How to Plan a National Park Vacation

Choosing to take your next vacation or weekend getaway at a national park means having more than 400 options for your next destination. As opposed to some other vacation options, a trip to a national park is often an inexpensive and adventurous alternative, and planning your trip is probably easier than you think!

Do your research

As with any trip or vacation, a little planning will go a long way, and the National Park Service is a great place to start. The site provides locations and history on each park as well as information concerning fees, pet policies, and special events, among other things.

Many parks have a variety of camping options, including tent camping, RV camping, backcountry camping, and park lodgings. Because national parks are an ever-increasingly popular vacation alternative, campsites should be booked in advance to guarantee the park will have what you’re looking for. RV camping and park cabins or lodges will require less gear, so for beginners and families with small children, this might be a great place to start.

In addition to hiking and camping, many national parks offer a variety of other activities, like climbing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and ranger-led hikes and discussions about the park’s history.

Pack the proper supplies

Whether you plan to spend an afternoon on the trails or a week in an RV, there are some basic supplies that should accompany you on every visit to a park.

  • Plenty of water is key. Be sure to bring plastic water bottles or canteens and to refill them at each opportunity.
  • First aid and emergency kits. Regardless of what kinds of activities you’ve got planned, be it a day of rock climbing or an afternoon picnic, things happen. We slip, we get scrapes, we get blisters; it’s best to always be prepared to cover your first aid bases. It is also a good idea to throw in insect repellent, sunscreen, a pocket knife, matches, and rain gear. The golden rule of outdoor activity is to expect the unexpected.
  • Maps and a compass. And I don’t mean GoogleMaps. You’ll want to have a physical copy of any trails you plan to explore, and it wouldn’t hurt to get some advice from a park ranger before heading out.
  • guidebook to the park you’re visiting is not only a good planning tool, but it will also come in handy out on the trail. This is a must-pack item because it can serve as a navigational tool when a wireless signal is limited. (Our buds over at Wilderness Press have a bunch of national park guidebooks to help you get started!)

Know your limits

A challenging hike towards a scenic view can be invigorating and inspiring, but pushing yourself beyond your limits can be discouraging, overwhelming, even dangerous. Be aware of the level of physical activity you and your group are capable of before setting out on your next outdoor adventure.

Many parks offer myriad opportunities for all experience levels, and everybody starts as a beginner. The most important thing is to be safe while having fun, so be mindful of your surroundings, your peers, and yourself and you’re guaranteed to have a blast while making some lasting memories.

Photo: El Capitan, Yosemite National Park/Fenners


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Tanya Twerdowsky

I am a Jersey girl living in Alabama who loves to run far and eat lots.

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