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National Park Guidelines for a Fun and Safe Visit

From the beginning, national parks have been created and established to help preserve natural areas. And throughout the years, they have protected precious wilderness from being destroyed and erased by expanding human activity. In the interest of keeping these reserves around for years to come, we’d like to share some of the best ways to help maintain them. So, please, follow these general guidelines and inform yourself about specific for the national park you plan to visit.

1: Follow the rules set up by national park rangers.

A ranger explaining national park guidelines.

While we might become annoyed by excessive or strict rules and regulations, they’re necessary in national parks. Specific park rules may include acquiring necessary permits for fishing, boating, and other activities. They may also dictate quiet hours or restrict the places where you can camp or hike. Remember, all guidelines are designed to maximize your fun by ensuring your safety. So do yourself and the parks a favor by obeying them!

2: Follow Leave No Trace Principles

A silhouette cartoon figure throwing trash away.

This is a simple, though often overlooked, national park guideline. Keep your campsite clean and the surrounding areas debris-free to ensure that plants and animals in the vicinity stay healthy. Try to leave your campsite a little better than you found it, as a courtesy to future guests. And that also helps ensure the national park will still be in excellent shape when you decide to return! If you’re camping overnight, plan ahead to have meals with minimal clean up and waste.

3: Do not feed or disturb animals.

Bears in a national park, showing one of our nature photography tips.

Though it might be tempting, it’s dangerous to feed food scraps to birds and animals in national parks. It makes animals dependent on humans for food (which means you’re more likely to have frequent furry visitors). And this, in turn, disrupts the natural ecosystem. Keep your food to yourself and your human friends and family.

4: Stay on the trail

A hiker staying on trail, a national park guideline.

Just because some influencer took a picture in a field of wildflowers does not mean you should. That kind of behavior, or even walking off a trail, can damage fragile wildlife and ecosystems. Leave wildflowers alone, uncrushed, and unpicked. Not only are you protecting the environment, but you are leaving it for others to discover!

5: Check in

woman, map, navigate

 

If you’re heading into any kind of wilderness area, you want people to know where you’re headed. Leave your route/hike information with family or friends, and check in at a national park guard station and leave your information as well. Keeping a record of your location makes it far safer if your plans go south.

Want to know more? Read about rock climbing guidelines in national parks! For more general national park guidelines, check out the resources provided by the National Parks Service.

What did we leave out? Leave us your favorite national park tip below!

National Park Guidelines Pin




The 6 Least Visited National Parks in the Lower 48

National Park Elbow Room

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the United States has 61 national parks that feature every kind of geographic location imaginable. From deserts to oceans, grasslands to mountains and everything in between. The most visited national parks boast millions of visitors every year, and I bet you can guess the names. 

Summer trips to these well-visited parks are on the bucket list of many people, which is great, but more people means more cars, more noise, more traffic, high fees and all the trappings of a big city, existing in these wilderness settings.

Looking for a less crowded experience? We don’t blame you. Try out these six least visited US national parks in the lower 48. We guarantee you’ll find beauty with a little bit of elbow room thrown in for good measure!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Annual Visitors: 172,347

With three distinct ecosystems, miles of hiking trails and the highest peak in Texas within its borders, Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP) is a well-worth it road trip destination that sits just off the beaten path. One of the great things about GMNP is the sheer number of trailheads that take can take you on any amount of day hikes, including the exquisite McKittrick Canyon. The steep, towering walls of McKittrick Canyon protect a rich riparian oasis in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert. GMNP is also considered a geology buff’s dream. The park protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. And if you know what that means, then you are probably pretty excited right now!

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Annual Visitors: 153,094

Have you ever seen a 5,000 year-old tree? Would you like to? It won’t be a problem if you visit Great Basin National Park. Based around Nevada’s second tallest mountain, Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park is a vast expanse of desert ecology which does not exist in this capacity anywhere else in the world. Found in isolated groves just below the tree-line on Wheeler peak, these ancient trees grow in twisted defiance to the onward progression of time. And speaking of the infinite, due to its extremely isolated and remote location, the park has some of the country’s darkest night skies.  This makes it the perfect park for stargazers.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Annual Visitors: 145,929

Since being declared a National Park in 2003, Congaree National Park has seen a limited number of visitors each year, which is a shame considering it has the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.

In addition to being a designated wilderness area, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, an important bird area and a national natural landmark, Congaree National Park features primitive campsites and offers hikingcanoeing, kayaking and bird watching.

