending on the park, the weather can change very rapidly! Especially if you’re hiking and gaining significant altitude. I always pack my hiking backpack for different weather and emergency situations in mind. For example: I wear layers bringing a waterproof outer shell, usually a zip up or long sleeve SPF shirt and then I pack a t -shirt or tank in my backpack. I always wear a hat and sunglasses usually covering my ears depending on the weather. And pack bug spray, sunscreen & of course water, food & snacks.
Domestic Pet Regulations
Most National Parks allow dogs only in the main areas & walkways and obviously within your car or vehicle. But, if you’re planning on hiking in most National Parks dogs are not allowed on hiking trails. This is usually due to the natural wildlife in the area. However, I would definitely check the guidelines of the specific parks to be sure prior to visiting.
Many National Parks have amazing wildlife. Especially in the more remote parts of certain National Parks. However, it’s really important to remember that you’re not in a zoo you’re in the animals home and habitat so don’t be stupid! Stay back and give the animals their space.
Especially more aggressive animals such as wolves or bears. In the Grand Tetons and other National Parks it is well communicated to visitors that are hiking to bring bear spray with them. Bear spray is highly toxic and if you were approached aggressively by a bear could save your life.
If you’re flying to your destination you CANNOT FLY with bear spray. (Not even in your checked luggage!) So, if that’s your situation plan accordingly as many outfitters in the towns surrounding National Parks will offer bear spray rentals for a fraction of the cost that you can purchase it for. Many retailers, if you buy it will not allow the item to be returned even if it wasn’t used so know that as well!
Please, while exploring our gorgeous National Parks be sure to leave no trace! What this means is to leave the natural lands the same as when you first arrived. This is a sustainable way to travel to ensure the National Parks and wilderness are around for years to come. Check out Leave No Trace for specific details on what this means, and follow their guidelines.
Know your Limits
Especially when hiking, acclimate yourself to the altitude if you ordinarily don’t live in an area with a similar elevation. Take breaks when needed & be sure to bring enough water as well as snacks. Altitude sickness is a very real thing and if your body isn’t reacting well it’s best not to just power through! Take a break and even get to a lower altitude to help alleviate your symptoms. I’m not a medical professional, but just in my own personal experiences I’ve had symptoms of mild AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness.) Anytime you’re at an altitude above 8,000 feet you run the risk of developing Altitude Sickness. So, listen to your body! If you have specific concerns about possible altitude sickness and your health situation consult with your primary care physician prior to spending an extended amount of time at locations with high elevations.
Some of the Most Popular USA National Parks
Yellowstone’s attractions are so diverse & this park is so magical. From the Grand Prismatic Spring, waterfall hikes to seeing Old Faithful erupt Yellowstone is so full of surprises! It’s a large National Park and some areas on the North side are more remote. Visiting from the South you easily can explore Grand Tetons and some parts of Yellowstone during the same trip. From staying in Jackson (or Jackson Hole) exploring Grand Tetons & also Yellowstone makes for a great National Park trip. Deemed the first USA National Park makes it a destination for everyone to visit even if you aren’t trying to visit all of the National Parks, Yellowstone is one of the handful you should definitely be sure to visit! It’s a lot of fun for the whole family.
Currently Glacier is one of the National Parks that is requiring reservations in 2022. However, check directly with Glacier NPS website to confirm the current status on if this is needed for your visit. Glacier is one of the higher visited National Parks. Much of the area in Glacier is covered in well, glaciers (duh!) and with that there are a lot of lakes that are incredibly gorgeous! There are over 700 lakes within Glacier National Park. That alone makes this National Park a destination in itself.
Aside from Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon is definitely a quintessential family vacation. This National Park holds a lot of nostalgia for me because it’s the first ever National Park I visited! Visiting in January, it was snowy and somewhat chilly but it really was magical. The crowds weren’t as thick so at times along the South Rim trail it felt like the park was all to ourselves. This experience really is what sparked the interest in wanting to visit more National Parks. They’re kind of like Pokemon, you’ve gotta catch them all! (haha!)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee sits the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many people visit this area as it’s a relatively easy drive from Asheville, NC and also Gatlinburg, TN. Making it a great add on day or two of hiking and exploring.
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)
Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely stunning. Per it’s name it’s set in the Rocky Mountain range located in Colorado. Driving along the Trail Ridge Road to the highest elevation visitor center in the National Parks System is located at over 11+ thousand feet.
Road Trips to visit all National Parks
A great way to visit many National Parks (no matter where you’re located!) is by planning a National Parks road trip. A popular road trip through National & State Parks from Minnesota to Colorado would include Badlands National Park & Custer State Park in South Dakota eventually making it to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in Colorado.
Some National Parks are somewhat close to each other and you can go on a road trip visiting many in a row. For example, I really want to do a Utah National Parks trip since there are so many located in Utah. I want to visit all of the National Parks, but definitely having to prioritize some over others!
Stay tuned for more National Park content on my social channels as well as the blog as my husband and I embark on a relocation nomad journey this summer!