More than half of all Americans don’t use all of their vacation time each year. Another quarter doesn’t use any at all.
With the average American taking just 17 days of vacation each year, that’s not a lot of time for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Which means that when we are on vacay, we need to make the most of it.
If you’ve chosen to enjoy some of your vacation time in a national park, keep reading to learn how to make the most of your time.
Pick the Right Park
Before you ever start booking hotels or flights, you need to do your research. National parks remain open year-round, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ideal to visit all year long.
Some parks, like Yellowstone or Glacier National Park, get heavy snowfall during the winter months. This can lead to road and trail closures that last for weeks or even several months. Unless you have winter hiking experience and the right cold-weather gear, these may not be the best parks to visit during a winter trip. On the flip side, other parks, like Death Valley, experience extremely high temperatures during the summer months. If you have your heart set on hiking, this can be very dangerous.
Choosing the right park for the time of year you’re visiting and the activities you plan to enjoy will help ensure that nothing gets in the way of you having a great time.
Make a Trip Bucket List
Not only is it important to research which national park is right for your trip, but it’s also a good idea to do some research on the park itself before your flight leaves or you pack up your car. You’ll want to have an idea of the types of activities you could do while in the park, which hiking trails might best suit your abilities, and what else you can experience in and around the park.
With a lot to see and do and limited time to squeeze it all in, it can be tempting to create an itinerary for your trip. Don’t. Weather can make hiking impossible. A trail may wind up taking you twice as long as you expected thanks to some beautiful overlooks or fun side trips.
In short, things may change during your trip. And if you were following a detailed itinerary, you’ll miss things and wind up disappointed. Rather than trying to stay on schedule, it’s best to create a trip bucket list, with the things you’d like to see and do ranked in order of importance. When you get to the park, start at the top of your list and work your way down. Add anything you don’t make it to onto your list for your next trip to the park!
Pack the Right Gear
Enjoying a fun, safe outdoor adventure of any kind starts with packing the right gear. Whether you’ll be braving the elements for a snowy hike through the mountains or trekking through the desert in the heat of summer, you’ll need to bring along some gear to protect yourself and make sure that nothing ruins your trip.
Some gear you should have along, regardless of the type of activities you have planned, include:
- Plenty of water
- Protective clothing (to provide protection from the sun in the summer and the chill in the winter)
- Sturdy hiking boots
- A flashlight in case you get caught on a trail after dark
- A first aid kit
- Rain gear or other waterproof clothing
When you go to Disneyland, anything you forgot to pack for a day in the park can be bought in a gift shop. But when you’re on a backwoods trail in a park, like Zion, there won’t be any chance to pick up vital supplies. Make sure that you have everything you need in your backpack before you hit the trails.
Always Stop at the Visitor Center
Who better to help you make the most of your trip than an expert? Any time you are visiting a national park, make a stop at the visitor center before you do anything else. There you’ll find a history of the park, information about trail and road closures, and most importantly, park rangers. These special individuals know all of the ins and outs of their park. They can help you pick the best hiking trails, offer tips for where to spot elusive wildlife, and more.
Planning Your Next Vacation to a National Park
No matter which national park you choose, you couldn’t pick a better way to spend your valuable vacation days. To make the most of your trip, do your research ahead of time, have a park bucket list prepared, pack the right gear, and always stop at the visitor center to have a chat with a ranger. With these tips, you’ll not only stay safe in the parks but also enjoy an adventure that you won’t soon forget!