Packing for a trip to the National Park

How to Prepare for your Trip to the National Park

September 13th, 2020
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As lockdowns begin to ease, people across the country want to get back to ‘normal’. With international travel on hold for the rest of the year, travelers are seeking new ways to satisfy their travel needs. As a result, there has been a rise in local travel, especially with regard to camping and other outdoor activities.

Before visiting a national park, there is a lot of things to consider. As with any trip, you have to do some extensive pre-planning; for example, who will be going on the trip, what should you pack, what should you wear, what are some activities you should do (family-friendly travel or solo travel), etc. Travelers should also consider any costs associated with traveling to the national park or any fees for entering and camping in the park.

In this article, I will offer up some of my own advice when it comes to deciding on a National Park visit.

Who is going

The first thing to figure out when deciding on a trip to the national park is the people who will be traveling with you. With COVID-19 an ever-present factor, you have to be sure you are taking the necessary safety precautions when gathering in groups of two or more people.

If you are traveling solo, you still have to follow the necessary safety precautions but to be sure, check out the CDC website for information about how to best keep safe. If you are traveling in a group, again, it is important to follow the necessary safety precautions.

Personally, I would prefer to travel with family members and/or close friends as I would rather be safe during the pandemic. When I do travel with family members and/or close friends, I still make sure to follow the safety protocols.

What to pack

Whether you are only visiting for a day or planning a camping trip, it is important to pack the right supplies when visiting a national park. Here is a list to consider when hiking and/or camping:

Tent

Sleeping bags

Camping pillows

Kitchen supplies such as a portable stove, cooking utensils, etc.

Flashlights or headlamps (be sure to bring some extra batteries)

Camping chairs and tables (if there are no picnic table is available)

Tools

Etc.


There are many camping/hiking websites that have offered extensive packing lists to prepare for your trip. I would recommend doing some quick research for a list of items that would suit your specific needs for your national park vacation.

What to wear

You want to make sure that you dress comfortably when doing any outdoor activity, including visiting a national park. Here is a list to consider when figuring out what to wear for your trip:

Comfort, sturdy pant (think joggers/leggings that are water-resistant)

Hiking boots/shoes

A warm jacket

A raincoat (just in case the weather changes during your trip)

Brimmed hat (to protect against the sun)

Sunglasses

etc.


Check the weather and plan ahead for the best times to travel. Also, with COVID-19, if you are going to be around large groups of people, it is important to also wear a mask. Otherwise, I would stick to the CDC recommendations until further notice!


Best time to go

With any trip, you should consider the best times to visit your desired destination. For a national park trip, the best time to visit is during the autumn months, especially if you would like to avoid large crowds.

Personally, I am a huge fan of autumn, so I would look into visiting a National Park around October/November. Also, I am not too big on large crowds, meaning I would avoid the summer months.

What does it cost

While most parks are free of charge to enter, there are some parks that charge to enter. For the parks that do charge, you have different payment options. It is up to you to choose the best option for you and your travel needs. The National Park Service website offers a list of parks that do charge an entrance fee and the different options available for visitors.

Again, it is important to check the CDC website and/or State website for any updates regarding lockdowns or closures.

Activities

When I went camping for the first time, I was able to participate in a variety of activities, including campfire stories and s'mores, hiking, canoeing, etc. Honestly, I made the most out of the trip and the people I went with.

Another activity to consider would be a heritage tour because our national parks have a lot of history, especially in regard to Indigenous history, but it’s important to be mindful of respecting the land and its people. That means not causing any harm to the land in any way.

Recently, I’ve been thinking of planning a trip to Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, which isn’t far from where I am located in Maryland, once it is open to the public again. I love history, and it would be nice to learn a little bit more about the state I live in and its connection to specific points in American history. Another national historic site I’m thinking about visiting is Hampton, a national historic site in Maryland. Like the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, it also has a rich history that I would love to learn more about.

When it comes to a national park visit, there are so many outdoor activities you can fit into your itinerary. Whether its family-friendly hiking or canoeing, you have so much to choose from. Again, through some research, you can find the right activities suited to you and your travel companion(s) needs.

Travel

Lastly, it is important to consider which national park you want to travel to, especially if you would like to travel out of your home state. There are so many parks to choose from; however, depending on the kind of activities you want to do, it would do some good to research the different parks and the activities they have to offer.

If you are traveling to a park in your home state, you should map the distance from your home to the park itself. If possible, you could drive to the national park. Renting a car or, if traveling in a group, rent an RV.

If you want to travel outside of your home state, it’s important to figure out what national park you would like to visit and the specific state the park is in. Be sure to check the news for any possible lockdowns and/or state restrictions due to COVID-19 as it may limit your travel plans.

Since I am not too keen on traveling long distances at the moment, I would look into the National Parks in my home state and/or any of the neighboring states. For example, Catoctin Mountain and Fort Foote are two national parks I have the option of visiting as they are located in my home state of Maryland.

Wrap-Up

As a deeply emotional person, I find solace in nature. That’s why visiting a national park would be very refreshing to me. I don’t have many options to go on nature walks or even go hiking where I live. So, I always make sure that at least one of the many trips I plan is to visit a national park or to go camping.

There is so much planning that goes into a National Park visit or any trip for that matter. Usually, I make sure I solidify who will be traveling with me first before I do any extensive planning. After I finalize that, I often spend about 2 to 3 weeks planning the trip, allowing myself the space to make any necessary changes prior to the visit. For example, when I went on my first National Park visit, I spent about two weeks in advance packing the items that I would need and making sure I was adequately prepared for my four-day trip.

Overall, with everything going on around the world, a visit to the national park can be beneficial for travelers to consider as plans for international travel remain uncertain. Through some research and planning, you can craft a trip that would be truly unforgettable. Besides, who doesn’t want to explore the hidden gems within their own backyard?

Links for more information

https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/entrance-fee-prices.htm

https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/index.htm

https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks

https://www.globalwildlife.org/be-a-good-guest-at-national-state-parks/

https://www.eaglecreek.com/blog/ultimate-packing-list-camping-beginners.html

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/family-camping-checklist.html

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/how-to-choose-hiking-clothes.html

https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/national-parks/best-time-to-visit-popular-national-parks