Travel Tips

Travel hacks for summer trips to our National Parks

What To Know Before Your Summer Trip

Our spacious national parks may seem like the complete opposite of a crowded amusement park – until you visit in the middle of summer or on a holiday weekend (first tip: avoid at all costs). You want to be able to soak in every second of your trip, see all the main attractions and maybe have time to relax. There’s just one problem – millions of other people have the same idea. Hotels and activities are already booked up in many places, so what to do? Here are some tips to help you travel smarter and explore better this summer.

1. Know if you need entry reservations

Some of America’s most popular parks are requiring day-use entry reservations to visit. If you’re planning on visiting one of the parks below, make your reservations ahead of time.

Hint: Even if the park you’re visiting doesn’t require reservations, book accommodations and tours as far in advance as possible. Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton are predicting record-breaking attendance this summer.

Two cars driving through Yellowstone National Park

2. Consider traveling during the off-peak season

Don’t hit snooze! The early bird gets the worm at national parks. Get to the park early (try for 8 a.m., if not earlier) to avoid waiting in line just to get through the entrance.

If summer is hopelessly booked up, think about shifting your trip to the spring or fall. Many of the same activities are available, but with a fraction of the crowds (and less expensive lodging rates).

Spring is a great time to view seasonal waterfalls at their peak. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of newborn wildlife with their mothers. Fall brings cooler temperatures, leaf peeping, and wildlife viewing as animals forage before the winter months.

A hiker at Glacier National Park in fall

3. Get ready to unplug

If you’re looking to go “off the grid,” you’ve come to the right place. Most national parks have limited cell service, let alone Wi-Fi. Don’t be surprised if your texts and calls have trouble going through, and forget about streaming a show for the kids.

  • Print or screenshot your driving directions ahead of time, as you may lose your signal.
  • Bring entertainment for the kids that doesn’t require Wi-Fi.

Even though there is limited Wi-Fi, we know you’ll find a better connection.

A family exploring the trails in Kings Canyon National Park

4. Be prepared

We know packing, planning and preparing for a trip can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time visiting. Here are some tips that translate across most of the national parks:
  • Just because you’re traveling during the summer doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot 24/7. It often gets chilly once the sun goes down, so pack some warmer clothes for nighttime exploring.
  • Don’t forget swimwear to take advantage of your hotel’s pool and hot tub. Pack sunscreen and insect repellant, too.
  • Hiking shoes are a must for almost every park.
  • If you can, travel with a first aid kit, blanket and extra snacks and water – just in case.
  • Tire chains might be necessary. Weather can change suddenly and unexpectedly in the mountains.
  • Stay informed on detours and road construction if you’re driving. Download the NPS app before you go.
A family swimming in the indoor pool at The Ridgeline Hotel-Estes Park

5. Be aware of wildlife

They might look cute, but do not approach any wildlife you encounter. While you should be respectful of all wildlife, being aware of bears is especially important at parks like Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon that have large bear populations.

  • Don’t approach or feed the wildlife. You could be endangering yourself and others.
  • Err on the side of caution – pack bear spray.
  • Don’t leave food, scented items (lotion, etc.) or empty food containers in your vehicle or out and about. Use bearproof receptacles to store unused food, and properly dispose of trash and scraps.
A black bear in summer foliage

6. Take a tour

There’s no better way to explore than with someone who knows the park inside and out. Tours are the perfect way to see park highlights, hear little-known stories and history – and most of all – avoid driving and parking.

Many parks have unique tour experiences, such as open-air buses, snow coaches, horseback riding, raft trips, helicopters, snowmobiles and more.

A Yellowstone Vacation Tours bus at Old Faithful in summer

7. Hit the trails

Hiking is pretty much a given when you go to any national park. It’s a great way to get off the beaten path, away from crowded areas and closer to nature. We think you’ll find that some of the most spectacular views can only be reached on foot.

  • Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes that you can walk in comfortably for hours, preferably with good ankle support.
  • Remember to wear sunscreen and a hat, and pack plenty of water and snacks. Hydrating, especially at high elevations, is essential when embarking on a long hike.
  • Plan your route ahead of time. Each park has a variety of trails available for all ages and capabilities.
Two hikers exploring the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park