12 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting a National Park

Last updated on June 10th, 2021 at 02:30 pm. Originally published on June 1st, 2021

The United States boasts some of the most incredible natural areas. Our national parks are easily some of the best attractions in the entire country, and everyone should make a point of seeing as many as they can. 

If you’re taking a national parks trip soon, you should absolutely be excited. That said, if you want to ensure you have the best trip possible, you should also do some research and head into the experience prepared so you know what to avoid on national park trips.

Not sure where to begin and worried you’ll slip up? We’re here for you! Below we’ve listed the top 12 things to avoid doing at national parks. Avoid these national park mistakes and we bet you’ll have an absolutely awesome time. 

Yosemite National Park

Mistake #1: Going Without Reservations

Most people don’t even consider the possibility of needing reservations when visiting a national park. However, many of the more popular national parks become super busy during certain parts of the year, making camping reservations a must-have if you intend to camp within the park. Additionally, many parks are now requiring reservations to enter the park or take part in certain activities in order to limit attendance during the pandemic. 

Learn whether you’ll need reservations in order to do what you want to do, and make them well in advance of your trip. 

Mistake #2: Never Checking the Park Website

The NPS website has a number of pages for each and every park. These pages are quite informative and often contain information that is key when it comes to planning. For instance, the park page might tell you…

  • If a certain road or visitor center is closed.
  • When you need a reservation for a particular activity.
  • If inclement weather is expected.
  • …and more. 

Visit the park website when planning your trip—both a few days ahead of your visit and on the morning of your arrival—in order to stay in the know. 

Mistake #3: Not Planning for Weather

In our opinion, there’s no bad time to visit a national park. That said, you might run into crowds during certain times of the year. Another problem you could run into depending on when you visit? Weather issues. 

National parks are often quite extreme environments with excessively hot, cold, snowy, or stormy weather. By educating yourself about what kinds of weather to expect, you can go in prepared with the proper attire, sunscreen, tire chains, a poncho, and/or anything else you might need. 

Mistake #4: Forgetting Food and Water

Most national parks are huge, and not all of them have water refill stations handy around every corner, or even a restaurant onsite. For this reason, we recommend always packing plenty of water (a gallon per person per day is recommended) and a picnic meal in order to stay well fed and hydrated throughout your visit. 

Of course, you will want to make sure you properly dispose of any garbage created by your meal, holding onto it until you can find a garbage can or recycle bin. 

Bear in National Park

Mistake #5: Approaching or Feeding Animals

Many national parks visitors fail to realize that the parks are not a petting zoo. The animals in the parks aren’t domesticated in any way, shape, or form, nor are they restrained by glass or bars. Because they are wild, these animals can and will harm people, and approaching them or feeding them can lead to human injury or harm to the animal. 

In addition to avoiding contact with the animals, you will also want to ensure you put food away, keeping it away from nosy raccoons, possums, and bears. 

Mistake #6: Being Too Plugged In

Yes, we all want to snap some awesome pictures of the gorgeous views in the national parks we visit. That said, there is such a thing as too much phone time when in a park. In fact, we recommend capturing those photos and then putting the phone down for the rest of the trip.

Even if you can get a cell signal, staying glued to a screen while in a national park is a waste of time and a trip, and it’s a good way to miss out on some of the most extraordinary sights and experiences of your life. Staring at a screen is one of the most common national park mistakes that you will definitely want to avoid.

Mistake #7: Arriving Late

We get it, you’re on vacation, and sleeping in is a huge part of unwinding and enjoying your getaway. That said, we highly recommend getting up early and arriving at the park to watch the sunrise at least once during your trip. The sunrises in these gorgeous natural areas are absolutely spectacular sights you’ll remember for the rest of your life. 

Mistake #8: Leaving Early

Arriving early at least once is important, but so is staying late if you happen to be visiting a dark sky park. National parks with the “dark sky” designation are completely void of light pollution. This makes them some of the best places in the country to view the stars and planets. 

Choose a night when you don’t mind staying up late, take a blanket to lay on and a telescope to look through, and view the vast and beautiful night sky as it was meant to be seen. 

Gas gauge

Mistake #9: Running Low on Gas

As mentioned above, most national parks are absolutely enormous. Often, this means a huge amount of driving during your visit. Unfortunately, most national parks do not have gas stations onsite. This means if you don’t arrive with a full tank of gas, you might not make it to the nearest station at the end of the day. 

Always, always fill up before heading into a national park. 

Mistake #10: Skipping the Visitor Center

It can be tempting to skip the visitor center when you arrive and head straight to those natural landmarks you’ve always heard about. That said, by missing the visitor center, you actually miss out on a huge part of the national park experience. 

The visitor center gives you an opportunity to use the restroom and refill your water bottle before heading into the wilderness. It also serves as a chance to chat with the rangers, find out what sites might suit you best, and get a paper map. On top of that, most visitor centers include exhibits, videos, and other educational opportunities. These help visitors understand the significance of the park. 

Mistake #11: Relying on GPS

In this day and age, most of us are pretty accustomed to relying on GPS to get around town. You might think you’ll just use the GPS to navigate the national park as well. However, this would be one of the worst national park mistakes you could make. 

You see, most national parks are so remote that GPS units will not work while on the grounds. Grabbing a paper map at the visitor center (as mentioned above) is a much more reliable option. This will ensure you aren’t wandering the park lost for hours on end. 

Mistake #12: Exploring Off-Trail

Speaking of getting lost, the last big mistake to avoid is wandering off-trail. It might seem fun to go on an adventure and see what most visitors never witness, but we promise exploring off-trail is a bad idea. Not only is it an easy way to end or completely lost, it can also destroy habitats. This practice can also lead you into unsafe places and situations.

For your safety, the safety of the wildlife, and the good of the park’s ecosystem, please stay on the designated hiking trails while exploring.  

Now that you know how to make the most of a national park trip and what kinds of mistakes you need to avoid, you’re ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Of course, you’ll need someplace to stay, and an RV is the perfect home base during any national parks getaway.

If you don’t have an RV of your own, check out our many rental units to see if there is one that will suit your needs!

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