Before this summer, I had only visited one national park, the Great Smokey Mountains. Can’t say I am not a little embarrassed by this considering I love the great American outdoors. My prideful ass had to change that number. BEHOLD, a journey of 8,000 miles alone to explore what the United States has to offer. Most of the national parks out west being my top priority!
By now, you know my OCD on planning, researching, and losing sleep over my itinerary so needless to say, I taught myself a lot before my trip. Regardless, you’ll never be fully prepared until you get there. Plan all you want, but the unexpected is around every corner. That’s why I am here to give you some inside secret hacks, tips, and tricks to help your next visit to ANY national park run smooth! Grab your hikin’ boots, bitches.
America the Beautiful Pass
I seem to be living under a rock considering I had NEVER heard of this until about a week before my trip. Thank ya Jesus that I found it too since I visited almost 10 NPs on my road trip. For those dumbasses like me who don’t know…America the Beautiful is an annual pass that costs a whopping $80 for an entire year. This includes access to all NPs in the United States for an entire year. AND the fun doesn’t stop there…whoever is riding in the car with you can use it too!
For example, You and your family of 5 riding in the same car only needs ONE pass! This is so perf, right? Especially if you plan on hitting a couple on your trip! A daily pass at each park can range from $8-50! So by going to 2-3 parks in one given calendar year, it pays for itself! Hop on that America the Beautiful bandwagon and save you some money honey! …Okay, see now my southern country grandma accent is coming out…buy the pass, save some money. Check out their website for more info, they probably explain it better than I do 😉
Camp inside the parks
If you plan on going in the summertime (when everyone and their freaking distant uncle goes) I would highly suggest getting a tent or renting a camper or something so you can spend the night inside the park. With summer being peak season, the crowds get wild, and not in a good way. By camping inside you save yourself some grief later on.
>> Less Expensive
Where there are crowds, there are pricey accommodations and tourist traps. It’s just how the world works. Around NPs are worse since they tend to be the only form of civilization for miles outside of the park. Resorts can jack up the prices and you’ll have to pay unless you want to drive 3 hours every morning to explore. Secure a camping site inside the park for a more frugal approach!
>> Closer to everything
Some resorts can still be upwards of 50 miles away from the actual park. This could make your morning commute more than annoying. Not to mention having to get up at the ass crack of dawn just to avoid the crowds! By camping inside you are surrounded by nature you will be exploring, and as a bonus, NPs always have the best facilities and are extra clean!
>> Beat the crowd
No literally beat the crap out of them…ha okay no violence but sometimes crowds turn you into a monster. Waiting in long lines, siphoning through selfie sticks and slow walkers. AHHH the horror. Save yourself a criminal record and stay inside the park to beat the crowds. This means less waiting and more time enjoying what you really came to see!
The Visitor Center is your friend
I cannot express how many times those people in cute safari outfits have saved me time and heartache. I only realized how useful the Visitor Center and its employees were until I reallllllly needed them. No surprise there. Utilize these guys to their full potential. They are so knowledgeable about the parks and will give you a complete rundown of what hikes you should and shouldn’t do based on your ability, where the best places to eat are and how to avoid getting lost! Be nice to them and they will be way nicer to you!
Bring & Drink lots of water!
It’s hot…as balls in most NPs around the country in the summertime. Valley of Fire, I’m talking to you. Even if it’s 60 degrees outside, water is a very important component in having an awesome day hiking and exploring. Sometimes hikes can last half a day (the more strenuous ones). Even the less strenuous could be upwards of 3 hours. In that sun, you will NEED water. I love to carry a backpack that has snacks and drinks in it because who doesn’t love eating fruit snacks at 8,000 feet?
Did you know: In Yellowstone National Park, not only do they sell beer but they allow you to walk around and drink it! You bet your sweet ass I had a beer in hand before noon.
Explore in the morning or late afternoon
You will get so much more done this way. You can finish hikes faster and take in the beautiful landscapes without the influx of hundreds of people. As an added bonus, it won’t be so damn hot!
Call ahead for important National Park information
This item is crucial! I made the mistake of never calling ahead to check closing and roadblocks. BIG MISTAKE. Most national parks have multiple entrances in varying locations…those locations could be closed due to snow, wildlife, construction etc. Don’t waste valuable time going from one end to another when you could have called ahead! Honestly, I could have skipped Crater Lake National Park altogether since 90% of the park was still closed due to snow. OUCH.
