US Parks Travel Guide for the Dedicated Traveler

Don't Miss These Amazing Tips To Help You Plan Your US Park Trip!

Whenever it comes to exploring our awesome national parks, there’s no one right way to go about it. However you choose to do it, whether you plan an extensive multi-week tour or a pared down weekend retreat; intend to fill your days with structured adventuring or are ready to kick back, seeing where the day takes you; or you’re are set to visit Denali National Park, Yosemite, or somewhere in-between; all of your choices are valid. Although, it never hurts to have a little guidance and know-how before you find yourself neck-deep in a park tour itinerary. Want to see for yourself? Here’s a quick US park travel guide that should help both veteran park explorers and newbies alike have the best experience possible.  

Discovering Our National Parks

America is a place of varied beauty, wonderfully diverse in its landscapes, climates, locations, and natural attractions, and this is put right on display throughout our US parks. Ready to discover this and everything national parks have to offer? Well, it’ll take you quite a while.

Altogether, there are over 390 individual parks maintained by the US National Park Service, spread over thirty states and two territories, and ready to explore at your leisure. And that’s not even counting the hundreds of other locations taken care of by the Bureau of Land Management or other adjacent departments that are also more than worth delving into on any well thought out national park road trip.

That’s a lot of parks to discover! How do you even know where to start? We’ve got a few tips to answer that very question!

red rocks of Zion National Park

Consider Budget

National park trips can be somewhat deceiving. Their very nature may make them seem like less of a big deal than a vacation abroad, an extended honeymoon, etc., but they still come at considerable cost. Always closely consider your budget before embarking on your grand tour.

Larger parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and more) and those involving extensive travel will be more expensive, whereas smaller ones close to home will be more budget-friendly. Take a look at your bank account and plan accordingly. 

a young man hiking through the Narrows of Zion National Park

Think About Your Interests

Every national park is fantastic, but they’re certainly not carbon copies of each other. They’re all different and unique in their own right and appeal in different ways. For example, some are more conducive to outdoor activities like camping or rock-climbing, where others deal more with arts and culture. Likewise, some are better for fall/winter activities, while others are better for spring/summer. Read up and think about your interests when picking your parks!

lava flowing rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park

Narrow Down Locations

Everyone knows it’s all about location, and it’s no different when it comes to planning a US park trip. Have a preference for the state or town you want to visit? Are you down to drive several hours, or are you looking for something a little closer to home?

Sort these out in your head, and you’ll immediately narrow down your park options to a list much more manageable. 

capitol reef national park at sunset

Decide On Timeframe

Last but certainly not least, picking what park you visit will be partially determined by timeframe. How long do you want to be away from home? Are you craving a more involved, extended vacation?

Is a two-week road trip just the thing you’ve been looking for, or are you trying to pack a lot into a weekend off? Once you’ve decided that, you can take all the other factors listed here to heart and figure out the best park trip without too much waffling and indecision. 

arches national park at dusk

Basic Tips For Road Trip Planning

Seriously considering planning a road trip to one (or maybe several!) of our national parks? We’ve got a few suggestions to ensure your next great adventure starts off on the right foot, so it doesn’t end up on the entirely wrong one. A healthy mix of common sense and a little bit of personal know-how, it’ll make your trip both more successful, safer, and more memorable in the long run. 

vegan breakfast bowl

1. Be A Person On A Mission, But Be Flexible

A major misstep that relatively inexperienced travelers often commit is to be either too rigid and structured or too “go with the flow.” Try not to fall into this trap because it only makes your US park stay that much more (unnecessarily) difficult. Should you try to map out every little thing on the docket, you’ll inevitably miss the spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime moments that make the entire trip meaningful. 

But for the same token, allowing yourself to be too loose and lax typically results in inefficiencies and time wasted when you could be having fun discovering new things and meeting new people. Strive to fall somewhere in the middle. Have a mission, a few things you don’t want to forget. Plan for those and allow plenty of free time around them. Your trip will end up far more balanced and less stressful to boot. 

a nice restaurant

2. Prioritize Safety Over Convenience

Any good expert will tell you that you should always pack light for a US park trip. Too much weight and too much to keep track of is more than a simple headache – although it certainly adds to that – it’s also a hazard. You need to remain light on your feet and able to adapt where necessary, and that’s pretty hard when you’re desperately shoving a ton of things back into your pack every day. Worried about preparedness? Well, packing heavy won’t help you there, either. 

