10 Tips For Visiting The National Parks in the U.S.
We really enjoyed our quick tour of some of the National Parks in the Western U.S. We were glad we decided to squeeze this tour in before the winter season would limit our movement. If we were to give you a few tips for visiting the National Parks they might include ….
1) Don’t Rush
One of the biggest tips for visiting the National Parks is to not just rush through to “tick the box”. While each park has one or more main attractions, there are lots of different things for different tastes if you slow down and explore. Yellowstone was so much more than just Old Faithful. Grand Canyon North Rim is missed by about 90% of visitors and we think that is a mistake. Sometimes you just need to stop and play with the chipmunks and squirrels!
2) Stay Close To The National Park
If possible, try to get accommodations inside the park to allow you more time to explore. Because we travelled so late in the year, we had to find spots outside the parks and travel time in and out limited us a bit on how long we had to visit. Next time we will plan better.
But because we didn’t stay in the park, we got to see more towns in Wyoming! We got surprised in Gardner with our first “close encounter of the animal kind” when the mule deer walked right up to our car and in Jackson, we got to see the town in full fall colour.
3) See More Than One Park
While they are all National Parks with large green spaces and wildlife, each offers some very unique sights that are worth seeing. If you are doing a road trip, make sure to check out in advance what National Parks are close to your travel route. We had originally not planned to visit Yosemite, but when we found ourselves on the highway that would go right through this park, it was an easy decisions to add this park.
4) Buy An Annual Pass
Unless you are only visiting one National Park, it makes way more sense financially to buy an Annual Pass. While a single visit pass gets you 7 days in one park, the Annual Pass gives you access to almost all of the parks for a whole year. There are also discounted rates for seniors and for the military and some days where park admission is free.
You can spread out your visits so you don’t get overwhelmed in one trip and you can maybe even try parks in different parts of the U.S. Our first tour of the National Parks was on the west coast. Our travel plans for 2016 may include a road trip on the east coast of the U.S. and we would plan to add in east coast National Parks.
5) Get Out and Walk
One of the tips for visiting the National Parks that we failed on was to take the time to get out and walk around. You should plan your timing to ensure there is time to stop regularly as you go through the parks. We did less easy hiking than we would normally do on a park visit, mostly because we were not staying at each park for more than one day. But when we did wander around, we found some treasures.
6) Do a National Parks Tour Before the Snow Falls
We kept watching the weather and checking on road conditions in the middle of October but luckily it was a mild fall and none of the routes we wanted were closed yet. Had we waited to do the National Park tour when we ultimately left Vancouver in December, it would have been a very different tour. It was interesting to watch the Instagram pictures in the winter and see the contrast in views with snow covered vistas. But once the snow flies, you might miss some vantage spots that we got in the fall.
7) Ensure You See From Multiple Vantage Points
My top suggestion for travel and photography in general but one of the most important tips for visiting the National Parks is to ensure you go up to higher viewpoints and spots pointing in different directions. You can learn how to save instagram pictures, find some different angles you’re interested in, and then carry a handy reference board around with you. Some apps even allow you to plan routes based off of image exif data. The views can be dramatically different. The North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon are very different. The view of the Half Dome at Yosemite is much more dramatic from the top of Glacier Point than it was down in the valley.
8) Watch for Wildlife
There is lots of information available about how to protect yourself and the wildlife. Read it. Practice it. When you are driving slowly through the parks, keep you eyes peeled and you will be delighted with what you can see from a safe distance.
And if you run to get back in your car, make sure you don’t drop your cell phone – which I did twice. It was a good thing that my cell phone had a sturdy extra battery pack on it that protected it in the fall!
9) Be Prepared For Car Problems
This is true for all road trips but when you are travelling in parks with limited services and especially in off season, you need to be sure you are not stranded. The battery in our car door fob triggered an alarm the night before we headed into Grand Canyon National Park and we went searching immediately for a replacement battery. With all electronic locks, you do not want a failed car door fob! On that same leg of the trip, we almost had to coast into Grand Canyon Village when we foolishly let our gas levels get dangerously low. Don’t test fate and take a chance when visiting the parks.
10) You Will Be Out of Touch
We bought a U.S. SIM for our trip. While we got service once we hit major cities and on major highways, in much of the wilderness of the National Parks we generally had no service at all (including phone service). This is only a major issue if you must keep in touch with home or if you have an emergency on the road. When travelling in tourist season, you could probably find someone close by to help you out but in off season when even the park services are closed, you may end up a bit more out of touch than you might want. But then being out of touch with civilization when you are in this much natural beauty is not all bad!
Travelling through the National Parks is a “must do” on any travel wish list. Just make sure you are prepared and your experience will not be spoiled. Hopefully these tips for visiting the National Parks will help!
Are there other tips for visiting the National Parks that we missed?