Planning a visit to Zion, Capitol Reef, or any of the other 418 national park sites, 61 of which are national parks, soon? Keep reading to learn how to make the most of your next national park adventure.
1. Don’t Try to Squeeze in Everything in One Trip
Visiting a national park is a bucket-list trip for many Americans. But if you’ve been dreaming of visiting a specific park, you might be tempted to try to see every landmark, trail, historical site, and overlook in the park, no matter how short your visit. Unless you’re planning to spend a week or maybe several in the parks, it’s best to not try to squeeze too much into one trip.
Instead, decide ahead of time which spots are most important for you to hit. You might even consider ranking them. Then once you get to the park, don’t stress out about hitting every item on your list. Take your time, and be open to changing your plans; often, the best memories are the ones that you never saw coming!
2. Be Prepared
National parks are not Disney World. If you get to the middle of a long trail and find that you haven’t packed the right supplies, you won’t be able to pop in a store to pick them up. Having the right gear along will not only keep you happy and comfortable but could also save your life.
Important items that every national park visitor should have along include:
- Water (on average, hikers drink around one liter for every two hours of moderate hiking)
- Protective clothing, including warm layers and rain gear
- Hiking boots
- A First Aid kit
3. Visit During a Shoulder Season
Each of our country’s 61 national parks is home to unique and stunning views, unspoiled nature, and pristine landscapes. Unfortunately, one thing that they lack is secrecy.
Our nation’s treasures aren’t quite hidden. During the summer months, holidays, and school vacation periods, many fill with visitors. In popular national parks like Zion, the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and more, this can lead to crowding, traffic, and lines.
If you want to make the most of a short vacation or are hoping to take in the sights without crowds of tourists, plan your next visit during the shoulder season. Early to mid-Spring and mid to late-Fall are wonderful times to visit national parks like Zion. The weather is still pleasant enough for hiking, but the heat has lessened and the crowds have subsided. Choose an off-beat trail and you’ll feel as though you have the entire park to yourself.
If you must visit during a busy time of year, consider opting for a less-known part, like Capitol Reef. You’ll still enjoy incredible views and plenty of hiking, but with far fewer crowds.
4. Stop at the Visitors Center
Many park visitors are in such a rush to start exploring that they skip right over the visitor center. But a stop at these should always be first on your list.
To start, they offer a wonderful introduction to the park. Most have museums with interactive exhibits, photos, and displays designed to help you learn about the park and its history. Some have video introductions as well (be sure to check out Zion’s new video, debuting November 2019). These are also great spots to catch up to park rangers to ask about trail closures, possible severe weather, and even ask for recommendations. They may be able to help you plan stops or hikes you never would have known about otherwise!
5. Put Your Smartphone Away
You should pack your smartphone. After all, you can use it for GPS in areas of the park where you have service. It can also be a valuable tool if you wander off and get lost. But resist the urge to carry it around and stash it in your backpack instead.
The last thing you want to do is miss out on the sights that you’re working so hard to see. If you have a camera, consider using it instead of your smartphone. If you do want to snap some pics with your phone, resist the urge to post those photos to social media right away. You’ll have plenty of time to do that while you’re relaxing in your vacation rental (unless of course, you’re staying at Cougar Ridge, in which case you may be too busy enjoying the resort’s many amenities).
6. Leave No Trace
More than 300 million people visit the country’s national parks every year. As you can imagine, they leave their mark on the parks they visit. Luckily, Leave No Trace principles can help visitors minimize some of their impact.
You can do your part by following the principles of Leave No Trace, including:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitor
7. Start Planning Your Next Adventure
While you’re enjoying your national park adventure, why not start planning your next? Make note of trails or activities that you missed during this adventure, and remember that you can always come back to see them again next time around.