8 Tips for Visiting U.S. National Parks


Lindsay McKenzie

Favorite Trip

Our favorite trip was when we first hit the road full-time and drove all the way up the coast of California and into Oregon. Our first 3 months as full-time RVers we drove the entire Pacific Coast Highway and camped at different beautiful beaches along the way. We then drove through the towering redwoods in Redwood National Forest and continued on through Oregon and Idaho on our way to Glacier National Park in Montana. There was so much stunning scenery and adventure around every corner that entire trip.

Home Base

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Favorite RV

We loved our Winnebago Navion 24D. It was nimble so we could park it pretty much anywhere but it still gave us a comfortable living space with the Murphy bed. We drove it all over the country!

About Contributor

Lindsay McKenzie travels full-time in her Winnebago Navion with her husband Dan and their 2 dogs. Originally from Colorado, they have been seeking adventure together for 10 years now and have done a lot of international traveling, including living in Costa Rica. They took the leap into full time RVing after experiencing life-altering news. They viewed the news as a life “detour” and started a travel and inspirational blog called Follow Your Detour. Lindsay has grown more passionate about pursuing her dreams and a leading a fulfilling life, while inspiring others to do the same. She loves that RVing allows her to be in nature and do more of what she loves. You can usually find her on the river fly fishing, hiking to sunset spots, or at a local brewery. (All photos by Lindsay McKenzie, except where noted.)

Our country’s National Parks are on every RVer’s bucket list. Whether you love hiking, fishing, rock climbing, or laying on the beach…there’s a National Park that will fit your adventure needs. But if you’re not an experienced National Park visitor, there are certain things you should keep in mind before booking your trip.

1. Plan ahead

Unless you plan to visit a National Park during it’s off season (which has its perks), you’ll need to plan your visit several months in advance. Many of the most popular National Parks get extremely crowded and busy during peak season, making it difficult to find last minute campsites. You’ll want to reserve your accommodations several months ahead, especially at the most popular parks. Yosemite, for example, can book up their campgrounds a year in advance!

If planning far in advance isn’t possible for you, you can sometimes get lucky by calling and getting on a wait list or asking a park if they have walk up reservations. Some parks keep some sites open as first come first serve, if you’re willing to show up early. Although camping right inside a national park is the best way to fully experience it, you can typically find several other campgrounds and RV parks within close proximity to the park so you can still enjoy day trips.

2. Enjoy outdoor activities inside the parks early in the morning

It can be difficult to enjoy the beauty of a National Park with the crowds. It can also be frustrating to get on the trail and have a storm roll in, requiring you to turn around. Enjoying nature early in the morning can help eliminate these factors. Arriving at the park’s trails and popular spots right after sunrise has several great benefits. You’ll be more likely to find a parking spot in the limited parking areas, you’ll have a better chance for good weather, and you may even find yourself with the trail or open space all to yourself!

Hidden Lake Glacier National Park

3. Expect to be out of service

This may seem like a silly tip since the whole point of visiting a National Park is to connect with nature. However, it can be a little frustrating if you aren’t prepared to be disconnected from wifi and cellular service. You’ll want to prepare for safety purposes, but also consider work obligations and any other contact you might need during your visit. While this isn’t the case for every National Park, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry.

4. Download the National Parks by Chimani App

You’re in luck! This free app doesn’t require wifi or cellular data to use. Not only does the Chimani app serve as a travel guide for your Park visits, but it is the ultimate source for information and photos of the National Park System, including national monuments, seashore, historic sites, and more. The app has a variety of other features including maps, the option to receive important notifications and updates, a badge earning system, etc. It’s truly a powerful tool to have in your pocket during your visit.

national park app

5. Pets

If you plan to travel with pets, you’ll want to be aware of each National Park’s regulations regarding pets, as they vary. In fact, most do not allow pets on the trails and wilderness areas. This is for your pet’s safety, as well as to protect the plant and animal life and environment inside the park. While you can still typically bring your pets along with you in the campground, you’ll have to plan accordingly for what to do with your pets while you are out adventuring. Or, stick to these 7 pet-friendly National Parks.

6. Take advantage of free entrance days

There are four days throughout the year that the National Park Service offers free entrance to any of their sites that typically charge a fee to enter. Those days are: January 15, April 21, September 22, and November 11. Free entrance does not include fees for other services, such as camping, transportation, or special tours. For more information about free entrance days, click here.

7. Buy the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass

The annual pass costs $80 and allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas.  If you plan to visit several National Parks within the year, the pass can pay for itself pretty quickly. Active military, senior citizens, disabled citizens, and families of fourth-grade students can receive free or discounted passes. For more details on what the pass covers and how to purchase it, visit this page of the National Park Service’s website.

8. Consider volunteering

Many people don’t know about the volunteer events that are offered at the National Parks. Volunteering to help with projects such as trail maintenance, habitat restoration, invasive plant removal, etc. can be a wonderful opportunity. It can also be a unique educational experience that allows you to give back while learning. What a fun activity for families or large groups to do together!

The NPS publishes their one-day volunteer events here. They also offer a volunteer program that has a variety of opportunities for people with specific skills and expertise that require varying time commitments. Click here for more information about that type of volunteer work in the National Parks.

volunteering at acadia national park

The National Park Service website is a great place to explore the different parks and sites, and find all the resources you need to plan your visit. Hopefully these 8 tips will help you be prepared and get the most out of your National Park adventures! It’s also important to remember to be respectful and protect our nation’s incredible National Parks. They are truly awe-inspiring and guaranteed to provide you with opportunities to create lasting memories.

  • Comment (3)
  • sue and dick harris says:

    We are thinking of selling our RV. Please send more information,and where are you located?

  • Rosie Beckett says:

    My family is thinking of visiting a few national parks this summer and we have never been to a national park before, so I am glad that I found these tips. You make a great point that you should plan ahead and get your accommodations months in advance because many of the parks are busy. Also, I will make sure that my family stays on the designated trails because this will help to keep the park beautiful and avoid erosion. http://www.desertpearl.com/en/homepage

  • Wade Thiel says:

    Hi Sue and Dick, Here’s our location finder. See which dealer is close to you: https://rv.campingworld.com/locations

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