Each year, millions of people visit state and national parks across the U.S., many of whom are tourists from other countries. The U.S. has a great variety of landscapes and climate zones, and they all require an understanding of how to prepare for them. Just in time for peak travel season, here are some tips for planning a visit to state and national parks in 2022.
There are several points to consider when planning a park visit. What time of year will you be traveling? What environmental factors (e.g. weather, climate, water availability) could potentially impact your trip? Are you acquainted with the particular challenges that park offers? Will you be staying at a park campground, back-country camping, or at a nearby hotel or lodge? Is there any wildlife that could pose a risk? What kind of equipment do you need for hiking, climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking, or pursuing other activities in the park? Are you driving a car or renting an RV?
The U.S. National Park Service (www.nps.gov) has a wealth of information about every park in its system, which includes national parks and many national monuments. Each park has its own website with a “Planning Your Visit” page to help you research answers to several of the questions posited above. Included you will find nearby amenities, how to access the park, rules and regulations when visiting, weather and trail condition updates, climate and wildlife information, and a schedule for park ranger-led programs. Some parks offer ranger-led tours and even offer audio recordings translated into multiple languages, while some of the most popular parks also offer foreign-language tours (e.g. Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, etc.). Here you can also find links to making campsite reservations, maps of the park, and details about the timed entry permit system instated in 2021 (applies to some – not all – parks). Further, alerts about wildfires, rockslides, road closures and other important information are listed at the top of each park’s website. This phenomenal resource is a must when planning any trip to a national park.
For state parks, the amount of information available is dependent on each state’s agency in charge of their parks. Many of these parks' websites offer the most reliable source of information for planning your visit, including facilities, fees, activities, and special features or sights. Often, state parks are great places to explore and stay at while offering access to nearby national parks – case in point, Dead Horse State Park near Moab in Utah is close to both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and boasts one of the most scenic vistas in the area (see https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse/).
There are a number of parks in the U.S. that offer unique experiences, and many tourists who are drawn to them do not truly appreciate how remote some of them can be. Particularly in the American Southwest, visitors are often surprised at the remoteness and limited scope of amenities offered in or near parks. Take for example the Grand Canyon: long a staple in lists of must-see parks, there is only one town on the South Rim (Tusayan) and a small community near the North Rim (Jacob Lake, about 30 miles distant) entrances to the park. With limited accommodations, if you do not plan far in advance and make reservations, you may find yourself having to driving an hour or more from your hotel or campsite to the park.
An interesting way to visit a number of parks in an area like the Rocky Mountains, Utah, or California is to rent an RV and camp at each park. You can rent from a rental service like www.cruiseamerica.com or from private owners – similar to AirBnB – at sites like www.rvshare.com. Many times, you can find an RV park near state and national parks. These offer a great alternative during peak season, as many of the park campgrounds’ sites have been reserved well in advance. However, some parks do offer a limited number of first-come-first-served campsites that are not reservable online – it pays to check all of your options.
There is a wealth of information – including travel guides, websites, and tour operators – out there to help you plan your visit this summer. Just remember to do your research, check for updates before your departure date, and familiarize yourself with park regulations, safety, and Leave No Trace principles (https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/). Enjoy your travel!