Pay attention to signs and warnings inside the park
My first park out west, Arches…I got lost. IN THE HEAT! Pretty sure I was walking in the forbidden territory for a while because I had no idea where the fuck I was. I failed to remember that the little-stacked rocks were there to guide me, and never really paid attention to them on my hike in. These signs and warnings are there for a reason!! Don’t take them lightly and don’t think you know it all. I was especially nervous about getting lost since I was alone with no cell reception. If you travel with a friend or group, obviously you can cry to one another, but solo, don’t risk it. Familiarize yourself with the Do’s and Don’ts so you don’t end up as a Dead’s.
Weather is IMPORTANT!
Hiking in the heat, road closures, altitude changes. As I said before, you gotta be careful and listen to yourself and Mother Nature. We all know she has a tendency of being a cruel bitch sometimes. The summer months which happen to be peak season could see temperatures in the 110s! I tried to visit the Valley of Fire after a long night in Las Vegas, not the smartest idea I’ve ever had. I was super dehydrated, tired and all out of sorts. Thankfully I came to what little senses I had left and got the hell out of there.
Another time…I planned on camping close to The Grand Tetons, but realized that hours before it would be 35 degrees with chances of snow! I’m fine with the cold, but camping in freezing rain/snow isn’t for me. Temperatures and weather, in general, can change at the drop of a hat so you need to be prepared at all times and make sure to have a couple back up plans!
Try to visit in the beginning or end of season
There is a small window for the true National Park experience. Which sucks ass. Not many people like the hustle and bustle of peak season, but you can avoid this to an extent by going towards the beginning or the end of the season. I remember going to see the Grand Canyon in November! Not quite ideal conditions but still just as amazing AND half the amount of people! You’ll get better pictures, have to wait in shorter lines (if any) and have that one-with-nature feeling!
If you learned anything here today, it’s to be conscious of the weather, drink some water and always have a backup plan!! Do yourself a solid favor and visit a National Park this year. Between my tips and tricks, you are sure to have the best time exploring, and hiking what the NPs have to offer!
Have you been recently or in the past and know some other awesome tips? I’d love to hear what I’m missing! Also, if you want to see a short snippet of my entire trip then WATCH THIS! It’s only a minute long so GO LOOK. Until next time…
xo Bonvoyage Babes
I’ve gone to Yosemite and Grand Canyon but I’m hoping to go to more. Thanks for the tips.
Justine | The Iridescent Wings
I’m going on a month long road trip through some of the national parks and I will definitely be saving these tips for later! The All-American Pass is a great tip and way to save some money. Thanks for your post!
I just got back from mine! You’ll have a blast!
Great tips! And although it is going to go from $10 to the same price as the yearly pass in just a few weeks, the golden pass is an even more amazing deal. It is a one time purchase for lifetime use for seniors. And, just like the other pass, passengers are free! I’m trying to convince my mom to buy it and go with me on every national park trip I take. She is game for anything within 2 hours of home. It still might be worth it, as I go to Assateague and Bombay Hook every year!
No way really? Wow everything keeps changing so much but thanks for informing me!! Its free for people in the military as well!! Definitely do the parks though because they are amazing!
I would add avoid going on free admission weekends! lol that’s usually when I see the parks and they’re way too packed, would love to get a pass!
I didn’t even know they had free admission weekends so thanks so much for the tip! Seems like I am missing a lot I should have known haha.
I love visiting National Parks, there is so much beauty inside of them! I had no idea that the pass was that cheap. It’s so expensive to enter the parks, it makes so much sense. And for those who have kids in 4th grade, they are eligible for a pass for the year, which is a great way to road trip with kids!
Oh awesome!! Yes the parks are spectacular. I want to visit every single one of them!! Great extra tip too, thank you!
I did a US road trip and bought the annual pass, what I didn’t know is that more than one person in the same car could use it. If I’d have been with someone else we’d have probably have bought 2! I laughed when you mentioned slow walkers, these guys really get in the way don’t they! I didn’t know about the open beer rule in yellow stone!
I know I had no idea either!! You learn so much on the road honestly!
The annual pass is incredible! $80 for a full year with the added bonus of who is with you gets in for free as well, what a deal! I need to do this when I come to the states as I love nature and camping!
You need to visit, America is such an amazing country!
Great informative guide to staying the the national parks! Thanks for sharing 🙂 I love your pictures!!
I had no idea that a yearly pass to all the US national parks cost only $80! That’s a bargain, considering it’s by the carload rather than the individual! I would so use that pass during all four seasons. Like you, I also dislike crowds during peak hiking seasons so I try to hike around their schedules and times!
Right?? It is such a good deal if you think about it.
