⛰How To Safely Explore National Parks
Dear Rich Lifer,
Spring is just around the corner, and before we know it, summer will be upon us!
Emily Pennington, a national parks columnist for Outside magazine, basically wrapped up the sentiment of the nation perfectly when she commented, “So many people, I think most of us, are feeling so fatigued and downtrodden and exhausted by the pandemic.”
One way we combat these feelings is by looking forward to planning for the future. And with warmer weather on the horizon, one of the safest and most exciting vacations is a trip to a national park.
From rugged mountains to glistening lakes to bustling wildlife, national parks have so much to offer the fresh-air-starved American.
In fact, so many people have been seeking out parks that 15 of them set recreation visitation records in 2020! All national parks have made Covid-19 adjustments with social distancing protocol in place. Parks are also abiding by President Biden’s executive order mandating mask-wearing in federal buildings and on federal lands when social distancing is not possible.
While this news is fantastic from a safety perspective, it will also make securing day passes, campsites, and guided tours even harder than usual.
John Kelly, a management assistant at Acadia National Park in Maine, advises, “This is the year to be prepared. Visitors really need to plan ahead and be extra thoughtful and ready for things to be different.”
But do not fear! With some extra planning and a creative spirit, you can plan an incredible vacation for yourself, your family or your friends. Today we will give some great tips for enjoying the beauty of our national parks while staying safe. Read on…
Plan in Advance
Because most people are choosing to travel domestically this year, booking lodging and transportation at the most popular national parks is more difficult than usual, and reservations are being swept up months in advance.
Certain national parks have limited transportation options, such as Isle Royale National Park, an island in Lake Superior that is reachable only by boat or plane. Chris Amidon, supervisory park ranger, recommends “planning this month or you may not be able to get transportation to the island.”
Other land-bound parks also have certain restrictions. Acadia, one of the 10 most popular national parks, is requiring advanced reservations to drive the Cadillac Summit Road.
Some parks are encouraging visitors to pay entrance fees online and make advanced reservations even for day passes.
Of course, with over 400 national parks, the hardest first task can be simply choosing where you want to visit. Find Your Park is a great website that shares information on parks across the country, and you can filter by state or activity to help you make your decision.
Once you’ve decided on your park, start checking its website for the latest updates and information. Every park is slightly different, so the regulations that apply at one park may not apply for another.
Park rangers are still making decisions on exactly what will be open to visitors this summer and at what capacity. Use Recreation.gov to keep tabs on the most up-to-date information regarding bookings and access.
You can also follow the social media pages of your park of choice. Also, make sure you check the state’s public health website where you plan to travel to make sure you are abiding by any travel requirements due to coronavirus.
Now that you’ve decided on your park and researched any travel requirements, the next step is to book a campsite.
Typically, parks will set aside a certain number of campsites to be used on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, many campgrounds filled up as early as 6 am last summer! So unless you are prepared for a crack-of-dawn wake-up, it’s better to book in advance.
There are also many companies and websites you can use to help you find both private and public campgrounds.
KOA runs private campgrounds and offers everything from RV sites to physical lodging to “glamping” to tent sites.
Hipcamp is an “AirBnb style” website and app used for finding both established campgrounds and private hosts who allow camping on their land.
If you want something more rustic and remote, you can ask park staff about dispersed or primitive camping areas on adjacent Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or other public lands. These areas usually come without amenities like restrooms or picnic spaces, but they are a unique way to completely immerse yourself in nature.
If you know you’ll want a hot bath after a long day of exploring, hotels or lodges are a great option, but beware; they book long in advance.
Gateway towns such as West Yellowstone, Montana, Jackson, Wyoming, Visalia, California, and Durango, Colorado, offer a greater selection of lodging options and better value for those who don’t mind a daily drive to a park in exchange for a bed at night.
Get a Guide
Because of the increased demand and added coronavirus complications, this might be a great year to plan a trip with a guide.
There are many sites you can use to find a guided experience such as REI Adventures and Sierra Club. Both offer different types of specialty trips that you can cater to the ideal activities for your group.
With guided tours, a lot of the planning from specific lodging to the day-by-day itinerary is taken care of for you! The added cost of these types of trips is often worth it, especially if you are a first-time adventurer.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
There are many ways to make the most of your national park experience while also avoiding crowds if you have Covid concerns.
Crowds typically thin about two miles from the main trailhead. Bill Sycalik, a management consultant from Denver who is running a marathon in each of the parks, notes, “A lot of people get hung up on having to see the highlights, but there are a lot of ways to experience the parks.”
Also, consider setting that ultra-early alarm to take advantage of popular areas with sparse crowds. Additionally, over two dozen national parks and other National Park Service sites have been appointed as “dark-sky parks,” which means they have exceptional stargazing opportunities.
Dusk and dawn are also the best times to view wildlife!
National parks are the perfect summer trip, and hopefully, this inspired you to start planning and prepare for some much-needed adventure!
Ms. Pennington visited every single national park in the country in 2020, so you can trust her completely when she states, “Parks are not only relatively safe places, but also places to rekindle that sense of wonder.”
To a Richer Life,
The Rich Life Roadmap Team