National parks are some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world. They offer a chance to experience nature in all its glory, from towering mountains to fascinating deserts to lush forests. But arriving at a park can be quite overwhelming with ambiguity. That’s because just about everything in life is difficult before you become familiar with it. So, If you’re planning a trip to a national park, here is the first thing  you should do:

Visit the park’s visitor center and talk with a ranger.

My favorite way to get my bearings within a national park is to pull up to the main visitor center and ask a ranger what they recommend. Most parks have rangers waiting to answer your questions. Here they will provide a map and point out points of intrigue throughout the park. Ask questions, they are there to help. What are their favorite hikes? What do they recommend for a 2-day visit? They typically have great insight and they are experts.

Also while there, pick up a magnet and start your collection. My wife and I have a huge magnet board with a magnet for just about every city, state, park, country, and destination we have visited.

Doing this one thing will have you leaving the visitors center with confidence and a plan of attack for your visit. Or at least, much better context.

ernst tinaja in Big Bend National Park

Ernst Tinaja in Big Bend National Park

snow caps the peaks of Bryce canyon making it look like ginger bread with icing.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Here are a few more things to consider prior to your visit:

Do your research.

Before you go, take some time to learn about the park you’re visiting. What are the most popular activities? What are the best times of year to visit? What are the park’s rules and regulations? This will help you make the most of your trip. I also like to buy a park guide or use a trusty site like this.

Plan your itinerary.

Once you know a little bit about the park, you can start planning your itinerary. What activities do you want to do? How much time do you have? Where will you stay? Having a plan will help you make the most of your time in the park.

Get the necessary permits and reservations.

Some national parks require permits or reservations for certain activities, such as camping or hiking. Be sure to check the park’s website or contact the park ahead of time to see what you need.

Pack the essentials.

Depending on the activities you plan to do, you’ll need to pack different things. However, there are some essentials that everyone should bring, such as sunscreen, insect repellent, a first-aid kit, and water. LOTS of water.

Be prepared for the weather.

National parks can be unpredictable, so it’s important to be prepared for any type of weather. Pack layers of clothing so you can adjust to the temperature, and be sure to bring rain gear in case of a storm. Also note desert conditions where temperatures can reach 120º F. Don’t hike in extreme heat and be sure to be off the trails before noon. Heat is the main killer in parks. People die, folks. Take it VERY seriously.

Leave no trace.

When you’re in a national park, it’s important to leave no trace of your presence. This means packing out all of your trash, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife. My rule is leave it better than you found it.


National parks are a great place to relax, enjoy the outdoors, reconnect with nature. Soak up the scenery, go for hikes, swim in lakes, and learn about the park’s natural history.

Following these tips will help you make the most of your visit to a national park. So get out there and explore!

Here are some additional tips for visiting a national park:

  • Be respectful of wildlife. Do not approach or feed any animals, and stay at least 100 yards away from bears, bison, etc.
  • Stay on designated trails. This helps to protect the park’s fragile ecosystems.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to weather conditions and potential hazards.

Saguaro National Park at sunrise

Saguaro National Park at Sunrise

The narrows in Zion National Park

The Narrows in Zion National Park

I hope this helps make your trip to a national park much more enjoyable.

And don’t forget:

RESPECT the land, park rules, the community, and fellow visitors, and always leave it better than you found it.

-Adam Brower

Here are a couple of videos I made…