10 Things To Know Before Camping In A US National Park

 

America is known for its breathtaking nature and esteemed national parks. In 2021, the National Park Service registered 297 million park visits! Visitors travel to national parks to enjoy hiking, swimming, fishing, biking, and bird watching. Another main draw to the parks is camping. Staying in a national park overnight helps visitors really connect with nature and escape the trials of everyday life.


Arches National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Glacier National Park are all popular national park camping spots. Campers enjoy in the charging waterfalls, breathtaking hiking trails, and unique wildlife.

Camping in a national park is not as simple as walking up and pitching a tent, however. Camping takes a lot of prior planning and research. From reserving a campsite to packing supplies to learning park procedures, a lot of thought goes into this outdoor activity. Below is a list of ten things to know before camping in a US national park.

Related: Camp At These 8 Charming Places In The US This Fall

10/10 What Time Of Year To Go

When planning a camping trip at a national park, the travel dates you select are important. If you want to avoid large groups of travelers, opt for visiting the parks during the “off-season.” You also want to make sure, however, that you do not plan your trip during a time when the park camping area is closed for the season. Not all parks are open year-round, so check on the National Park Service website to see which campgrounds are open during which times.

9/10 How To Reserve A Campsite

While you technically do not need a reservation, it is smart to secure a campsite ahead of time to ensure you have a spot to camp. Reserve America is a great website where you can book a campsite. On this site, you simply type in the name of the park you want to visit, and the site provides a list of nearby campgrounds. Some seasoned travelers recommend booking six months prior to your trip.

Some national park campgrounds, however, are first-come-first-serve. Check ahead of time to see if your campground takes reservations. If they do not, be sure to arrive early and have a backup campground in mind.

8/10 Park Requirements & Regulations

Before visiting a national park, it is also important to learn about the park’s requirements and regulations. Look up the park you plan on visiting on the National Park Service’s “Find a Park” section of their website, then scroll down to the “Park Rules & Regulations” section. This section of the site will provide you with important information on necessary permits, fire regulations, and pet regulations. There will also be information on the current outdoor conditions, including weather forecasts and possible environmental risks.

7/10 The Perks Of Having A Park Pass

Also, take the time to learn about park passes prior to camping in a national park. If you plan on multiple camping trips at various national parks throughout the year, buying a yearly pass will save you money in the long run. Many US national parks also operate on a “per vehicle” charge, meaning everyone in the car will be covered by your park pass. Visit Recreation.gov to purchase your pass.

  • Pass name:
    America The Beautiful

  • Cost:
    $80 per year

  • Perks:
    Free entrance into national parks, entrance into over 2,000 federal recreation sites

6/10 Camping Gear You Will Need

Showing up to your campsite and realizing you forgot to pack something is not a fun feeling. To decide what gear you will need, take into account the time of year, the amenities at the campground, the location, and the length of your stay. Even RV camping or cabin camping requires gear. What you bring also depends on how many people are in your group, whether you have children with you, and whether you have pets with you.

Some necessary items:

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • GPS or map
  • Warm clothing
  • Flashlight
  • Firestarter
  • Food and water
  • Extra blanket
  • Cooking tools

Related: 10 Most Underrated National Parks In The United States

5/10 The 411 On Campground Amenities

It is also important to get the lowdown on campground amenities prior to visiting. For instance, most US national parks do not have shower facilities on site. Bathroom options range from flushing toilets to pit toilets to no bathrooms at all. Seasoned campers recommend always bringing your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer, just in case.

Other amenities to check for are electricity, water, Wi-Fi, and cell service. It is uncommon for national park campgrounds to provide electricity to guests. In addition, not only are national parks known to not offer Wi-Fi, but cell reception is also dicey.

4/10 Campfire Safety

A vital part of the camping experience is sitting around a campfire in the evening, singing songs, telling scary stories, and roasting marshmallows. Before camping in a national park, learn the ins and outs of campfire safety. As Smokey Bear famously states, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.” The National Park Service website has an entire page on how to safely make and extinguish a campfire. This step-by-step guide includes safety precautions, how to make a fire, how to prepare for emergencies, and how to extinguish a fire.

3/10 Personal Safety Measures

It is also important to learn how to keep yourself and those around you safe while camping. Remember, camping in the wilderness means you may come across a wild animal, such as a bear. Also, pay attention to your environment, including temperature, weather, and potential environmental hazards.

Other personal safety tips:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Wear layers of clothing
  • Use sunscreen and bug spray
  • Properly store food

Referring back to item #6 on this list, packing proper camping equipment is another way to ensure your personal safety. Food, water, hygiene items, and a light source are all necessary items on any camping trip.

2/10 Ways To Respect The Wildlife

Learning how to respect the wildlife in national parks keeps both you and them safe. Whether you are excited or nervous to see wild creatures out in nature, the best way to prepare yourself for the experience is to read up on how to interact with them.

One cardinal rule is NEVER to feed wildlife. Feeding animals attracts them to your campsite and leads to animals expecting and demanding food from other campers. Viewing wildlife from a distance is also necessary. Do not make eye contact or approach them. Secure food in your car, storage lockers, or airtight containers in your tent to keep animals from finding and taking your food.

1/10 How To Leave No Trace

Camping and enjoying the breathtaking nature in US national parks is a privilege. It is vital that you leave the parks as you’ve found them. The National Parks Service provides a list of the seven Leave No Trace principles. These principles include properly disposing of waste, respecting wildlife, and not touching plants and historical artifacts.

Other important steps you can take to leave no trace are staying on marked trails when hiking, avoiding feeding the wildlife, and picking up any trash (even if it is not yours).

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