Planning To Visit a National Park? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

You don’t need a huge budget or a month off from work to take an amazing vacation—there’s a national park not too far from you, allowing you the opportunity to get outdoors and get amazing content for your social media feeds.

The Instagram accounts for the National Parks Service and U.S. Interior are stocked with stunning inspiration for any possible trip you might want to take.

In lovely Cedar Breaks (National Monument), the air is startlingly clear at its over 10,000-foot elevation. This means the daytime views are grand and the nighttime stars are crisp at this marvelous place. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In lovely Cedar Breaks (National Monument), the air is startlingly clear at its over 10,000-foot elevation. This means the daytime views are grand and the nighttime stars are crisp at this marvelous place. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re still resisting the thought of breaking a sweat in the great outdoors, rest assured that there are a number of unique (and affordable) parks that don’t require too much physical effort and still afford you the opportunity to try something new this summer.

Pick Your Park

The National Park Foundation recently adopted the Find Your Park campaign, which makes it easy to find a park where you can hike, climb, fish, or anything else you (and your travel companions) would like to get into.

The campaign starts a conversation with “what are you interested in?” and helps people connect those interests with parks across the country, starting with places in their own backyard. From arts and culture to living history, to picnicking, to scenic drives, to biking and canoeing, the universe of national park experiences is incredibly diverse.

Carlsbad Cavern (National Park), with one of the world’s largest underground chambers and countless formations, is highly accessible, with a variety of tours offered year round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Cavern (National Park), with one of the world’s largest underground chambers and countless formations, is highly accessible, with a variety of tours offered year round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you visit Find Your Park website, you can choose from a list of activities—such as bird watching and flyfishing—and find which parks are nearest to you.

What to Bring

Once you pick a national park to visit, it’s important to know what things you’ll need to bring to make the most out of your stay.

If you’re thinking of doing something adventurous like hiking or biking, it’s important to stay hydrated and bring bottles of water or a Gatorade, and snacks like granola bars and peanuts in case you (or more likely, the “are we there yet” camp in the backseat) get hungry.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, at the Chickamauga section of the park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, at the Chickamauga section of the park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being outdoors for hours at a time also means you’ll need protection from the sun, so pack high-SPF sunscreen and UV-protective hats (such as Tilley), and bring insect repellant and long-sleeved clothing to be prepared for bugs.

The National Parks Service also recommends making a packing list of things you may need according to the activities you have planned (proper boots for hiking, life jackets for kayaking) and then testing your equipment before arriving so you know if anything won’t work for you before you get there.

Explore events of September 1863 at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore events of September 1863 at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Time of Year to Visit

Of course, finding out the best time of year to visit all depends on where you’re going. With kids being out of school, summer offers many families the best chance to take some time off to travel.

Summer inspires us all to go outside and explore the great outdoors. High temperatures and the risk of heat illness can happen in any national park environment whether it’s an historical, mountainous, or desert park. Be prepared for high temperatures and the increased risk of heat-related illnesses while recreating.

The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects Jamestowne Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects Jamestowne Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink water often. Stay hydrated and drink before you feel thirsty. The amount of water you need may increase if you are exercising. Plan to bring extra water, just in case you need it. Sports beverages can help replace salt and minerals that you lose in sweat.

But if you can hold off a bit, Lonely Planet suggests waiting for what they consider to be the best month to hit the national park circuit: October.

Why? According to the travel guide, October is the best time of year for a few reasons, including cooler weather, fewer crowds, and lower costs.

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestowne Settlement. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestowne Settlement. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parks For the Family and Education

If you’re up for a family road trip, there are many places around the country that will be great for the kids, and won’t give you too much of a headache trying to keep up with them. A bonus? Many of these parks are literally a walk through history.

Take Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in north Georgia and south Tennessee (think Chattanooga)—which was the spot where Union and Confederate soldiers clashed in September 1863. This is the oldest and largest of America’s Civil War military parks.

Explore Yorktown Battlefiedl, the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Yorktown Battlefiedl, the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also the Colonial Parkway that illustrates the English colonial experience in America.

The 23-mile route connects the historic sites of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

For great tours, there is New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where you can explore a massive cave system filled with its own history.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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