I want to warn you that I am not an expert in traveling, nor do I think myself an expert in anything.
As a National Park Ranger, I have noticed a few things that visitors seem to not know when visiting National Parks. When I meet upset visitors while working I do my best to make them feel better when they leave me. Usually when a visitor is upset it is due to three possible things; they’re tired, hungry/dehydrated, or misinformed. I want you to enjoy our National Parks, because they were set aside for us to enjoy and share with our families and friends. Check out my Support Our Parks page.
Here are some tips (mostly reminders) on ways to make a trip to a National Park a little more enjoyable.
DO SOME RESEARCH: Have you ever checked to see if their were any National Park Service Units near you? There are 401 different National Park Units throughout the Country! Differing from battlefields, monuments, rivers, parkways, recreation areas, lakeshores, and seashores. When you find a park you want to visit, look at their website online.* Find out what you can do, and if certain activities need any tickets or extra fees. When you get to the park, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND stopping and visiting with rangers at a visitor center or Ranger Station. I know some of you may not like talking with us, but it will help you get oriented quickly in the park. The visitor centers are also a great place to get information on specific activities you are interested in doing. With today’s technology getting better and better as the years pass, some places within the parks now have pretty decent cell phone signal. Check out these National Park Apps for more help in doing your park research.
*Here’s a secret tip! Take the first two letters of each word in the park’s name and add it to the end of http://www.nps.gov/
(For Example: Mesa Verde National Park = http://www.nps.gov/meve or Yellowstone National Park = http://www.nps.gov/yell)
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT: Many visitors come up to me and say “Well, what is there to do here? What do you recommend?”. There is nothing wrong with these questions …… if you add more to them. Tell me what you like doing. Do you like hiking and do it often? Do you enjoy wildlife viewing and hope to see certain animals while here? Are you really into plants or birds? Talk with us! We want you to have the best trip possible, and if we don’t know what you like or really hope to do, we can’t guide you in the right direction. If I don’t know you are a big hiker, and enjoy long hikes, me recommending to do a short easy hike won’t make your trip special. This is where doing your research before hand helps, it gives you a direction to start asking questions in. Now don’t worry if you don’t have access to the internet to be able to do research. You can always do it when you enter the Visitor Center.
KEEPING THE MEMORIES: The National Park Service offers many different opportunities for you to learn more about the park. The Junior Ranger Program, the Wilderness Explorer, Geo-Ranger, Junior Paleontologist, and many more! Each park is different, so be sure to ask what the park at the Visitor Center. Most parks shouldn’t object if you as an adult wants to complete the Junior Ranger program. Even if you don’t want to get the badge, it is a great way to have information right at your fingertips! Last summer I did a campfire program on Encouraging a Child-Like Curiosity. There are other ways to keep memories and keepsakes of your visit. From collecting Passport Stamps from each park you visit, magnets, and more! Check out this post from The Long Way Around for more ideas on how you can keep those memories.
GETTING IN: You’re at the entrance of your National Park, and it kinda feels like the entrance fee is expensive. What many people don’t understand about the fee to enter National Parks is the fact that not all parks collect and entrance fee. Only 133 of the Nation’s 401 National Park Units have a fee to enter the park, the parks that do have a fee, 80% of the money collected goes directly to that park for improvements! (New bathrooms, education/visitor centers, roads/trails improvement, park ranger salary, etc) The remaining 20% is then put into a special account for the other 268 parks that do not have an entrance fee. This was put into act by the Federal Recreation Lands Enhancement Act; be sure to check out Sec. 7, which is about page 20. (If you like to read legal mumbo jumbo! As you can tell, I do not!) If you plan on visiting more than 4 National Parks in a year, you should look into purchasing an annual pass for $80. If you are a senior over the age of 62, there is a Senior lifetime pass available for $10. Discounted or free passes are also available for active US Military members and people who have permanent disabilities. Please, check out what the America the Beautiful Federal Recreational Land Passes has to offer!
BE PREPARED: Most National Parks do offer some type of concessions inside the park, especially if it’s a big park. However, you should always be ready with lots of snacks and drinks with you. With all the exploring and sightseeing you will be doing, you’re going to be hungry and thirsty quite often! Bring lots of clothes, for both warm weather, rain, or cold weather. Sunblock, bug spray, and a first aid kit can always come handy as well. One of the saddest parts about visiting National Parks is the pet policy of each park. Be sure to check the rules and regulations when it comes where and when your pet can be. Understand that these restrictions are for the safety of the resources and animals in the park. Most importantly, for the safety of your pet. Also know that you can get a ticket in a National Park or be arrested for criminal behavior! Law Enforcement Rangers are there to protect the resources as well as the visitors and the laws/regulations are there for our safety. Follow the speed limits, stay back the requested distance from animals, and use common sense. Before heading into any park, fill up your gas tank at the last city you drive through. Some of the big parks do have gas stations located inside, but its going to cost ya just a little bit more!
Your plans will change. It’s going to happen, no matter how much you fight it.
There are more and more studies finding a positive correlation to spending time outdoors with our mental and physical health.
However, you won’t feel those positive benefits if you are worried or upset about things. Living in the Free World has some great tips on ways to maximize your fun when visiting a National Park!
Talk with a ranger if you have any questions. Like I said, we want to make sure you have a good visit.