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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

Seems everybody is headed off to the National Parks this season, and we don’t blame them. America’s parks seem like the perfect vacation destinations for a road trip, to get out into nature and escape the crowds of the city. If you’re making your first foray into the parks, or your first in a long time, keep some of these National Parks travel tips in mind before you head out.

RELATED: 10 amazing National Parks photos to inspire your next trip

Book your accommodations early

Most National Parks book up way in advance. Especially if you’re looking for non-camping lodging options (think lodges, park run hotels, etc.). Depending on the time of year, the campsites can book up pretty fast, too, so it’s. smart to book as soon as you know your trip dates.

Pack for park bathrooms

If you are staying multiple days, say hello to a park restroom, aka the “comfort station.” These are communal bathrooms shared with other park-goers that often have no toiletries or other supplies, so they command their own packing list, like flip flops (for the showers), a towel and a shower caddy (basically, you’re going back to your college dorm days—bring anything you would for communal showers).

Consider an annual pass

Do the math ahead of time on how many days you plan to stay: If it’s more than 2 or 3, you’re likely better off getting a National Parks pass. For $80, the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows the pass owner plus three adults to enter the park in a single vehicle (kids under 16 are always admitted free). Plus, the pass gives you access to 2,000 federal recreation sites, so if later on your trip or later in the year you decide to visit another park, you can use it there, too.

Take advantage of park shuttles 

Parking is usually pretty limited in National Parks. But the parks plan for this and offer shuttle options to get you in and out. Just be sure to research the option ahead of time. 

Time your hikes to avoid crowds

It’s summer, so if you think you’re the only one with the idea of getting up early to hit the trails, you’d be wrong. The busiest times for the park trails tend to be in the early morning and evening in peak summer, so be sure to plan ahead.

Prepare for visitors of the wild kind

If you are overnight camping, be aware of wildlife and keep a clean campsite. Make sure you don’t leave food out, secure your cooler (ie. you might want to keep it in a car or fasten it with bungee cords), don’t litter, etc. And if you are in an area with bears, get bear spray just to be safe!

Consider accommodations outside the parks

The reality is that most National Park lodging books up about a year in advance. So if you’re trying to throw together a 2020 summer parks trip, remember that most spots were already booked in 2019. That said, you’ll still likely be able to find accommodations in nearby gateway towns. Just go to an online travel agency like, click the Hotels tab and enter the name of the park you plan on visiting in the “Going to” field.   

Don’t forget about state parks

America’s National Parks are amazing, bucket list-worthy attractions, but don’t forget about nearby state parks, WMAs (wildlife management areas), Army Corps of Engineers parks, city/county parks for other camping options within driving distance of the bigger National Parks. Chances are they are cheaper and less busy. But be aware that often you’ll need a state park sticker—and may have to pay extra if you are coming with out of state plates—when staying at state parks. Just remember, supporting your state and national parks is a good thing. Consider the entry fee your donation to preserving mother nature!

Tagged: California, Cheap Tips, Destinations, Seasonal, Tips & advice, Types of Travel

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CheapTickets Blog Editors

CheapTickets Blog Editors

CheapTickets editors are a diverse group of writers and bloggers who live and work all over the world and who have a passion for student-friendly budget travel coursing through their veins. Whether it's finding the most Instagrammable yurt in the Coachella Valley or uncovering dirt cheap eats in expensive cities like Tokyo and Paris, our writers take the road less traveled to uncover the world's best deals and destinations.

One thought on “8 essential tips for your National Parks trip”

  1. You didn’t warn people to do some research before they plan. We were spending 1 week at Beaver Creek, CO, and wanted to spend some time at Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve been there a few times and went up Highway 34 from Grandby. We spent 2 1/2 hours driving, only to find out we were not allowed into the Park without a reservation. I asked if we were simply going to Estes Park, CO on the highway, could we simply drive through. No way! Unless we had a reservation (there were none available until the following Saturday), we could not go through the park. I suggested they should have a large sign at the junction of US 40 and Highway 34, saving us 18 miles to the entrance of the Park…

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