The United States is home to some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes including mountain ranges and valleys, rivers & bays, and incredible wildlife. Millions of visitors a year flock to places like Yosemite National Park to journey through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains or Glacier National Park in Montana to catch a rare glimpse of majestic animals like the mountain goat.
The U.S National Park Service was founded in 1916 but the country’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park (WY), was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. National parks are meant to protect and preserve areas of natural beauty and provide access to recreational opportunities (such as hiking) and educational programs for people to learn about the natural world around them.
Currently, there are 63 parks with the “National Park” name attached that stretches from the northern reaches of Alaska to the waters of the Florida Keys. There are 419 parks maintained by the National Park Service in total.
Below are some tips when planning your next visit to a National Park.
1. Plan Accommodations ahead of time.
Staying at a nearby hotel or Airbnb?
While most national parks are accessible, it may make sense to book a place to stay either before or after your visit. Hundreds of people visit these parks daily and the parking lots can fill up pretty quickly. Because of this, some parks may require you to book a timed entry pass ticket which will require you to arrive at the park at a certain time. If you miss your designated entry time…sucks to suck. This happened to me once when I tried to get into Rocky Mountains National Park in Denver, Colorado. The timed entry passes went on sale at 5pm. By 5:05pm, the tickets were sold out and I couldn’t get in. Luckily, Eldorado Canyon State Park wasn’t too far away and proved to have just as incredible views.
Day Tripping? Or Backpacking?
Knowing what type of outdoor activity you are prepping for will help determine how many supplies you’ll need (water, food, tents, hiking poles, etc). You know the adage, “If you stay ready, you never have to get ready”…yeah, doesn’t really apply to hiking. Strategically planning and prepping for your trip will save you from packing a bunch of things you will never need.
2. Get a map in advance (GPS, navigation apps, park maps from the ranger station)
Learn to read a map.
It is always great to have a geographical sense of where you are at all times. Even in 2022, technology has not beat out the forces of nature so WIFI is not always accessible in some outdoor spaces.
There are apps designed like Alltrails that allow you to download and save a trail map to your phone in case service is lost. Also, ranger stations are full of maps and they are happy to pass them out.
3. Do your research (park fees, parking, foot traffic, trail lengths and entrances, etc).
Surprisingly the majority of US National Parks are free to enter all year long. COVID has changed things a little with the timed entry passes but even those fees are pretty low. Only 116 of the 419 National Parks Service units charge any sort of entrance fee.
Admission to these parks can range from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle.
The National Park Service offers annual passes for $80 that grants you access to all National Parks along with a variety of other park entry passes available for purchase.
With so many parks available in almost every state in US, I’ve realized that I barely scratched the surface in terms of exploration. There are 9 national parks in my home state of Maryland, I’ve been to one. Where’s a better place to start exploring than in your own backyard.
Are there any National Parks on your bucket list this year?
Let us know in the comments below.
Until next time, Happy Hiking!