We've had a lot of experience visiting our National Parks and we often receive questions regarding tips on hiking trails and where to stay. You can read a lot of our hiking recaps here (I'm really behind on these...like years behind!) but we also wanted to share some of our tips about making the most of your trip.
National Parks are there for us to enjoy but it's also up to us to keep them clean. Have fun on your trip but please educate yourself (and those traveling with you!) on the Leave No Trace Principles!
Our Top 5 Tips for Visiting National Parks
1. Arrive early.
All year, but especially during the busy season, the lines at the entrance station can back up for miles. If you would rather spend your vacation in the park instead of sitting in traffic at an entrance station, we recommend getting there early. Early as in by 9 AM at the latest. If you want to sleep in and leisurely eat breakfast or go out to eat for breakfast be prepared to spend a lot of time in traffic. Not only does traffic back up at the entrance stations but the parking lots also fill up and the trails become crowded.
2. Travel in the off-season.
While this may not be possible for some people, it won't hurt to take your child out of school for a few days or a week. Perfect attendance in school isn't that big of a deal and I bet they will learn a lot while in the park! Now I may have made a lot of people mad, but that's the truth. If your child's school seems to have the same schedule as all the other schools consider taking them out of school for a National Park trip. If you absolutely can't do that, travel at the very beginning or very end of the summer break when some schools may not be out yet or may have started school again. If you don't have children, look up the busiest times at the park you are interested in and do everything you can to avoid those.
3. Pack your own lunch and/or snacks.
We've shared many of our money saving tips before and this is always at the top of the list. Not only will this save you a ton of money but it will also save you a ton of time. Eat breakfast in your room before you leave and pack your lunch to eat on your hike or just at a scenic spot. That way you can spend more time in the park enjoying nature instead of waiting for a table. Use dinner or an off-day to explore the restaurants around.
4. Plan your visit before you arrive but be willing to change plans.
Since many of us plan these trips months (and sometimes years!) in advance it's best to have a general idea of where you want to go and what you want to see. However, there are many unpredictable things that come up like weather, road closures, etc. Be flexible with your schedule! One day while we were in Yosemite National Park we planned on climbing Mount Dana to warm up for Mount Whitney (you can read about Mount Whitney here) but there was a bike race on the highway and traffic was barely moving. We decided to not go into the park that day. At first we were really upset and mad but when we got back to the condo I started looking at books they had there and found a local hike near Mammoth for us to do. It ended up being one of our absolute favorites and it wasn't even in the park!
5. Stay close to the park and take advantage of websites like Airbnb and VRBO.
I use the word "close" loosely here. We've stayed about an hour away from many National Parks and just drive in each day. A lot of the parks we visit are very remote so there's not much around. If you want to stay inside the park you have to book pretty far in advance and it's really expensive. I've only stayed inside one park, Grand Canyon National Park, when I went with my sister and cousin before I really started hiking. Typically, we book through AirBNB, VRBO, or a similar website.
What additional tips would you add to this list?