The summer months are upon us. For many that means thoughts are turning to where to travel for the summer holiday. Of course when you're retired, every month is a new opportunity to travel. That's a good thing, because my bucket list
- you know, that list of places to see before you kick the bucket - keeps getting longer even while my time left to see them keeps getting shorter.
Regardless of where you call home, you should add America's National Parks to your personal bucket list.
With over 400 Parks, Monuments and Recreation Areas
- covering a range of diversity from
- to mountains
- to canyons
- to historic landmarks
- and more, there is something to appeal to everyones interests.
Planning a trip with so many options to choose from can be a bit daunting. My husband and I just returned from visiting some of the parks in the 4 Corners area, so I've put together my personal Top Ten Tips For Visiting America's National Parks
The single greatest resource you have is the National Parks Service Website
. Here you will find tools to help you find parks based on location, activity, or type. You can make your choice and then explore each park in greater detail. Everything you need to know for planning a visit is available here in an easy to navigate format.
Also associated with each Park are the entrance fees. If you are planning to visit multiple parks within a calendar year, check out the America the Beautiful
annual pass for cost savings. Or look for the annual National Parks Week when entrance fees for all Parks are waived.
Take the Road Less Travelled
Because of their remote locations and unique terrains, getting to the National Parks can be half the fun. Don't be afraid to look for interesting attractions along your route. Again, the National Parks Service Website
lists attractions in the area surrounding each park. Online mapping sites, such as Google Maps
, will show lesser known state parks that tend to cluster around the larger national ones. And here are three additional resources to assist you:
provided information on America's Scenic Roadways. Follow in history along Route 66, trace the path of the American Civil War, follow the mighty Mississippi River from source to Gulf of Mexico. These are just a sampling of the 150 Byways detailed here.
outlines over 7,000 Attractions and Oddities eccentric, entertaining, and unique roadside attractions and oddities. Find the world's largest ball of rubber bands, Stonehenge in a private Kentucky lawn, Hitler's toilet in New Jersey. Intuitive map interface allows for easy navigation and exploration.
is known by most people for their helpful reviews of restaurants, but this is also an excellent service for finding interesting attractions under the "Local Flavor" category
Visit Off Season
The National Parks have seen exponential explosion in numbers of visitors in recent years.
Peak season for most parks is May to September although there are some exceptions to that rule. Each parks website will detail the best times to go - and I highly recommend going off peak when possible. And unless you want all your pictures to be full of people taking pictures, plan to visit mid-week and early or later in the day.
Stay in Park
A lot of the parks have accommodations located inside the park itself. I cannot stress enough how NEAT some of these are. They tend to be older with fewer of the amenities we've grown accustomed to in modern hotels, but they are steeped in history and blend well with the character of the park. Plus you are in the park for those wonderful sunrises and sunsets before the crowds of peoples arrive for the day. Again the parks websites will list in park as well as local accommodation offerings and link you to the online reservation system. Just be aware - BOOK EARLY! You have a much better chance to nab a booking the earlier you start - although there is no guarantee for the more popular locations. Another tip is book SOMETHING that is cancelable - then check back at the website frequently for last minute cancellations.
While it is tempting to try to fill every hour of every day with planned activities, I would recommend adding a day or two open. This will allow you time to explore additional sites you may come across on your travels, maybe stay an extra day someplace you really enjoy, or simply have a day to relax and recharge.
Know Your Limitations (or lack of)
Every park offers a wide range of activities depending on your physical conditions and interests. From driving tours, to easy walks, hiking scaling all levels of difficulty and even some back country back packing. Park websites detail each of the activities available, and whether or not additional permits are required. Also look outside the park.
You can find kayaking expeditions, white water rafting, hang gliding lessons, and a whole host of other possibilities A good resource here is Virtual Tourist
which provides an easy tool for exploring things to do in any tourist area. Try something new, you might surprise yourself! I'm terrified of heights, yet went rock climbing on this last trip (sorry, no pictures, I was too busy clinging for my life to the side of the cliff).
Depending on where you are visiting, weather conditions can be extreme and change rapidly.
In the month that we were traveling, we had 90+ degree days and 12 degree nights. We had dust storms, snow storms, hail storms (at the bottom of a 600 foot canyon hike), and lots of wind. Take layers for clothing, always have plenty of water with you, and an emergency kit in the car.
A lot of the time we were out of cell phone range, so be ready to depend on yourself for a little while (at least until the Boy Scout Troop finds you!)
Respect the Environment
Take only pictures and leave only footprints. These words should be the mantra that guides you. Follow signs and warnings.
NEVER remove artifacts - in some cases this is illegal and will be prosecuted. Resist the temptation to touch everything you see - this only speeds up erosion and decay. Keep the park pristine so that your children's children can have the same opportunity to enjoy them.
Vacation or Photo Shoot - Decide Up Front
Breathtaking scenery. Drop dead sunrise and sunsets. Historical landmarks. Unique settings and artifacts. All of this awaits you in the National Parks. You will find yourself reaching for that camera constantly. But unless you are taking the same picture that millions of others have taken before (great for your photo album, but not so unique in the world of stock photography), you will want to spend time scoping out and capturing unique images. For your sanity - and that of your family - decide in advance how much time you want to devote to photography. Otherwise, everyone ends up frustrated.
Plan on Going Back
No matter how much time you plan - and how much you are able to pack into that time - I guarantee you will want to go back. Either to spend more time where you were, or to visit all the interesting things you found while there. As I said - the more I travel, the longer my bucket lists gets!
I hope this is useful - and that you get the opportunity in the near future to experience for yourself the grandeur that awaits in America's National Parks