National parks are hot this summer. Last year 15 parks set a new recreation visitation record and five broke a record they set in 2019, according to NPS data. With parks fully reopened and travel skyrocketing, it might be tough to get away from the crowds, but a new campaign from the National Park Service gives you insider tips for making the most of your family’s visit.

“Plan Your Vacation Like a Park Ranger” features advice from actual park rangers, who share their knowledge for a memorable trip. To bag that trail you’ve been dreaming about and/or avoid an unpleasant encounter between your toddler and a wild animal, read on!

  1. Have a plan…and a backup plan. Use the National Parks website to research in advance and be prepared for unpredictable weather, trail closures or lines. Sometimes the backup is even better than the original!
  2. Be patient with each other and us. Park rangers are people too. The NPS is reminding guests that those who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask indoors and in crowded spaces.
  3. Travel off the beaten path. Did you know there’s an advanced search feature that will let you find parks or national monuments closest to you? There are more than 400 to choose from, after all!
  4. Reservations may be needed. Especially at the bigger parks, where you’ll need a reservation ticket for Arches’ popular Fiery Furnace hike, for example.
  5. Ask a ranger. They’re the experts on their parks and they’re happy to help!
  6. Explore the new NPS app. Download this in advance of your trip (it even works offline)!
  7. Keep safety in the picture. You might have to wait a minute for that perfect photo opp, so resist the urge to put yourself in danger to get one for the ‘Gram.
  8. Don’t pet the fluffy cows. Bison, in case you were wondering. And that applies to all other wildlife in the park too! Keep your distance and never feed them to keep everyone a safe and happy camper.
  9. Leave only footprints. Pack it in, pack it out. Stay on the trail. Basically, leave everything the way you found it for future generations to enjoy.
  10. Ruffing it? Parks vary on their pet policies: some let you bring them on the trails, some require that they stay at the campground and some prohibit pets. Research in advance and remember, some have kennel options too!

You’ll find even more tips from individual parks all summer long by following the hashtag #PlanLikeAParkRanger across social media. The National Park Service official Instagram account is an especially good (and humorous) place to start. Parks are for the people and we can’t wait to see the epic trips you take!

—Sarah Shebek

Featured image courtesy of Kylie Kirkland

 

RELATED STORIES:

The Best National Parks to Visit with Kids (& the Airbnbs to Book When You Do)