National Parks are amazing resources preserved by the scientists and conservationists who serve them. Remember these parks were chosen to be protected by the federal government for their geological, biological, and geographical uniqueness. It is up to each and every visitor to leave no trace and leave the park as it was when you explored it! I don’t think anyone can ever be disappointed by a national park, but even if you are, don’t take it out on the natural ecosystem!
What many first timers seem to forget is that there may not be much civilization. You need to be prepared for limited gas stations, internet service, and restrooms. Many parks border a town such as Arches in Moab and Mount Rainier in Seattle, but parks such as Big Bend and Zion require a more sustainable approach to your visit. I recommend finding the nearest town and making sure that you stop to use a bathroom and shower the night before venturing into a national park. You’re also not going to find any fast food restaurants; pack some homemade snacks and be sure to pack them out! Drinking water is usually widely available to refill a bottle or water sack.
Choosing which shoes to take is your first big decision. Regardless of whether you’re an avid hiker, you will be walking a lot. Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes or purchase a secondhand pair that have already been worn in. You need to be ready for hours of hiking and walking along scenic walkways, climbing rocks here and there where you may want to. If you’re traveling to a marine park or one with a river, shoes are still important! Chacos and Tevas are great for hiking and wading in water.
When visiting a national park, always be aware of your surroundings. Get a map, take a picture on your phone, and pay attention to signs. This is supposed to be a fun venture, but only if you’re safe. I love using All Trails, a trail app that allows you to see where you are in the park. But be aware, you need a premium account to use it offline. I usually just take a picture of the trail, so I’ll have it on my phone in case we leave the paper map in the car. It also has reviews, pictures, and landmarks so picking a trail is easy!
In addition, please give wild animals their space. Do not approach or attempt to touch wild animals and never ever feed them! You risk habituating them and associating humans with food, so they are more likely to get into trouble or even killed for seeking us out in their spaces. We can all share the environment, but it’s our responsibility to do so wisely. And always leave no trace! Happy hiking!