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Tips for visiting national parks

If you’re looking for a little adventure this summer, put off the beach vacation until next year and explore a national park instead. You can hike to the top of mountains, descend into vast canyons and see gorgeous natural landscapes.

Couple in Monument Valley National Park

Put on those hiking boots and get ready for an unforgettable trip.

National parks are a top travel destination, but because of their popularity, some advance planning is recommended when considering a visit. For your next trip, keep these tips in mind to help ensure a stress-free vacation.

Can’t decide where to go? Check out 20 must-see national parks >>

Reserve early

Lodging at the most popular national parks can book up completely a year in advance, so if you’re looking to stay in the park itself, reserve as early as possible. Campsites also tend to book up, but some run on a first come, first served basis. (Check individual campsites for reservation policies.) If you’ve missed the window and lodging is unavailable, there are always hotels, motels and campgrounds surrounding the parks, which tend to be less crowded, but staying in the park is by far the most convenient option and usually the most scenic.

Check out these top family camping destinations >>

Natonal Parks Service Annual PassAnnual passes

The National Park Service offers an annual pass that gains you entrance into any national park or federal recreational land. If you’re planning on visiting several parks in one year, this pass will save you a lot of money on entrance fees. Currently, the pass is $80 and can be obtained online or at any park’s entry booth.


While most of us are accustomed to simply mapping routes on our smartphones, many parks are in remote locations where cellular service is spotty or nonexistent. Because of this, it is a good idea to have old-fashioned paper maps in the car with you. If you are an auto club member, you can obtain maps and tour books for any state free of charge. Even if you don’t use them, they are a good safeguard in case you get lost in the middle of nowhere.

Visitor centers

A good place to stop on your way into the park is the visitor center. Usually located just inside the entrance, you can get current information on the conditions of trails and roads, weather forecasts and wildlife to watch for (or watch out for). Visitor centers may also be your last chance to use the restroom, fill up water bottles and buy a snack.

Read more tips on planning a national park vacation >>

Quick Tip

When planning your national park trip, visit the National Park Service website to locate parks, view and print hiking maps, see lodging options, get up-to-date conditions and more.

More on national parks

Guide to visiting national parks with kids
Top 5 ways to support national parks
6 US national parks to visit this summer

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