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.
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.
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.
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.
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