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Planning a national park vacation

Vicki Clinebell majored in journalism at the University of Colorado, and headed an advertising agency before beginning a long career in broadcasting, spanning production and copywriting to sales and management for an ABC affiliate statio...

Vacation in the great outdoors

More than 275 million Americans make our national parks their vacation destinations annually. Whether you choose spectacular Zion in Utah, Arizona's Grand Canyon, the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park or any other of the multitude of choices, get ready to enjoy the scenery and the adventure.

Boy at Grand Canyon

Beat the crowds.

You can expect bigger crowds at national parks during summer, when kids are out of school and the weather and scenery are at their best. That's especially true at major attractions such as Yellowstone's Old Faithful. Visit in early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday rush, or explore the backcountry and hiking trails that most parks offer. Individual parks have websites that help with planning and provide information on lodging options. Many families camp, but most parks also have rustic cabins, budget motels and even upscale hotel accommodations. If you plan to camp, visit the National Parks website to reserve your site in advance.

Guide to visiting national parks with kids >>

American the BeautifulGet the pass.

The National Parks Service offers an America the Beautiful annual pass for $80. The pass includes admission to any national park or monument, as well as to other sites managed by government agencies. It's valid for the passholder and his/her vehicle at sites that charge admission per car, or for the passholder and up to three other adults when the site charges a per-person admission. Children under 16 are admitted free. Seniors 62 and older pay just $10 for a lifetime pass.

Tips for staying safe

  • Do some advance research so you know the types of wildlife you may encounter in the park. While animal attacks in national parks are rare, visitors sometimes forget that these animals are wild; don't approach them or attempt to pose for photos with them.
  • Check the park's policy on pets before bringing your dog or cat along; many parks don't allow them. Never let a pet off the leash -- they could lead predators back to your campsite.
  • Pack high-energy snack foods and plenty of bottled water when enjoying park activities such as hiking, biking and kayaking. The parks offer snack stands, but a better, cheaper, more convenient option is to bring your own.
  • Include a first aid kit in your bag so you're prepared in case of illness or minor injury.
  • Practice setting up your camping equipment at home to work out the kinks before you set up at the campsite.
  • Break in new hiking boots before the trip to soften their stiffness and lessen the possibility of blisters.
  • Pack light layers of clothing that you can add or subtract as the weather dictates.

More on National Parks

20 Must-see U.S. destinations
10 U.S. national parks you need to visit
20 Must-see national parks

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