National parks are fun, beautiful, and the perfect way to spend some quality time with nature. After numerous trips to various parks I’ve compiled 15 national park tips that will help you before you head to your next park and while you’re visiting.
When Dylan and I started dating I was on a mission to see all 50 states before I turned 40. He was a willing travel partner who quickly fell in love with traveling, and when we decided to head to Rocky Mountain National Park on a whim one afternoon while we were in Colorado he quickly found his own passion – visiting National Parks.
Since that first trip we’ve been striving to see the National Parks when we’re in the area, so when we decided to plan a trip to Maine it was perfect – a new state and a new park!
When we arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine last week we were ecstatic. Another National Park awaited us the next day and we knew that Acadia was not going to disappoint. We feel pretty well versed in visiting National Parks at this point in time, but we made a rookie move – we forgot to buy and print off our park pass before we went.
While this doesn’t seem like a big deal – you can just pay as you go into the park – we discovered that the main visitors center was closed for construction, so our options were to drive a number of miles to a checkpoint or to another town about 25 minutes away to get a pass from a secondary visitors center.
We knew better, and I got to thinking that there are some universal things you need to consider when you want to visit any National Park:
Print your park pass before you go
It’s no surprise that this is the first tip on my list given the situation we got ourselves into visiting Acadia. Typically you can pay to get into the park at the time you enter, however parks often take care of construction in their warmer months so be prepared to not be able to get a pass at the main gate like you normally would. In fact, save yourself loads of time and have your pass purchased and printed before you go.
You can buy an annual pass for $80, which I would highly recommend if you live near a park. However if you’re in a situation like us where you have no parks close enough to even take a day trip, than be sure you buy your pass before you go and have it printed.
We used ‘YourPassNow’ to purchase our pass for Acadia so we digitally had it, however Acadia, like many other parks, requires you to have your pass printed and in your windshield. The park rangers need to know that when you’re out hiking, camping, and seeing the sights your car is legally in the park. Without you there to show them, they have no idea that you digitally have your pass.
Dress in layers
The temperature when you enter the park will be much warmer than it will be as you ascend up mountains and trails. We experienced 70-80 degree temperatures as we entered Rocky Mountain National Park and high 40s at our highest altitude.
Be sure you dress in layers that you can add or remove to be comfortable.
Don’t speed in the park
Hopefully this is an obvious one, but keep the park safe for you and others by not speeding. Most parks have windy roads and you’re likely to see people walking along them to get to a trail or scenic outlook. Besides, the views are so pretty that you don’t need to speed.
Holidays v. weekends v. weekdays
Another lesson that we learned the hard way – visiting Rocky Mountain National Park on Labor Day weekend. Talk about a mistake! The park was so incredibly busy that it was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the roads, outlook spots were full, and the small town of Estes Park was a nightmare to get through.
Be prepared for incredibly long waits. Be patient, kind, and know that your day will be long.
Less busy than holidays, but likely to be very busy during a park’s warmer months.
We strive to visit National Parks during the week when we have the chance of the least amount of people being there.
These are simply generalizations as a park can be busy regardless of the day(s) you chose to go. Popular parks have visitors throughout their warmer months every day of the week, but if your schedule allows I recommend doing your best to mitigate the crowds.
Know what roads are closed
Just like the streets in our towns and cities, parks can have construction as well. Infrastructure and facilities need to be updated, winter months can do damage to roads, and safety is always first.
Before you go know what roads are closed so you can plan your route accordingly.
Bring a map
One of the most important national park tips that I can offer – bring a map. You are likely to not have cell phone service in a park and you’re going to want to have a map with you for navigation. Most park entrances will give you an official map, or you can print one off before you go.
Additionally, you don’t want to forget all the fun spots you want to stop at!
Don’t forget the bug spray or sunscreen
If you’re going to do any hiking don’t forget the bug spray and sunscreen. Particularly around a body of water where bugs are likely to swarm.
You’ll want to stay hydrated as you drive around the park. Outside of the visitors center you’re not likely to find a place to stop off and buy water, and if you decide to hike around than having water with you to stay hydrated is going to be incredibly important.
I realize that you may be visiting on a warm day, but between bugs and forested area I would recommend that you wear pants. It’s better to protect your legs from bug bites, scratches, poison ivy, or other elements by wearing pants.
Go early in the day
We love going to the park early. We aim to arrive between 7-8am and find that we can usually avoid the crowds. By around 10am-noon you’ll notice more cars on the road, hikers on trails and folks stopped at the lookout points, and the crowds will continue to grow as the day goes on.
Be on the lookout for pull-off spots
National parks are going to have outlook spots for you to pull off on to enjoy the view. They’re often hidden around bends in the road and can sneak up on you, so it’s important to be on the lookout. You’ll be able to grab gorgeous pictures and take time to enjoy the park and the view in front of you.
Plan your day(s) ahead of time
National parks are incredibly large. In fact, it’s tough to see a whole park in just one day, so regardless of if you’re planning on going for one day or more, plan out your day. Decide what scenic route you’re going to take, what you want to see, and investigate the difficulty of trails so you don’t find yourself in a situation beyond your abilities.
Say goodbye to Wifi (or any mobile service)
Because you’re going to be on hundreds to thousands of acres of land you’re not likely to have mobile service. There is no Verizon tower to bring you a signal, so other than taking pictures your phone is going to be useless for the majority of the time you’re in the park.
Know your physical limitations
Be prepared to have to walk to some of the lookout points you want to stop at. While most of these are manageable for the majority of people, if you want to hike than know how the trail compares to your physical limitations. When you do your research ahead of time than you’ll know what trails are manageable for you and can have a great time.
Don’t pet the animals
Of all the national park tips, this one should be the most obvious – don’t pet the animals. You’re entering into their home and need to be respectful. They’re wild animals and can be unpredictable and dangerous. Keep a safe distance, enjoy them, and keep moving.
TELL ME: Do you have any tips or tricks for visiting a National Park?