A Guide To Planning Your National Park Trip
The Ultimate Adventure
Taking a trip to a national park is an incredible adventure that will have you in awe and leave you with lasting memories. Whether you have been to a national park before or this is your first time, each trip is unique and exciting. Every trip, though, requires proper planning.
Continue reading for our step by step guide that will help you plan your national park trip and ensure you have the best time!
Badlands National Park, Photo by NPS/ Sara Feldt
Planning Your National Park Trip
Step 1: Choosing a Park
There are 60 national parks to choose from! Choosing the right one for your trip can sound overwhelming, but when you start thinking about your want in a trip, your park list will start to narrow down.
Start by deciding if you want to do a one day or multi day trip. Then ask yourself if you are wanting to visit one relatively close by or are you willing to take a road trip or even fly to the destination? What activities are you interested in doing while you are there?
Once you have these details figured out, visit FindYourPark.com. This website shares information on parks across the country and activities offered at each of them!
Hiker on Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone National Park, Photo by NPS/Diane Renkin
Step 2: Do Your Research
This is the most important step! Once you’ve decided on which National Park to visit, research everything there is to know about the park. The National Park Service is a great resource for this, so head on over to your chosen park’s page on nps.gov.
Read through the park’s “rules and regulations,” check its operating hours and seasons, see if there are entrance fees, and scroll through the frequently asked questions about the park. It’s also important to make sure there aren’t any advisories, road closures, or other important updates under the “alerts” tab of the website.
If you are thinking about camping, hiking, or taking part in any other activities, read those sections on the website as well. You’ll what to know what to expect and what to bring. If you are considering bringing your dog, definitely check the park’s pet policies. Every park is different in terms of where dogs are allowed in the park and each have specific regulations pertaining to dogs.
Be sure to check out our blog post, The Most Dog Friendly National Parks!
Shenandoah National Park, Photo by NPS/Neal Lewis
Step 3: Plan Your Visit
Now that you’ve picked your park and done your research, it's time to start planning your trip itinerary! When we are planning a trip to a national park, we like to check out the “Things to Do” section (found under the “Plan Your Visit” tab on the park’s nps.gov navigation bar). Then we make a list and label each activity as either “must see/do” and “would like to see/do.” This helps us fill up our itinerary with the most important things first. If we have extra time or flex days, that is where we schedule in the “would like to see/do” activities.
Another helpful tip when visiting a national park is to always give yourself enough time for each activity and don’t jam pack your day(s)! For example, if a certain hike says it can be completed in 2 hours, go ahead and plan for 3 hours. That way you can stop along the way and take pictures, or just relax and enjoy the view without feeling rushed.
Mount Rainier National Park, Photo by NPS/Jasmine Horn
Step 4: Packing
You’ve probably heard the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Well, this is true! What clothes you pack can really make or break your trip. Before packing anything, check the forecasted weather and visit the “Weather” section on the nps.gov website. Then pack accordingly.
It’s also important to be prepared for the un-forecasted weather. Pack a rain jacket or umbrella, bring water proof hiking shoes, pack for dressing in layers. It may be chilly in the mornings and evenings, and then hot during the day. Also, only pack clothing that wicks away moisture. This important for all weather conditions, whether you need to stay cool or warm.
No matter what you plan on doing during your trip, it is always a smart idea to bring a first aid kit and extra food and water. If you will be camping, check out our packing list here!
Glacier National Park, Photo by NPS/Tim Rains
Step 5: Enjoy Your Trip!
This is the most exciting part! It is time to enjoy your trip to a national park! Remember to capture the memories however you wish, whether it’s through pictures, videos, a journal, or a blog, you are going to want these memories to last a lifetime!
When visiting our national parks, please remember to “take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints.”
Before visiting a national park, read the National Park’s seven principles to ensure you leave no trace and help to preserve our national parks for generations to come.
Zion National Park, NPS Photo