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  • Writer's pictureAlec Carter

Four things to remember when camping in a national park

For us outdoorsy types, nothing quite compares to the liberating experience of spending a weekend (or longer) camped out in the wilderness. And where better to pitch up a tent than one of the country’s extraordinary national parks? From the kaleidoscopic flats of Yellowstone in Wyoming to the perfectly rugged Canyonlands in Utah, America’s catalog of national parks showcases some of the most spectacular views on Earth. 


As attractive as these wild spots are, camping within their borders requires a little prior planning. Especially if it’s your first time staying in a national park, there are some things you’ll need to keep in mind to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. For both your safety and convenience, we’ve compiled a list of four key things to remember when embarking on a camping trip to one of these sites.


two tents at night under trail of stars
Camping under the milky way

Reserve your spot in advance

America’s national park network is a big draw for both domestic and international tourists. Year-round, visitors head to these special spots that flaunt the very best of the country’s natural beauty. This can make it slightly challenging to find a space in the campsites – especially in the peak summer season. If you’re visiting one of the more popular parks, it’s even more important to be on the lookout for spaces long before your trip. For instance, Yosemite opens bookings for some of its campsites five months in advance, and slots get filled up very quickly. 


Outside of the peak season, you might be fortunate enough to find a space at one of the first come, first served sites which are common in most parks. However, especially if you’re traveling a long way or have come with young kids, it’s better to have that peace of mind knowing you’re guaranteed a place to stay before you arrive. 


Don’t rely on your mobile phone 

One thing first-time visitors might not have thought about is the lack of cell service and Wi-Fi across the national park network. You might be fortunate enough to find a connection in places, but you can expect it to be spotty at best. This makes it all the more important to carefully plan your trip in advance, since there are obvious safety risks to consider when exploring a new area with limited signal. 


To minimize these risks, it might be helpful to brush up on basic navigation skills, make sure you know where your party is (or where you’ll meet) at all times, and research in advance places you might be able to access the internet. Most national parks will have hotels onsite that offer Wi-Fi, so if you really need to use your phone at any point, heading to the accommodation will probably be your best bet. 


blue tent in conifer forest
Camping in the forest

However, lots of travelers see it as the perfect opportunity for a digital detox. While any younger campers may scoff at the idea, camping in a national park can be an excellent chance to detach yourselves from digital dependencies and enjoy a device-free stay in the remote wilderness. It can of course be a good idea to keep a phone handy in the group just in case of emergencies, but otherwise, you can truly disconnect from the outside world when camping in a national park.


Minimize your footprint 

Being able to enjoy the incredible sights and sounds of our national parks is a privilege that we shouldn’t take for granted. And it's our responsibility to ensure the pleasure of visiting these parks can be shared amongst future generations. To do that, we must all play our part in taking care of these spaces, especially when staying overnight. This means disposing of any waste properly, sticking to designated paths and campsites, and avoiding the temptation to take home any natural souvenirs you come across. 


It’s also vital to remember that you’ll be sharing the space with wild animals. For both our safety and theirs, we want to keep our distance as much as possible and avoid doing anything to disrupt their natural habitat. Most importantly, that means not making any loud noises or disturbances, and not feeding them any of your supplies. 


rock formations through glowing natural arch
Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park

Make a packing checklist 

Even if you’re an experienced camper, it’s always a good idea to make a packing checklist to ensure you’ve covered all bases and aren’t caught short once you arrive. There are some things that you’ll need to bring no matter where you go, such as a first-aid kit, a tent and a lamp or torch. 


However, depending on the park you’re visiting, the supplies you need might vary. For example, a visit to Death Valley, where temperatures have been known to exceed 50ºC, will require plenty of light clothes and sun protection. Whereas if you’re hiking or kayaking your way across the Kenai Fjords in Alaska, you’ll need to be well-equipped for some very different weather conditions. Of course, conditions are also prone to change throughout the seasons, so make sure you follow local advice and check up on the forecast so you’re properly prepared.  


 

Alec Carter is an experienced travel writer and takes immense pleasure in exploring new places. Often seen to be traveling with his golden retriever in tow, Alec is well on his way to ticking every national park off of his bucket list. 


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