Six tips for great National Park trips

Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011

We love National Park trips! Death Valley, Zion, Great Smokies, Grand Canyon, Acadia, Denali etc- we visit lots of them on our trips. But the great news is that you don't need to sign up for one of our trips to have an amazing time. Here are 6 tips to help you make the most of your next visit.

1. Stay in the Park you're visiting There may be "nicer" and less expensive lodging outside the park, but there is nothing like waking up to sunrise in a park or seeing it by a full mooon. If money is an issue, then camp. Most campgrounds have hot water and flush toilets, and you'll meet people from all over the country and the world in the wash house.

2. Do some research to discover the most popular trails and then some more research to find better, less crowded alternatives. Example: the Bright Angel trail in Grand Canyon National Park has some breath-taking views but it is also full of mule poop and people. You'll find equally stunning views and a lot less people on the Grandview Trail. Sometimes, though, the more popular trails are worth the crowds - Angels' Landing in Zion is something not to miss unless you're afraid of heights.

3. Go in the off season If you're not sure when the off season is too off (e.g all the trails are buried in snow or it's 120 degrees), call the park. But there are many parks where spring and fall travel are as good or better than summer, and usually less crowded- and sometimes less expensive.

4. Go to at least one ranger talk Whether it's an evening program or a daytime walk, ranger programs tend to be excellent. Over the years I've probably attended over 50 and I can count on one hand the number of disappointments. I've had my love of stargazing reawakened, my understanding of geology increased, my appreciation of human fortitude and endurance strengthened. And they're free! There is no better deal.

5. Spend some time looking at the National Park Service website for the park you're visiting. Start with and find your park there. The basic structure and material is the same for each park but most offer alot of information that will not only help you prepare for your visit, you'll go feeling much more informed. And the websites are getting better all the time. Yellowstone has a series of video podcasts you can download, all about 2-5 minutes, that are fascinating and will really enrich your visit.

6. Explore some of the urban parks and other units in the NPS I learned about the history of the mill girls, the course of the industrial revolution, and rode through a lock system on a barge at the Lowell National Historic Park in Lowell Massachusetts. In New Orleans I learned why no one was buried in the ground and why New Orleans is so much more than jazz and fabulous food.

If all of the vacations for the rest of your life were in National Parks, you would die a well-educated person with a broad perspective on the United States. And hey, you've already paid for the National Parks with your tax dollars.

Denali National Park

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