One of the greatest things about Congaree is the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail. The canoe trail is a one-of-a-kind marked trail that winds its way through one of the largest concentrations of champion trees in the world.  These tallest known examples of 15 different species are accessible only by paddle, a shallow draft and an adventurer’s spirit.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Annual Visitors: 56,810

Looking for a little beach getaway with a whole lot of American History? Dry Tortugas National Park (DTNP) has what you are looking for. I don’t think we would be really going out on a limb here when we say that DTNP is one of the most unique of the national parks. Located 70 miles west of Key West Florida, DTNP is only accessible by plane or a daily ferry. Or I guess you could swim there . The point is, DTNP is completely surrounded by the crystalline blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This park is perfect for visitors who love snorkeling in one of the greatest undisturbed marine environments in the lower 48.

Camping is available on Garden Key within the park, and is well worth the time and effort. The stargazing is incredible, and you get to do it while camped on a tropical beach. For you history buffs out there, welcome to Fort Jefferson. A massive but unfinished coastal fortress, Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas. Composed of over 16 million bricks, the fort was constructed in 1861 to control shipping in the Gulf. The building covers 16 acres. Among United States forts, only Fort Monroe in Virginia and Fort Adams in Rhode Island are larger.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Annual Visitors: 30,085

There is no real good reason that the North Cascades National Park (NCNP) should be on the list of least visited national parks. Located just three hours from the bestirred metropolis of Seattle, NCNP is close enough to a major population center to be busy, but the North Cascades just don’t want to be busy, the North Cascades prefer to be by itself. Nearly the entire 500,000 acres of the park are designated wilderness. You cannot drive to any campsite in the NCNP; you have to walk there. Meaning if you like your solitude, this is the park for you.

What makes NCNP unique is that it is the only national park that doesn’t have some kind of visitor center or other amenities. Most of the access to the park is through the surrounding national forests or the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Once inside the park, the sense of wilderness is truly wondrous. With over 300 glaciers covering jagged lofty summits, alpine lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and forested valley floors, NCNP is the seeming definition of untrammeled. The park is also very popular with mountaineers who thrive on the un-obtained heights and technical granite that the park has to offer.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Annual Visitors: 25,798

Poor old Isle Royale National Park (IRNP). The loneliest of the lonely. The least-visited national park in the lower 48 is also, surprisingly, one of the largest. At 571,790 acres, IRNP is an island, but also includes over 400 smaller islands within 4.5 miles of its shores. 

Surrounded by the cold waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is rugged and pristine. The park boasts 165 miles of trails, including the 40 mile long Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs from one end of the island to the other. A virtual isolated wilderness, IRNP has two small villages at each end of the park where a visitor can get supplies, take a shower and sleep off the ground for the night. Other than that, Isle Royale has 36 campgrounds located across the island. These campsites are accessible only by foot or watercraft and add to the solitude, isolation and sense of wonder that can only come with a wilderness experience.

Have you been to any of these least visited national parks? If so, let us know what you loved about them!

Note: Visitor statistics for this post were obtained from the National Park Service.

 




Road Trips throughout the USA & Canada

It is hard to imagine the United States without the iconic road trips it has to offer. The way how this country has grown because of the massive growth in the automobile industry. The road trip in the United States represents something that can’t be found in any other country. The road trip started when couples and families started to become curious to discover the country, taking children to national parks and the outdoors. It is the best part to experience the United States and Canada, with having great conversations in the car, listening to music, sipping a cup of coffee and discovering the country’s diversity, beauty and cultural differences in real time. And, the best perk: it is very easy to drive in the United States given that all rental cars and RV’s come with automatic transmission, cruise control, cupholders and comfortable seats.

The national parks have a big impact in this as many famous roads were built to connect with public lands going through the open spaces. This will make it a perfect experience where you can go back in time to see how America was built and connected via most scenic highways throughout the country.

Is an American Road Trip right for me?

I would answer the question as an absolute yes. However, it comes with questions: are you ok driving long distances in a car, for example 5 hours of driving per day straight for two weeks? Do you enjoy sleeping in a different bed every night? Are you open for the unexpected? Road trips come with dangers. You can get into accidents and unforeseen weather changes, get stuck somewhere or your car may break down.

However, driving in the United States and Canada is a very safe experience, with an excellent highway and free system that connects national parks and major metropolitan cities. You will definitely see the country’s best when renting a car spending time on the road. While it might not always be very convenient, you will experience a sense of American freedom where you meet many locals on your journey.

