Updated: Jan 7, 2021
I will share with you here a few planning tips I always do for National Parks trips:
1. Getting to know the Park before I book lodging.
- This is a very important step, which I always do in the early stages of planning. Depending on the park, and desired activities, I plan lodging to minimize driving. Yellowstone, for example, is one of the larger national park and is divided into multiple junctions. It can only be seen over several days. If you want to see wildlife, you need to either get inside the park super early like 5am or stay late till 7pm. If your your lodging is in West Yellowstone, it can take easily 2-2.5 hrs. to get to Lamar Valley. The other factor to consider is that wildlife is everywhere so driving in the dark can be dangerous. But the most important consideration for Yellowstone is traffic. If you don't get stuck in traffic due to cars, you will definitely be stopped by a bison herd.
- In sum, always get to know the layout of the park via national park map. You can can get a visual map via google search. Once you get an idea of what hikes or activities you want to do, and then reserve the lodging based on that.
2. Get National Park Pass
- A few national parks are free to enter, but most parks, will require a 3-5 days entrance pass costing $35. If you plan to visit 2-3 parks in one trip or multiple national parks in one year, I highly recommend you get the national park annual pass. You can order this online and it will be sent to you prior to your trip. It is much cheaper compared to purchasing individual passes for each park. You can order the annual pass via this link https://usparkpass.com/
- If you happen to have a 4th grader, you are in luck! There is an "Every kid outdoors" initiative, which gives every 4th grader an annual pass for free. You just sign up your fourth grader with the link below, and print out an emailed pass at home. Simple!
3. Packing: "Less is More!"
- We tend to overpack . Paradoxically, the later you wait to pack, the more you will overpack.
- To avoid overpacking:
- Make a list of only essential items, and depending on the destination, our list might be a different from one trip to another.
- Pack early. I notice that every time I try to pack the night before the trip, I end up with so many things that we never use.
- Especially for National Park trips, pack clothes that can be rinsed and dry quickly. This is an example of the pants I got for my husband; He basically lives in them! https://www.prana.com/p/stretch-zion-pant/M4ST99116.html?dwvar_M4ST99116_color=Charcoal&pos=2
4. Download Google Maps Offline prior to arriving to national park. This is important because once you get inside the national park, internet access is spotty to none. This makes it very challenging when you try to use google maps. Its best to download a bigger area than the park itself.
Here are the steps to download Google Map Offline:
a. On your iPhone or iPad
- open the Google Maps app .
- Make sure you're connected to the Internet and are not in Incognito mode.
- Search for a place, like San Francisco .
- At the bottom, tap the name or address of the place tap More .
- Select Download offline map. Download
b. On your Android phone or tablet:
- Open the Google Maps app .
- Make sure you're connected to the internet and signed in to Google Maps.
- Search for a place, like San Francisco.
- At the bottom, tap the name or address of the place-> Download.
- Select Download offline map -> Download.
5. Download Gypsy APP if available @ https://gypsyguide.com/
- Gypsy app is a narrated audio guided tour. Once you downloaded the app, it doesn't need internet access to play it. Since the app uses satellite GPS, it knows which part of the park you located. As you drive through the park, it will narrate facts, history, tidbits, and other useful info - just like having a tour guide in your car. This app is a genius idea, and will enrich your experience. We've been using for all the national parks that the service is available. It costs from $6-14 depending on location but is not available for all national parks.
6. Buy A cooler and pack lunch each day:
- We usually buy a $13-16 Walmart cooler and purchase cold meats, snacks and drinks after we pick up our car rental. There are many reasons why we do this for each national park trip. First, it saves us tons of time. It's not always easy to get to a restaurant inside the park to eat and some are far away. Every time you choose the restaurant option, you've lost an hour or two easily.
- If you choose to picnic, I can't image a better place than inside the national park. You can easily find a place to sit down to eat pretty much anywhere and almost every place we stopped at is just beautiful.
- I would recommend learning about bear activities in the park that you plan to visit. In certain parks, you will need to choose designated area and clean up after, so you don't attract bears.
7. Junior Ranger Program
- This is super fun for the kids. We started our #NationalParksJourney when our youngest was 6 yrs. old, and have been doing Junior Ranger badges ever since. It's something for the kids to do during the down time, and helps the kids learn more about the parks. If provided the choice, choose the wooden pins instead of the plastic ones. The plastic ones tend to smudge easily.
The collection of Junior Ranger Badges from our recent trip to Utah and Florida National Parks.
- Be prepared to splurge some money for souvenirs. We often get T-shirts, hats and coffee mugs. The products are surprisingly well-made, have an heirloom quality, and remind of your travels every day. Our kids love wearing T-shirts from national park trips
Some of the coffee mugs from our National Parks collection!
Fall foliage along the Scenic Byway 12 through Grand Staircase Escalante