How to Plan a National Park Vacation

If you want to take a trip that includes breathtaking sites and getting back to nature, look no further than your national parks. National parks have something to offer for everyone, from young families looking for fun to backpackers seeking a challenge. These national treasures are extremely popular destinations, so now is the time to start planning and booking your national park vacation.

Choose a Park


With so many national parks to choose from, picking a park is no easy task. Consider the time of year you plan to visit and what you'd like to do. Trail conditions and the availability of some park features vary throughout the year, so be sure your time of travel aligns with your sight-seeing goals.

Decide on Activities


No matter how planned or unplanned you like for your vacations to be, knowing how you'd like to explore the park will help you make the most out of your trip. You likely picked your park of choice for specific reasons, so start by listing what you are most excited to do or see. Ask for recommendations and do some research. From horseback riding to wildlife viewing and hiking, national parks have a lot to offer. Make a list and prioritize the things you want to do or you'll surely run out of time.

national park vacation Photo by James Nelson

Buy Necessary Permits and Licenses


Backpackers and those who want to do specific activities in a park, like hike Yosemite's Half Dome, will need to apply for permits as soon as possible. Having flexibility either in where you explore or what dates you are available will yield the best results. The popularity of camping and backpacking within national parks is high, so flexibility is key. If you plan to do any fishing or other activities requiring a license, be sure to buy those in advance, too.

Book Lodging


If you want a unique lodging experience, such as staying in a cabin or yurt within a national park, you'll need to book far in advance. Sometimes this means planning a year in advance, other times 4-6 months in advance will do. Depending on how popular the park of your choosing is, even hotels in nearby towns can go fast. It never hurts to book early.

Old Faithful Inn Old Faithful Inn. Photo courtesy of Yellowstone national Park

Gather Gear


Once your national park vacation plans are in place, double check your gear closet. If you're planning on camping, make sure you have the right size tent, a warm enough sleeping bag and all the cookware you'll need. Hikers, check the tread on your boots and if you buy a new pair, don't forget to break them in. Daypacks, fishing gear and backcountry safety such as bear canisters or bear spray are also items to consider packing. Remember that many national parks are at higher elevations, where the days and nights will likely be chilly. Throwing extra layers and jackets in your suitcase will serve you well.

Learn About the Park


Yes, by this point you've done your fair share of national park research. But how much of it was truly educational? Our national parks have a rich history that shouldn't be overlooked. Reading books and listening to stories about the national park you plan to visit makes for a fun learning opportunity, especially for family trips. From the park's history to its wildlife and geological features, there's plenty of knowledge to be gained.

Read More


How America's National Park to Park Highway was Formed

Why You Need to Start Exploring National Parks at Night

Did You Know these National Park Facts?

5 Reasons Yosemite National Park Will Blow Your Mind
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