The America pass is a real bargain for $80. I’d definitely use it to visit more national parks if I lived in the US! Good tips about starting the hike in the morning; I prefer to beat the crowds and the heat!
Yeah the heat with the crowds combined make for a pretty annoying day if you don’t beat it.
These tips are great, they’ll come in handy if I’m ever in the US! Those national parks look amazing too. I’m not sure I’ll visit the US too soon though..
Well, when you do, definitely hit some National Parks. They are stunning!!
Whoever thought of the American The Beautiful Pass is a genius and you are cute at heart for sharing it. Haha. I would also dedicate some part of my traveling adventure to discovering parks. I have always done more of culture and cuisine.
thanks doll, yeah I love the culture and cuisine as well trust me. But America I feel like has so many things wrapped up in one that there is almost too many outlets to explore. I love it.
I’ve been to many national parks, but I started young (like 6 years old young). Really was the start of my traveling days, being a six year old Boss hiking and seeing wild animals and lots of natural phenomena. Nice you did this trip! Cheers!
Thats awesome!! When I have kids one day that is exactly what I’ll be doing is taking them on trips like that!
These are great tips to explore the National Parks. One of the top sights I would like to see when in US. Nature’s glory at its best.
America the beautiful pass sounds like a great option to save lots of $$ but are they open for foreigners too? It would be such a dream come true if they are. And gosh you got lost while solo? I would have freaked out terribly if I were in your place.
Yes it is open to everyone!!! Just have your passport so after you buy it you can show it to them at every place. Yeah I was lost while in the desert heat…a mild freak out happened then I never let it happen again haha.
I love the idea of the America pass card. I’d love to see more American national parks but find it odd you have to pay. In Australia most national parks are free!
No way free??? That’s amazing!
I’ve been to Grand Canyon and Yosemite – definitely loved both! We are going to California this October and hoping to visit another one. I agree about staying hydrated and bringing food! Sometimes it’s cheaper to bring packed lunch and all especially if going on a trail hike or walking path.
I loved the Grand Canyon but didn’t get to go to Yosemite. It’s totally cheaper especially if you have a large family. At least to eat lunch you packed because the prices inside the parks were outrageous.
There is so much amazing outdoor space to explore in the USA, it’s so true of the UK too and I haven’t really visited any of our national parks at all – definitely going to get out exploring soon!
Yeah I think we all seem to forget whats waiting in our own back yard!!
Wait this is Awesome!! I was going to go to Yosemite National Park in a couple of weeks and got cancelled by the tour and haven’t found any other tour that can take me. I’m definitely considering going to this national park instead! Thanks for sharing. – Mariela
Just do it by yourself. You got this!!
Thanks for the great tips, I’ll definitely be saving this for when I eventually make it to the National Park!
Viola xo | A Piece of Viola
Great guide! Exploring national parks means adventure and getting connected with nature. Thanks for the helpful tips. 🙂
I would love to camp inside the park during my trip there, hopefully next year. Getting hold of that pass seems to be the best bet. Hope I get to see Crater Lake National Park too, depending on when I’m heading there. Cheers!!
So much easier to do so. I’d call Crater Lake when you plan on visiting so you don’t get stuck driving forever like me!
Awesome post! I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon in the USA, but would love to explore and hike a lot more National Parks next time that I’m there. And how cool is that pass? So cheap, that would be the first thing I would get if I ever move there XD
The pass is a definite must buy if you’re living in USA, I guess! I had a similar pass in UK for all heritage sites! It saves a lot of money indeed! Camping inside the forests sound like such an awesome thing to do! I’ve camped once in a forest in India. Absolutely awesome tips.
Well, I think I’m all set after reading this one. Excuse me while I go and pack my bags!
I am a huge fan of the United States National Parks. Love all the tips and tricks you shared. I too follow many of them. The annual pass is such a good investment.
This is such a cool article and it made me feel like I want to visit this place ASAP
This is definitely on my bucket list!
Loving this post! I would love to dedicate a few months traveling around to different parks. Thanks for the inspiration!
We visit Arches at least once each year, and yes, getting lost in the heat would not be good – and that would have been so scary! WATER and a MAP are your best friends. And for sure take advantage of the National Parks Pass.
This is a great post! I’m hoping to do a road trip across US someday and of course, it would be sooo fun to visit some of the national parks over there. thanks for the tips!
A road trip is honestly the best way to see the whole country. You seem some crazy, amazing, unexpected things that you just won’t see if you travel by plane!
we are getting ready to move by a national park in the mountains and this article make me that more excited! Can’t wait for the great outdoors!