Dos and Don’ts of Traveling To National Parks

Traveling to national parks results in some of the most incredible sights, sounds, and adventures this country has to offer. As more people travel to these destinations annually, the stated (and unstated) rules of visiting become more important than ever. Below we have listed many dos and don’ts to help you get the most out of your next national park experience. 


Do “Leave No Trace”

This is something you’ll see at every campground, trailhead, and national park entrance. Mother Nature has her name because it’s the way she was created. No one likes to enter a park or trail and see tons of trash everywhere. Leaving trash or even human waste can cause tremendous damage to wildlife and its inhabitants. Please leave the park as you found it or even better than you found it by picking up someone else’s trash. The opposite also applies: don’t take things out of the park such as flowers, antlers, rocks, etc. as this can cause natural resources to become scarce.

Don’t get close to animals

It can be very exciting to see a bear or a moose for the first time, but getting too close can cause a very unwanted encounter with a trip to the ER or worse. It’s also considered a federal offense to get too close to any wildlife. If you’re unsure about how much space to give animals, please check out the park’s website or talk with a park ranger.

And, PLEASE don’t put honey on body parts to get a picture with bear-like creatures when traveling to national parks. Just don’t do it.

Do stay on designated trails

The trails were created to keep the parks and their inhabitants in pristine condition. There might be a cool boulder you want to climb on, but stepping off the path may cause you to step on one of the many protected plants living and thriving in the park. Most parks have thousands of miles of trails to explore, giving everyone more reason to come back to check out all the different paths to wander and new sights to see.

Don’t feed the animals

Feeding animals your trail mix with M&M’s or potato chips will hurt them since they are not adapted to human food. Giving the animals your leftovers or crumbs may cause them to be less scared of people and cause some potentially dangerous interactions between the two. Keep your distance!

Do take lots of pictures

“Leave only footprints and take only pictures”. This ties to the first “do” to preserve the nature and wildlife around you, but you’ll also want to capture all the great memories you’ll make during your trip to the park. Bringing a camera will also allow you to take photos of all the animals and plants you’ll see while leaving them where they belong.

Don’t play loud music

Not everyone wants to listen to your favorite song on full blast. Many people are camping and hiking to enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature. If you’re hanging with friends and want to start a dance party, keep the volume low and be mindful of many campsite/RV site quiet hours.

Don’t smoke/vandalize

Our parks are here for our full enjoyment and escape from work. They are much more pleasant when they aren’t on fire or filled with trash and graffiti.

Do plan ahead

National parks are extremely popular destinations for summer vacations. Most campsites/RV sites are first-come, first-serve, and can book up anywhere from 6-9 months in advance. If you are thinking of doing a summer trip, book early! Especially during holiday weekends. This way you will get the spot you want during the time you want.

Do be flexible

You may think you have each day planned out down to which hike you want to do to see the best view but always have a backup plan. You may hear about an equally amazing, less-traveled trail from a fellow camper, or some inclement weather pops up and ruins your day to hike. Leave some time for serendipity!

Don’t come unprepared

As many parks are out of civilization and away from any stores, make sure you have all the food, water, medical supplies, and appropriate clothing you may need. You should also do some research on the park/location you are visiting. Just because it’s 85 degrees and sunny during the day, doesn’t mean temperatures can drop that night, or it can be rainy and wet later with an unpredictable storm rolling in.

Do talk to park rangers

Rangers aren’t only there to tell people to stop littering and control any crowds; they are there to share everything they love about the park! They spend more time in the parks than any tourist and have some of the best-hidden trails, tips, and possible animal sightings you might want to check out. On that note, you may want to check out any guided hikes or tours in the park to really learn more about the park you’re visiting. Also, those maps they hand out? Not only are they incredibly helpful, but they also make an amazing wall piece to document your favorite trip with all the great hikes you explored. 

Do embrace the retreat from civilization

You are on vacation! With little to no cell service in many parks and campsites, enjoy the sites you’re seeing and the people you’re traveling with. Take some early morning hikes for sunrise and set up a nice campfire (if permitted) to enjoy the sunset. That’s what traveling to national parks is all about!

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