This year is the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. Get out there and see them. Rock the parks on your next adventure, and discover the numerous activities and educational opportunities waiting for you. Use this guide and the resources included to start your planning.
Within National Parks, camping is strictly regulated. In order to protect these natural places, campgrounds have been established for you and dispersed camping is not allowed. These campgrounds come in varying degrees of ruggedness. Some are tent only sites, while others allow a mixture of tents and RVs. At the very least a campground will have a vault toilet. However, you cannot count on potable water. Use the National Parks adventurer friendly website to check on the available facilities at each park and campsite. For example, here is a link to the map, list, and descriptions for each campground at Dinosaur National Monument, which spans the northwest corner of Colorado and northeast corner of Utah.
When camping in a National Park keep these points in mind.
- Dogs are welcome to the parks but have many restrictions. You may be able to bring Fido with you to the campgrounds, but he must be on a leash at all times. In addition, your dog may be excluded from the hiking trails.
- Due to the popularity of visiting the parks, some tent and RV spots are available through reservation only. Visit Recreation.gov directly to explore reservation options. If you are willing to take a little risk, there are still first-come, first-served sites at these campgrounds. Make sure to arrive early and take advantage of weekday visits when relying on first-come, first-served sites.
- In some parks you will need to follow strict food storage rules. For example, in Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, bear proof lockers are available for campers to place all food, food related tools and dishes, and toiletries within. Here is a quick list to help you identify items that will attract bears.
- Water containers
- Cooking/eating/drinking utensils
- Beverage containers
- Coolers/ice chests
- Trash or trash bags (in the campsite or fire pit)
- Food (of course, food counts as food)
- Pet food and bowls
- Pails/buckets/wash basins
- Any item with food odor
Hiking in the National Parks is accessible to many skill levels. Get a permit and travel miles into the backcountry for a backpacking trip, or stroll down a half-mile or less trial for an easy adventure. Each park has its own mini-site where they provide detailed trail and hiking information. On the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve hiking page, you can select from lava caves or above ground trails. They even have a handy, printable PDF with the trail map and trail descriptions.
When hiking these trails, be sure to follow the signs and warnings. You don’t want to ruin a perfect day at the park by hurting yourself. The great people at the National Park Service have a century of information on the dangers of these places, they’ve created the signage with you, the visitor, in mind. If there is a trail, walk-way, or deck, please stay on it. Many of our National Park sites include volcanic and hydrothermal activity, stepping off the path could put you in danger’s sites.
Boating and Rafting
Some of the best boating and rafting rivers meander through our National Parks. Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon are just two examples. At both parks there are two options for trip type, commercial trips provided by approved concessionaires and private/noncommercial trips.
Dinosaur National Monument has less traffic and is easier to gain access. The commercial trips allow you to sit back and enjoy the scenery, while your guide navigates the rapids and rows the boat. The park’s directory page lists over ten different guide companies to help you make this trip possible. If you possess the skill and the gear to go it on your own, you can apply for a permit.
In Dinosaur National Monument, each river has its own characteristics. However, the Green and Yampa Rivers should never be mistaken for placid rivers. For that reason, permit holders, boatmen, and trip leaders must have previous experience on comparable rivers. Depending on the water level, some rapids are rated as high as Class 4.
If the Grand Canyon is your goal prepare for a lengthy process, sometimes years in the making. The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular boating and rafting destinations. While half-day and all-day trips may be more accessible to the casual rafter, the longer trips need to be reserved through commercial guides over a year in advance, or try your luck in the noncommercial permit weighted-lottery.
The most accessible way to view a park is through an auto tour. Many of the National Parks provide roads to slowly ride from vista to vista. In Yosemite National Park, the most famous scenic drive is the Tioga Road. A 39-mile drive from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, this drive is only a three hour and 30-minute drive from downtown San Francisco. If Yosemite isn’t the right drive for you, simply search “auto tour” on the National Park website, or click here.
Interpretive Presentations and Tours
One of the great, under rated, things to do in a National Park is attend an interpretive presentation or tour. Generally, park rangers will hold these informative, informal lectures in welcome centers, on-site museums, and on the trails.
At Glacier National Park in Montana, every summer, Native American tribal members share their knowledge of their history and culture as part of the Native America Speaks program. In the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Discovery Hikes are held every season beginning June 8, to allow visitors guided access into this rugged and untouched environment.