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