You’re hearing you might have to reserve your entrance time? You will this summer season but only at certain parks and only during certain times of the day. I have the details below.
You’re hearing the weather might be hard to plan for? It will likely be unpredictable but we’ve got the best ways to pack smart.
It seems like the US national parks have never been more popular as vacationers seek fresh air and the best of nature. Record numbers of visitors are expected to make their way into America’s 63 national parks this summer of 2022.
Follow these tips and tricks to get you out of your vehicle and onto the trail so you can leave the crowds behind.
Book your reservations in advance at these parks
To combat overcrowding and human impact on the fragile ecosystems at some of the busier parks, the National Park Service (NPS) will require visitors to make reservations in advance at seven national parks this summer: Glacier, Yosemite, Acadia, Zion, Haleakalā, Rocky Mountain, Arches, and Shenandoah.
Angel’s Landing is one of the most popular hikes in any US national park. The trail to the summit ascends a sandstone spine providing hikers with spectacular views and a true sense of adventure along the way. As of April 1, 2022, lottery-based permits are required to hike this trail. The lottery can be entered the day before your hiking day.
Related: The National Parks Saw Record Crowds in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?
Starting April 3, Arches National Park implemented a temporary pilot timed entry system slated to expire after October 3, 2022. The $2 tickets will be required between 6 am and 5 pm and can be purchased on a first come first serve basis three months in advance.
From March 1 through November 30, 2022, hiking Shenandoah’s most popular mountain—Old Rag— will require a $1 permit. Old Rag day-use permits can be purchased at Recreation.gov up to 30 days in advance of your hike.
3 top tips on how to prepare ahead
Making park reservations before a visit isn’t the only thing you need to do to prepare for a trip to one of the national parks. Depending on your goals, there are several things you can do to ensure your trip goes as planned.
1. Make campground reservations
Camping can be one of the most rewarding (and easiest on your wallet) ways to spend the night at a national park. But during the summer, many campgrounds at the most popular parks—Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountains, Arches, and Zion, to name a few—get booked well in advance. Reserve a campground on Recreation.gov to make sure you don’t find yourself scrambling for a place to pitch a tent (or park your RV) at night.
Check to see if the park you’re visiting is designated as an International Dark Sky Park and if it is make sure to spend at least several nights camping under the stars. Parks like Arches, Great Basin, and Joshua Tree can be spectacular during a new moon on a clear night.
Related: Escape Crowded National Parks at these 4 Alternate Destinations
2. Plan for backcountry travel
Heading into the backcountry can be intimidating. But it can also be the only way to find peace and solitude in places like Yellowstone where the majority of visitors stick to the roadside attractions. Traveling into the backcountry away from roads, crowds, and on-demand rescue is a skill that can be honed over time.
To get you started consider the 8-mile round trip hike out to Chilean Memorial in Olympic National Park. Check with the park in advance to see if a backcountry travel permit is required—and don’t be afraid to ask park rangers for beginner-friendly recommendations!
3. Use a map
While looking up “the best hikes in Arches” or “where to camp in Joshua Tree” is a great starting point for planning a trip to a national park, there is no replacement for a simple map. With an endless number of trails at each park, using a map to pick a route and destination can provide priceless insight into available options. Almost every major destination in a park has numerous trails leading to it and a map will show you all of them—the long way, shorter way, steeper way, a route that goes past a waterfall, and so on.
Consider visiting one of the lesser-visited parks
With 63 national parks in the US, it’s not hard to get away from the crowds even during the busiest season. Yet, parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion seem to get all of the attention.
That’s great news for those who are open to exploring any of the national parks but are hoping they won’t have to sit in a traffic jam while doing so. Parks like North Cascades in Washington, Capitol Reef in Utah, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Lassen Peak in California are easily accessible, experience a fraction of the visitors as some of the more popular parks and are just as spectacular.
What to bring matters the most
Pack the proper layers for hot days and cold nights: As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Having the right clothes can make or break your trip to a national park.
Related: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022
Avoid cotton, which doesn’t dry once wet, instead opt for synthetic materials, fleece, and wool. Make sure you have several layers so you can adjust as necessary depending on the weather and activity. A good rain shell, set of hiking pants, down jacket, and base layers will not only keep you comfortable but also safe out on the trail. And don’t be afraid to pack more layers than you think you’ll need.
“A giant thirst is a great joy when quenched in time.”
—Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968)
Not drinking enough water may be the most common mistake made by hikers. Whether you are walking in the heat or the cold, at sea level or a higher altitude, adequate hydration should always be a priority. When hiking in hot and/or humid conditions, one quart per hour is generally recommended as the minimum requirement. The same goes for altitude where although the temperature may be cooler, the air is drier and thinner. In milder conditions at lower altitudes, half of the above-mentioned quantity should normally suffice. Drink often. Rather than chugging water infrequently, take many smaller sips to continually hydrate. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. By then it is too late.
Wide-brimmed hats provide shade. Shade keeps you cooler. Cooler temperatures mean you don’t have to drink as much water. Rocket science it ain’t.
If you plan on leaving the Visitor’s Center and heading out for even a short hike, it’s important to bring food. From a safety perspective, having extra snacks is crucial in case something unexpected happens, keeping you out for longer than originally anticipated. Not to mention, having to cut a trip short due to not being prepared can be a pretty big disappointment.
Related: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks
Get appropriate hiking shoes
While a pair of tennis shoes will likely suffice during a short stroll, anything more than a moderate hike will be a lot more enjoyable with the appropriate footwear. Some prefer lightweight trail running shoes which have the traction necessary when ascending and descending steep and rocky sections of trail. What they lack, however, is support. A solid leather hiking boot while heavier than a trail running shoe provides ankle support that can come in handy, especially when carrying a heavier load on your back.
However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.