Before you hit the road to visit national parks, review our list of travel tips to help you make the best of your summer adventure.
Ah, summer vacations! If you’re planning a visit to our national parks this travel season, here are tips to help you have the most enjoyable experience while protecting the places you love.
1. Reserve your spot, if needed
Check out NPCA’s “Know Before You Go” website for the latest scoop on reservation and timed-entry systems at some of our more popular national parks.
The National Park Service has implemented these systems at nine parks to ease crowded conditions and improve the visitor experience while minimizing harm to these treasured places. You can compare the process to a museum or movie theater’s way of ensuring space for each guest.
Visitors say they like this approach. Of those surveyed at Arches National Park in 2022 about its pilot time-entry system, 84% indicated that they would like to have a reservation system in place for future visits. A majority, 89%, successfully acquired a timed entry ticket for their visit — and of that number, 98% were able to enter on their selected day.
2. Recreate responsibly
The Park Service’s Recreate Responsibly webpage offers tips by activity and topic, plus resources on the Leave No Trace philosophy and 10 essentials to have on hand for first aid, emergencies or sudden changes in plans. Also, be sure to check your park destination’s own website for specific alerts and information for safety and how to protect the park.
Use the social media hashtag #RecreateResponsibly to stay up to date on safety guidance and share with others how you enjoy national parks in safe and responsible ways.
3. Identify charge stations for your electric car
Planning a national park road trip with an electric car can require some online sleuthing to plot out charging stations along your route. To help, NPCA has designed an EV infrastructure map that puts everything you need within a click.
From the map, you can determine that Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, has no in-park charging stations, but its gateway community of Estes Park offers nearly a dozen — including one just outside the park entrance. National Parks magazine recently featured one park EV user’s experience at Yellowstone.
NPCA’s map also details which parks offer public transit so you can avoid the hassle of driving and help reduce traffic in parks.
4. Bring your own water bottle (and shopping bag)
Plastic waste — such as beverage bottles, plastic bags and food packaging — is a significant source of landfilled waste in national parks. NPCA has been working with industry leaders to launch new strategies that will eliminate the sale and distribution of single-use plastics in our parks.
You can help the effort by bringing your own refillable water bottle and using a park’s refill stations or water fountains. Bring a reusable bag for all your shopping, too.
When you see the Park Service and its vendors offering more Earth-friendly product containers, such as aluminum and paper, please choose those instead of plastics. Encourage other stores to carry Earth-friendly containers, too. Be sure to recycle the plastics you do use and skip the straw if you can.
5. Wear the proper sunscreen
Do you know what’s in your sunscreen? If it contains synthetic chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate or avobenzone, it could seriously harm coastal ecosystems.
If you’re visiting any of the 88 park units along the oceans and Great Lakes, the Park Service urges you to use sunscreens with minerals — specifically, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — instead of chemicals.
Sunscreen washes off, and chemical-based sunscreens have been shown to bleach or deform corals and impair the growth of green algae, which affects the entire food chain.
Because chemical sunscreens can harm the ecosystems of inland lakes and ponds as well, the Park Service recommends always choosing mineral-based sunscreens to protect the environment.
6. Take better photos
We all want to bring home fabulous images from our national park visits. But sometimes it can be challenging to capture with a camera the beauty we see with our own eyes.
One NPCA staffer shares tips to get more confident with your camera and make your images stand out — from doing some advanced planning to finding more creative angles and following rules of composition.
And, of course, safety first! Remember to leave no trace, stay on the trail and keep your distance from wildlife.
7. Hike with confidence, alone or with kids
Whether your outdoor adventure features just you and the landscape or includes multiple generations of family members, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your chosen park’s trails. Park Service websites include hiking information — look under the Plan Your Visit tab and click Things To Do. Downloadable maps are often available.
If you’re hiking solo, an NPCA staffer shares her tips on how to prepare, what to take along and what mindset can best support your journey.
If you’re hiking with kids, we offer creative tips on how to make the journey just as fascinating as the destination — such as getting children involved in the hike planning, breaking the walk into manageable chunks and giving kids time to explore nature up close.
If you’re looking for inspiration, consider NPCA and Rizzoli’s latest coffee table book, “Hiking America’s National Parks.” It includes stunning photography and detailed information for people of all hiking abilities.
8. Find dark skies and enjoy the stars
National parks are some of the best places in the world to appreciate dark night skies because the Park Service works to protect these places from the increasingly prevalent effects of light pollution.
Dozens of national parks around the country have earned designations as International Dark Sky Parks and Sanctuaries. Many of them have astronomy programs where people of all ages can learn more about the wonders of the night sky — and all have places to spread out a blanket to enjoy the darkness.
9. Share your story
Did you have a great time in a national park? Tell us about it! Let others know about your park adventure, too, through NPCA’s Share Your Story webpage. You can see photos and read inspiring testimonials from people across the country who — just like you — value protecting and preserving our national parks.
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About the author
Linda Coutant Staff Writer
As staff writer on the Communications team, Linda Coutant manages the Park Advocate blog and coordinates the monthly Park Notes e-newsletter distributed to NPCA’s members and supporters.