10 things you need to know before you visit National Parks

By Shoshi Parks
March 19, 2019, 1:33:30 PM EDT

national park main image

(Photo: Inger Eriksen/Shutterestock)


Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian Wallace Stegner once said America’s “National Parks are the best idea we ever had.” And it’s no exaggeration: our National Parks are some of the most spectacular places on Earth. But for all their beauty, these protected wildernesses can also be unforgiving if you’re not prepared.

Here’s what you need to know before you visit.

1. Seasons and weather work differently here

national park weather

(Photo: Fernando Tatay/Shutterstock)


National Parks are places of extremes—extreme beauty and extreme weather. In May, for example, you’ll see snow at YellowstoneandNorth Cascades; while down at Guadalupe Mountainson the Texas/New Mexico border, the unrelenting sun has already dried out the landscape; and in Death Valley, average temperatures are already in the 90s. No matter which park you visit, prepare for both excessive heat and brutal cold.

2. Plan ahead for the most adventurous park experiences

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(Photo: Andrew Bertino/Shutterstock)


National Park rangers protect the parks’ ecologies from the millions of tourists who visit annually. This means that for some of the most popular adventures in the park—kayaking up-bay at Glacier Bayor exploring Slaughter Canyon Cave at Carlsbad Caverns—there are only a handful of spots open and they fill up well in advance, so be sure to reserve early on the park’s website. In some places, like at Yosemite’s Half Dome, the required permit is only accessible via a lottery system, with just 300 winners a day.

3. Leave No Trace

leave no trace

(Photo: Larry Mundy/Shutterstock)


Anything you bring into the park must be carried back out or put in the appropriate garbage or recycling receptacle. Don’t pick up any rocks or artifacts or fossils; don’t collect flowers or firewood; and never touch or interact with a wild animal.

4. Some Campsites Are Reserved for Walk-Ups

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(Photo: Tommy Larey/Shutterstock)


Most parks reserve campsites for first-come, first-served walk-ups. As long as you get there as early in the morning as possible, you’re likely to get a spot, even on weekends. They aren’t always the most desirable campgrounds in the park, though—at Yosemite, for example, most of the walk-up sites are located in high country and not in the Yosemite Valley—but it’s much better than staying home.

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