7 Essential National Park Travel Hacks

How to have your best vacation this summer

Leisure travel has become a top priority for millions of Americans during the summer. Hotels and rental cars are frequently in scarce supply and you’d better have a good plan if you’re going to keep up with the Joneses. To say nothing of the Mathisons, Russells, Lis, O’Reillys, and millions of others.

Make sure to plan out your packing list beforehand so nothing essential gets left behind.
Make sure to plan out your packing list beforehand so nothing essential gets left behind.

Fortunately, Explore Better can help. We’ve compiled a list of tips, strategies and best practices to help you navigate the National Parks this summer. It’s the kind of useful information park rangers would swear by that could have really helped Clark Griswold.

Here are the seven essential National Park travel hacks that will ensure smooth sailing on all of your summer travel adventures.

Tip #1: Arrive Early

In the National Parks, the early bird gets the worm – and the parking space. Our parks host millions of visitors each year. To really immerse yourself in these natural worlds, it makes a lot of sense to give yourself a full day to work with. Set an alarm, watch the sunrise and be a step ahead of everybody else.

Tip #2: Have a Plan

Preparation isn’t just for Boy Scouts. To max out your vacation, think about everything you want to see in advance. Yes, you could just wing it, but that approach could also let you down. Plot out your to-do list and prioritize how you’ll spend your time. The parks are huge places. You can’t do it all. But you can pick and choose. Keep in mind that the top tourist attractions that everybody wants to see quickly fill up with people. That can make for a stressful experience. But there are so many wonderful gems in our National Parks. For example, if you don’t want to deal with crowds in Yosemite Valley, check out lesser-known Upper Cathedral Lake or Dorothy Lake in Yosemite National Park. Heed Robert Frost’s advice and take the road less traveled – it’ll make for a more relaxing trip.

If you're hoping to avoid crowds, seek less popular activities like Upper Cathedral Lake in Yosemite Valley.
If you're hoping to avoid crowds, seek less popular activities like Upper Cathedral Lake in Yosemite Valley.

Tip #3: Best Time to Visit

Visiting the National Parks is like going to the grocery store – when you go makes a big difference. Timing is everything. It’s smart to think about what you will experience and when. Speak with people who live in the area or those who have been to the park before. As a general rule, the parks are less crowded midweek than on weekends. The other thing to keep in mind is that the parks are even busier on holidays. If you’re looking for a serene, stress-free moment with Mother Nature, shoot for the quieter, midweek days. You work hard every day to earn your vacation time. Use it wisely.

Tip #4: Road Conditions & Detours

Even the best-laid plans have been felled by road construction and detours. Just because your phone says it takes, say, an hour to drive to the park, that may not always be the case. Figure out what the current conditions are on the ground. Make sure there’s nothing unexpected you aren’t aware of. The concierge at your hotel is also a good resource. Or book a guided tour and enjoy the view from the passenger seat instead!

Tip #5: Stay Hydrated

This one seems obvious but having a refillable water bottle with you at all times when exploring the parks is essential. For example, the temperatures in Grand Canyon National Park can soar to more than 100ºF at the bottom of the canyon. It’s also possible to get lost in any park, and you don’t want to be out of H2O as you’re trying to find your way back. Don’t put yourself in a life-or-death situation. Keep your favorite water bottle with you at all times and you’ll have all the energy you need to see the best of our parks.

Keep a refillable water bottle with you while exploring the National Parks.
Keep a refillable water bottle with you while exploring the National Parks.

Tip #6: What to Pack

A trip to Geneva-on-the-Lake is going to require different items than a visit to Washington’s Olympic National Park. So pack accordingly. Savvy travelers make a list and stick to it. Make sure you have clothes for where you’re going and comfortable footwear for everything you want to do. And if you have a fancy camera you’ve been wanting to save for a special occasion, you’ve found it.

Olympic National Park is known for overcast skies and plenty of rain, pack accordingly!
Olympic National Park is known for overcast skies and plenty of rain, pack accordingly!

Tip #7: Chart Your Journey

You only have a finite amount of time to spend on your trip, and you want to get in as much as possible. It’s smart to think about what you want to do ahead of time. Are there a few things you want to see in a specific area? It may be smart to tackle these at once. Are there activities that are only offered at certain times? Looking into this in advance can save you from disappointment.

With these seven tips in mind, your best summer is right in front of you. Feed all the pets, and lock the front door. It’s time to hit the road.

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MEET OUR GURU Jeffrey Bucki

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Jeff Bucki is a copywriter for Delaware North’s Creative Studio, based in Buffalo, N.Y.