What To Know Before You Go?

You’ve decided to take a trip to a national park either alone, with your family, or with friends.

Do you know what information you should research and what skills you should practice before you head out?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use these trip planning principles to help you, your family, and prepare and Know Before You Go.

Every national park in unique. Environments and hazards can even vary within a park.

National parks offer urban and rural settings with breathtaking views, historical sites that preserve the rich history of America, and a multitude of fun activities you can enjoy with family and friends.

You can experience your park through hiking, birding, picnicking, kayaking, camping, or rock climbing, just to name a few.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observing wildlife in their native habitat can be a fun, thrilling, and educational experience—filled with wonder and adventure. When you follow safe wildlife watching practices, you protect the health of the wildlife—and yourself!

Must-haves include fully charged cellphone, extra drinking water, and umbrella. Extra drinking water for you and your passengers, including pets. An umbrella for shade. A fully charged cellphone.

It’s always important to make sure that you and your vehicle are ready for the possibility of becoming stranded on the highway en route to your destination, but the need is even more critical in times of extreme heat. Being ready begins with—but isn’t limited to—making sure you have the items above before you go.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you must spend extended time on the highway due to a breakdown or some other reason for delay, you’ll need sun protection. In addition to an umbrella, take high-SPF sunscreen and a UV-protective wide-brimmed hat (such as Tilley), hat and wear loose-fitting, light-colored cotton clothing.

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

Tumacácori National Historic Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat strokes, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburns, and heat rash are all examples of heat-related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses are caused by your body’s inability to cool down properly. The body normally cools itself by sweating, but sometimes sweating just isn’t enough. When this happens, the body’s temperature rises rapidly and may damage the brain or other vital organs. Heat-related illnesses are serious and can lead to death if not treated quickly.

Heat related deaths and illnesses are preventable. Despite this, around 618 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather.

When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly.

Anyone can develop heat stress. However, factors that put you at higher risk of experiencing heat-related illness are age (infants, young children, people over 65), obesity, heart disease, poor circulation, fever, mental illness, dehydration, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.

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.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rest often, and in the shade, if available. Soak yourself with water. On days with extreme heat, plan extra time to allow yourself to rest and cool off frequently during your activity. If water is available, consider completely soaking yourself to keep cool.

Take time to acclimate to high altitudes. You body loses more fluids at high altitudes, increasing your risk of dehydration and heat-related illnesses. Allow several days to acclimate to high altitudes before starting any strenuous exercise, like hiking or biking.

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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