Planning an American Road Trip with national parks

Ultimately, visiting the national parks and driving long-distances into the wide open space will make this a vacation of a lifetime for you. Therefore, we recommend planning ahead and starting with a map. Invest in good printed old school maps as your phone won’t always have connection to Google maps in remote areas. There are three things you should plan ahead:

  1. Choose your route. You can either make it a round trip or a start-end destination trip with different locations. The advantage of starting/ending at the same area is often better for airfares and car rentals. However, travel time and distance should weigh this decision.
  2. Reserve a rental car at least 2-3 weeks in advance at the airport where you will arrive. It is fairly easy to pick up rental cars at the airport. Buy proper insurance so that you are fully covered. You can either choose a tour operator/travel agent or find your deals about rental cars online. In case if you get an RV, you should calculate extra budget and insurance. Don’t forget that there are many things inside and outside the RV that can be damaged.
  3. Make hotel reservations in some areas. Especially in national park areas with a higher visitation, such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smokey Mountains, it might be challenging not to have a reservation. Check out our individual itineraries to learn more about when it is best to make a reservation.The other alternative is camping. Most of public camp sites in the United States are first-come first serve. This means that you should not be there later that noon to secure your spot. Some campgrounds allow you to make reservations in advance. For reservations inside national parks and state parks, you can find out more under Reserve America.

Top 10 Road Trip American Road Trip Ideas

While this is a hot topic and mainly discussed to find the “Ultimate American Road Trip”, we have put together the best road trips that we as a team believe will make this a vacation of a lifetime for you. Please note, that no road trip itinerary is absolutely perfect. However, they cover at least suggested overnight stays, distance between your stops along with the best activities and local secrets.

Yosemite & Grand Canyon in the Southwest

Covering California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, this is the traditional first-timer road trip for anyone who wants to see the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the most scenic national parks in Utah.

The Hidden Northwestern Parks

These cover California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia.
Beautiful with lush rain forests along the coast, local wines, national parks and the incredible Cascade Mountains, this trip is nothing short in experiences that might resemble you being in New Zealand, especially with the beautiful Pacific Ocean, together with remarkable cities like Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

Rocky Mountain High Country Parks

Covering Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, this trip is by far the highest elevation road trip with many mountain peaks, lakes, lush forrest, high-desert areas and dramatic weather that you can enjoy on your trip. Be prepared from driving through the desert up to passes that are 12,000 feet high, enjoying incredible mountain scenery, outdoor activities and hikes combined with Old Western history.

The Great American Road Trip

This would cover Illinois, South Dakota, Montana, Washington. It is one of the traditional one-way American road trips highlighting all the things you can discover in one country. You will start in Chicago and then head to the Black Hills, then see Yellowstone & Glacier National Park and end up in Seattle.

Back into the history of Highway 66

Covering Illinois, the Midwest and Southwest, it is one of the very first long-distance highways in the United States. This journey will take you from Chicago to Los Angeles. It covers over 2,448 miles that will let you discover a forgotten style of the 50s in North America. Of course, together with national parks.

Coast to Coast

This involves, logically, the entire country to discover from East to West. By starting in New York City, you will discover the country as it is from the east coast to the west coast. It will highlight the best national parks along the way. This might be strenuous, but it is the best trip to experience the entire United States; its cultural, natural and economic diversity.

Southeastern Beaches & National Park

This one includes Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. If you like sand beaches, warm weather, national parks and local foods, this would be a great way to see the best beaches in the United States. You can also combine it with a relaxing beach vacation. Plus, Disneyland, Universal Studios and Bush Gardens will keep your fun at an all time high.

Northeastern Metropolis

Covering New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maine, this road trip is known for the famous Niagara Falls, Acadia National Park, together with American’s most architectural cities like New York and Boston. You can also a start in Chicago, with an ideal combination of national parks and big cities.

American – Canadian Parks

In the US, it covers Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia, while Canada is neither anything short of road trips. This route covers the best national parks of both countries that you can combine in one trip. Of course, it requires some extra driving. However, you can discover two distinct countries in one trip, learning about local cultures.

Old West & Native Americans

Covering New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, this route is dedicated to visit the great American national parks in the Western United States, while discovering ancient roots of Native Americans and learning about the history of the Old West. It will include interpretive tours and riding old trains. Additionally, you should attend powwows and visit national parks in the United States.