Since President Ulysses S. Grant named Yellowstone as America’s first national park in 1872, the National Park System has grown to comprise 84 million acres in 408 parks containing some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world. Today, national parks represent some of the easiest, most accessible vacations in the country—a fabulous trip often being a short car ride away for most. And, by using a few practical tips, any vacationer can make the most of the country’s most incredible national treasures.
As with any vacation, the best national park trips begin with a healthy amount of research long before leaving home. The first thing you should look up is the individual park’s website, where you can find details about passes, equipment rental, and nearby lodgings. If you are interested in exploring multiple parks, you should look into annual passes, which include access to monuments and other federal recreation sites. Many parks, such as Yellowstone National Park, are incredibly busy during the peak vacation season; savvy travelers will want to opt for the off-season to avoid the thronging masses you see in the summer.
While individual parks have specific rules, some facts are common across the entire system. This generally includes common-sense regulations about wildlife; visitors should avoid leaving marked paths to keep from disturbing delicate plant life, and feeding the animals is strictly prohibited. Other things to note are unwritten, such as the simple fact that cell phones will almost certainly fail to work within parks.
To make the most out of your trip, begin any visit with a stop by the ranger station, where you will find plenty of helpful maps and expert advice. Finally, don’t forget to pack for the outdoors, ideally with plenty of layered clothing and bottled water.