I love visiting National Parks for a few reasons, but most importantly, I love to visit them because they give me an opportunity to see landscapes that are different than the perfectly-planned-beige-Suburbia that can be Orange County. I am able to see mountains, rivers, and a shoreline that isn’t dotted with characters from MTV.
After each trip to a National Park, I get emails from readers looking for specific itineraries and recommendations for trips. I am not a travel agent so I’m not the best person to consult for the closest airport to Sequoia or the specifics of the menu at the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite. I am, however, able to tell you where you can get kombucha and vegetarian food near of Joshua Tree.
If you are planning a trip to a National Park this year, I have a few tips to get the most out of your trip:
Don’t expect to be able to score an awesome campsite within a popular park without a reservation. The reservable sites for places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree get scooped up very quickly during prime seasons (summer for Yosemite and spring for Joshua Tree). If you’re hoping to get a walk-up spot, make sure to have a plan B so you aren’t searching for a nearby motel after driving 8 hours to the park.
The same is true if you have dietary needs/requests or want to go on a specific tour while at the park. We discovered that the town outside of Olympic National Park didn’t have many vegetarian options (thought we did find some great curry) and the restaurant behind our B&B outside Mt. Rainier ran out of food early one evening so we had to get creative with our order…they did, however, have plenty of excellent beer! We expected to find ourselves without many tasty options, so Alex and I packed an entire luggage with snacks — dried apricots, trail mix, fruit rope, and other “trail food” that travels easily. If you have a gluten-free diet, plan ahead and bring some snacks that you can eat in a pinch.
Do your research
I did zero research before our first weekend in Joshua Tree and totally hated our time there. In fact, we had our camping spot for two nights but left after one. We didn’t know what to do after we drove through the park a bit and went on two short hikes. Without a bit of planning, the park came off as a little boring and more of a Boy Scout paradise than a relaxing desert getaway.
Check out the website for the park you want to visit and see what is highlighted as “must do/see” things in the park. Some opportunities in the parks need a reservation (Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park) and some parks don’t have concessions (Like Haleakala National Park)
In addition to websites, travel books and books on specific topics of interest within the parks may be a good option for your research. While browsing sites before your arrival may be more convenient, don’t assume you will have internet access while in a National Park. For example, Yosemite Adventures by Matt Johanson will be coming along on my next trip to Yosemite because there are many more trail reports and color photos and maps in this book than what I am finding online. The book contains 50 hikes, climbs, and winter treks so it’s a four-season book for beginners and more advanced adventurers. Most of the adventures Matt highlights in the book comes with insider tips, like how most people only visit the lowest of the three lakes making up the Young Lakes area and to take the short detour to Dogs Lake on your way out…or to bring a fishing pole to some of the lakes…I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the helpful hints and insider tips I can get when I’m trying something new!
Try something new
I’m an advocate for being brave and trying something new — but this may be something as simple as attending a Ranger Talk or campfire program in the park. If there is an introductory video available, take a few minutes and check it out. On the flip side, if you don’t normally leave the campground when you are in the park, see what is available to you…maybe you can rent a bike and go for a ride, there may be a swimming hole nearby that has great views of the park, or even leave the park and explore the town outside of the boundaries.
Alex and I tried sea kayaking, canyoneering, and building anchors for top rope climbing while visiting national parks. I would like to bike down Haleakala (I’m not very good at riding a bike) when we get to that park and would love to go on a canoe trip through Everglades National Park.
Ask your friends
A few weeks ago, I posed a question on Instagram (I’m @CampfireChic) to see what tips people have for visiting National Parks.
Here are some of the responses:
What would you add to this list?
Do you have park-specific tips you would like to share?
Triumph Books provided me with a copy of Yosemite Adventures by Matt Johanson in exchange for an honest review of the book. While I was given the book for free, the opinions expressed in this article are my own. I only review and share products with Campfire Chic readers unless I believe they will be of use to readers. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns about this partnership or the book reviewed in this post.