Most of the time, an overflowing pack is stuffed with creature comforts and superfluous items rather than helpful gear. The best thing you can do to pack right is going light. You’ll end up prioritizing the right things then – i.e., safety gear and essentials. A first aid kit, maps, a compass, food and water, emergency lights, repair equipment, warm/rain-resistant clothes, and fire-starting gear should immediately find a space in your bag before anything else. Remember safety first. 

a nice restaurant

3. Embrace Camping At Least Once

Even fans of the great outdoors appreciate comfortable digs, meaning that staying away from the hotels and cabins can be a challenging feat. It’s one worth putting in the effort, though, because they just don’t offer the same experience. What you should be doing is camping. Even if you aren’t willing to nap in a sleeping bag under the stars your entire time at the park, you should commit to doing it at least once. Yeah, some discomforts come with that, but you’ll finally get to experience being unplugged, present, and connected with the world around you. That payoff is more than worth it. 

Most of the time, an overflowing pack is stuffed with creature comforts and superfluous items rather than helpful gear. The best thing you can do to pack right is going light. You’ll end up prioritizing the right things then – i.e., safety gear and essentials. A first aid kit, maps, a compass, food and water, emergency lights, repair equipment, warm/rain-resistant clothes, and fire-starting gear should immediately find a space in your bag before anything else. Remember safety first.

a nice restaurant

Park Activities: The Best of the Best

These are our favorite activities in the US Parks

US parks are often awe-inspiring, an absolute joy to visit. No matter where you’re at, the sights are always incredible, connecting you with nature in a way that many (if not most) of us lack nowadays. Although, the scenic views aren’t the only reason people pencil in visiting a park on their already-packed schedules.

The activities and opportunities for fun are arguably the main draw. Luckily, every park has a little something for everyone. There’s no shortage of things to do. Here are a few of our absolute favorites that you should never pass up.

a high vantage point view of bryce canyon national park

Hiking

No matter if you’re a long-time hiking enthusiast or are among the cardio-adverse who can’t stand it, the entire name of the game is changed whenever you bring US parks into it. It instantly makes this a must-do activity.

After all, it’s an excellent way to explore the park and see all the amazing greenery and wildlife up close and personal. It’s also more flexible than some of the other things you can throw on your itinerary, as trail difficulties vary to suit different ability levels, and you can take it at your own pace. 

 For best hiking spots: Canyonlands, Yellowstone, and Acadia are a few not to miss.

a camera and notebooks on top of a map

Climbing

Our US parks are something incredible all their own, but seeing them from up above is a new level of special – and what better way to do that than rock-climbing? Perhaps it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s an experience that will leave its impact for far longer than your tour lasts.

Just be sure to check in with park rules before randomly climbing the nearest rock face. Various parks around the country will have different rules and regulations. Once you find out you’re good, though, it’s one of the most rewarding activities you can partake in. 

For best climbing spots: Arches, Grand Teton, and Pinnacles National Parks offer some of the most exhilarating climbs you could imagine. 

a family hiking in canyonlands national park with hiking gear

Rafting

Still don’t have enough adrenaline running through your veins, even after a satisfying climb? Don’t hesitate to give rafting, kayaking, and other similar water-based activities a go. National parks happen to have some of the top routes in the country, as well as some of the most breathtaking scenery you simply can’t see while wedded to dry land. 

For best rafting and canoeing spots: Big Bend, Channel Islands, New River Gorge, and Olympic National Parks deserve your attention and then some. 

First-Aid Kit Checklist For Your National Parks Trip

Wildlife Viewing

 For those who want something a touch more low-key but still plenty exciting, wildlife viewing is a perfect activity choice. Thanks to the biodiversity boasted within our US parks, you can find just about any animal you’re hoping to see.

From the tiniest frogs and lizards to the most intimidating bears and bobcats, practically every fluffy, scaley, or squishy friend is accounted for. Even better, many parks have dedicated tours you can embark on, so you won’t miss a thing while also staying nice and safe. 

For best wildlife viewing spots: Don’t hesitate to check out Yellowstone, Denali, Rocky Mountain, and the Everglades.

angels landing, zion national park
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