25 Curated Tips for Visiting National Parks By Seasoned Visitors

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We asked the avid travelers of our National Parks Fans community to share guidance for maximizing future trips. Their earnest replies echoed around this virtual campfire, flowing as freely as trails meandering through sweeping vistas.

Facebook post reads: Share your best tip for visiting any US national park! What to bring, what to do (and what to avoid)

Our recent Facebook discussion captured that communal exchange of adventure-forged wisdom.

The advice in the tips below covers everything from outsmarting crowds to respecting wildlife encounters. But it goes deeper too. How to open your heart to grandeur and return forever transformed by beauty.

Drink in these 25 nuggets gathered over miles traversed and moments etched into memory. May they enliven your own journeys through incredible wild places!

1. Buy an annual park pass to save money if visiting multiple parks

An annual park pass allows unlimited entries to national parks for a year. It quickly pays for itself if you plan to visit multiple parks.

Park passes also enable faster entry at park gates rather than having to stop to pay entrance fees each time. Just show your pass.

2. Take advantage of senior and veteran passes if applicable

Special lifetime senior and free veteran/disability passes allow free entry. Take advantage if you qualify.

3. Study up on trails, drives, and attractions beforehand

Research must-see attractions and best trails/drives beforehand to maximize your visit. Park websites and guides are helpful.

Planning ahead

4. Check ahead for park entry or activity reservations if needed

Some busy parks now require advance reservations for entry and activities. Check requirements to avoid disappointment.

5. Download offline maps to phones

Save offline maps on your phones in case of intermittent cell/data service in parks. Helps navigate trails if you lose the route.

6. Check road conditions/closures before visiting

Weather conditions can close park roads off-season, but even during the season, rockfall and other obstacles can hinder passage in roads and trails. Your best source for that information is the official park websites.

7. Fill up your gas tank before entering the parks

Fuel up outside the parks - gas stations are limited inside and prices are higher.

Gas station in a national park

8. Enjoy different seasons - winter can be beautiful too!

While summer is popular, winter showcases parks in a different light with fewer crowds. A magical sight!

Read more: 9 Surprising National Parks That Are Actually Best to Visit in Winter

9. Arrive early and visit during off-peak times to avoid crowds

Beat crowds by starting early when parks open. Avoid busy weekends/holidays if possible for a quieter experience.

10. Pack plenty of water and snacks

Stay hydrated and energized, especially on long hikes. Water stations may be scarce when on the trail, so bring your own. Most parks have water filling stations near visitor centers, and larger parks usually have stores where you can buy food and snacks.

11. Bring reusable water bottles and use the available filling stations

Reusable bottles with filters allow refilling at stations instead of buying disposable plastic bottles. Eco-friendly!

12. Bring hats, sunscreen, layers - prepare for changing weather

Parks span multiple climates and elevations. Research ahead of your trip and prepare for sun, heat, rain, and temperature drops with protective gear.

13. Wear comfortable, supportive walking/hiking shoes

Trails can be uneven with loose rocks. Sturdy footwear prevents injury and fatigue, helping you cover more ground.

14. Chat with locals and park employees for tips

The best insider advice on when and where to visit comes from those who work and play in the parks regularly. Park employees and volunteers are a great source of information.

15. Take part in ranger talks and guided tours

Expert rangers share fascinating details about wildlife, geology, history and more on these highly informative tours. Check the park newspaper of website for schedules of ranger activities and work them into your itinerary.

16. Respect park rules

Rules protect visitors AND parks. Read restrictions and guidelines carefully and follow them to preserve the land.

Warning signs are posted for a reason. Many parks harbor unique dangers that you may not encounter elsewhere. Heed the warnings to stay safe and protect the delicate ecosystem.

17. Leave no trace

Pack out all trash and leftover food. Stick to trails to avoid erosion. Leave flora/fauna undisturbed for future visitors.

Remember the park adage: Take only pictures and leave only footprints.

18. Stay on marked trails

Speaking of footprints, don't venture off-trail.

What looks like earth could, in fact, be a delicate layer of microscopic creatures that are unique to that area and should be preserved. Or it could be a thermal area where boiling water is covered by a thin crust.

19. Bring first aid supplies if hiking

Have essentials like bandages and disinfectants, if you plan on hiking far away from visitor centers. The nearest point of access for medical help could be miles and miles away.

20. Don't approach/feed any wildlife

Observe wildlife safely from afar. Never encourage dependence through feeding - it puts them and you in harm's way.

Many seemingly docile animals can be extremely dangerous. As many of our page followers pointed out -

Don't pet the fluffy cows.

a bison in yellowstone

21. Carry bear spray in bear country (and know how to use it)

Bear spray deters aggressive bears that get too close. Learn proper use beforehand - better be prepared than caught unaware!

You can buy bear spray in most national parks that are in Grizzly bear country. Typically, you can also find that in local stores.

Carrying bear spray isn't enough. Make sure you know how to use it properly and keep it accessible when hiking.

22. Traveling with pets? Check park rules prior to your arrival

Leash requirements and trail access for pets vary by park. Review pet policies on websites to smoothly include them in travels.

Some trails may be off-limits for all dogs, including service dogs. This is for their own safety, as well as that of local wildlife.

23. Bring binoculars to enjoy sights

Compact binoculars allow you to spot more animals and detail than the naked eye!

24. Pack patience and enjoy the natural peace (Relax and take your time rather than rushing)

Some parks can be very busy during the season. Parking lots may be full, popular trails may be crowded and traffic can sometimes get congested.

Don't forget to pack extra patience.

Also, it's best to resist hurrying. Immerse yourself instead of racing to see it all. Nature's pace is slow and best appreciated without urgency.

25. Most of all, immerse yourself fully and make memories!

Take it all in. Allow awe of timeless landscapes and nature to move you. Cherish the precious moments forever.

Got more tips to share? Leave a comment here and let us and other national parks fans know what they are!

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