If you’ve read our beginner’s guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon, you may have noticed the extraordinary amount of gear, clothing, and other items that will be required to have a safe and enjoyable visit to one of the nation’s magnificent national parks. Granted, this was just about the Grand Canyon, but many of the same tips and advice still apply.
If you are just going for a day visit, you will most likely pay a small fee to get into the national park. Just in case these parks don’t take credit/debit cards, be sure to carry cash.
If you are doing a day hike, make sure to bring the appropriate clothing for cold, mild, and warm temperatures. None of the nation’s parks are exactly the same, so it is wise to carry a normal backpack with the basic necessities such as food, water, I.D., etc. A first aid kit or substitute will also come in handy should accidents or emergencies occur.
If you are backpacking, the beginner’s guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon is a helpful resource for discovering many of the same items to bring on your trip. Many outdoor experts will agree that they bring the same amount of gear for a three-day backpacking trip as they would for a two week one. This is because you will likely use the same clothes multiple times. We guarantee there won’t be any laundromats down in the parks, so you’ll have to embrace your wild side head on, and that’s what makes your trip the most fun.
Study! Research! Ask!
So you’ve finally confirmed to yourself or your family that you’re going to take a couple days out of your week to visit one of the nation’s national parks. This is an extraordinary achievement because America’s national parks are world-renowned for their diversity and beauty.
Let’s assume you want to at least camp, backpack, or stay in a national park lodge. The first step you should complete is proper and thorough research of the park and its variety of trails.
Let’s take the Grand Canyon for example. If you’re looking at a terrain map of the canyon, you can clearly see the National Park Service’s facilities settled on the south rim. You then have a canyon, which is bisected by the Colorado River. Across the Colorado is the northern half of the canyon.
- Study the trails well and mark important camp sites or natural markers. Furthermore, always carry maps!
Permits are usually required by the National Park Service to stay at the various camp sites at the parks. The National Park Service website provides you with all the necessary information to obtain your permit. You don’t want to be going down to a park only to be told you can’t stay because you don’t have your permit!
- Follow your particular park’s social media channels (if they have them) to stay updated on the latest weather and announcements.
Adequate transportation will be needed to get to the park in the first place. If you’re traveling a long distance, ensure your car is up to the challenge and can withstand an onslaught of the elements. Some of these parks are not easy to get to and require crossing deserts and mountains to get to.
- If you are staying overnight far away from your vehicle, empty it of valuables and electronics.
Some of the larger parks, like the Grand Canyon, have buses to transport hikers from trailheads to the primary facilities. Make good use of them! You don’t want to expend a large portion of your energy just walking from your car all the way to the trailhead.
If you’ve checked out the beginner’s guide to the Grand Canyon, you’ll see a lot of winter specific gear and items listed. This is because the Arizona desert can at times become too dangerous in the summer to hike even with water. That doesn’t mean that it will be like that all the time, but constant weather checks in the days before you embark on your trip are necessary.
The gear you are going to carry is going to depend on the park, weather, and how long your trip will last. Day visits and hikes will generally involve a lot less gear than long distance camping and hiking. Is a general reminder, you’ll have to do careful planning ahead of time to decide what you’re going to take.
No one piece of gear is more important than the other. But if we had to rank one item above all else, it would be the right pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes. For longer distances, boots and shoes are more equipped to deal with the changes in terrain and elevation than regular athletic shoes. These boots and shoes can also mean the difference in whether your feet are soaked after stepping into deeper than normal water. Water-proof, not water-resistant, is the difference maker.
- If you’re planning on hiking a national park with rapid and steep elevation changes, the friction generated by your feet against your socks and shoes can and will blister your feet! Your boots should fit snug and comfortable.
What’s there to do?
No national park is the same, but perhaps that’s the beauty in each of them. Some parks may be so small, they only have a few rangers and facilities dedicated to them. Others, such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, and many others, are massive. A multitude of rangers and park staff are there to assist you with each and every question you might have.
While hikes are usually the most popular activity to engage in, don’t pass up the assortment of other things to do and visit while you’re at a particular park.
- Geology, wildlife, and history museums
- Nearby towns and cities
- Tours and park ranger talks
- Gift shops
Capture the moments
We want to assure you that the national parks aren’t going anywhere fast, but just in case, you should carry a quality camera to take the best possible pictures of nature’s masterpieces. Check out our reviews and guides to the wide arrangement of digital cameras on the market.
It can be a little intimidating at first, but you shouldn’t have to spend more than a couple hundred dollars on a quality camera that will last you a long time and still get the best snapshots.
Save the date!
National Park Week covers the weekends of April 15th and 22nd each year. This means that entrance fees to every national park in the country are…*drum roll*…free! That’s right, if you’re planning to take a day to visit a park, set aside these weekends in particular to save some money!
There are other days and weekend around the year that national parks offer free admittance:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- Presidents’ Day
- National Park Service Birthday (Aug. 25th)
- National Public Lands Day (Sept. 30th)
- Veteran’s Day Weekend
The goal is to have fun while experiencing the otherworldly beauty of nature. Try not to overextend yourself on a single day, because there’s always tomorrow or the next day.