There are a lot of things you can do before you head to a park to ensure your visit is safe and enjoyable. Planning is key when it comes to a park visit, and it’s crucial to “know before you go.”
Pick a Park
The first step is an easy one – find a park! Use this park finder tool to sort through parks by state or activity offered, or take the Find Your Park Quiz for personalized recommendations. Consider the season you’ll be visiting the park, the length of your trip, and what activities you might want to do while in the park. Do your research on the park’s website and social media channels to explore any ranger activities you may want to participate in or their own tips for visiting.
One of the best ways to find a park is to explore it locally. A park trip is a great opportunity to explore your own backyard, especially if traveling long distances is off-limits. If you can’t make it to a park, discover ways to explore national parks virtually.
Pick Your Activities and Know Your Limits
Once you’ve found your park, explore the ways to enjoy it. From driving tours to backcountry hikes, there are many ways to enjoy the wonder of national parks. Check the park’s website and download the National Park Service app to explore maps, park tours, amenities, accessibility information, and visitor attractions at the park of your choice. Make sure you check the requirements for any permits or food storage and disposal, group size restrictions, and any park regulations by visiting the park’s website. Note if there are any park closures at the time of your visit.
When planning a park visit, it’s important to consider the limits of you and your other group members. Choose the activities you can all enjoy and reduce the chance of needing to be rescued by assessing the skill, experience, fitness level, and any other medical considerations, such as required medications, of everyone in your group. Sketch out the basics of your trip and make any necessary reservations.
Play it Safe
When undertaking more rigorous activities in parks, it’s important to develop and practice an emergency plan that will help you and your group respond to a lost or injured group member. You should not count on cell phone reception in parks, so it’s important to develop and practice your plan before you head out, so everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency.
Plan ahead for your trip to the park itself and learn about the environment and hazards that may delay or alter your visit, such as inclement weather. Develop a backup plan, with alternative activities or a rescheduled date, in case something throws a wrench in your plans.
Groups of park visitors may want to designate a group member as a safety leader. Safety leaders can prep for a park visit by checking first aid kits, practicing with equipment, familiarizing themselves with the route, or even taking a first aid or CPR course.
Create a Trip Plan Document
A trip plan is a document that includes all the information necessary for your park trip, including travel and activity details, a list of equipment you might need, the people who are joining you on your trip, and your expected return date and time. Use NPS’s trip plan template to get started.
This is an especially important step for those planning longer trips or heading into backcountry. In the event of an emergency, a trip plan will help search and rescue efforts find you. Nature can be as unpredictable as it is beautiful – weather conditions or equipment failure can put you or your visit in danger. Before you head out to the park, leave your trip plan with your emergency contact.
When it’s time to pack up, make sure you’re including the 10 essentials – must-have tools for navigation, sun protection, nutrition, first-aid, and more. Remember: you can’t always rely on cell service or battery life, so don’t count on your phone to be a light source, a map, or a survival kit.
If you’re using equipment, be sure to do a test run so you are confident in using the equipment properly. Practice setting up your campsite, for example. Make sure equipment is in working order and that any fitted items, such as hiking boots, backpacks, and life jackets, are the correct size.
Right before you head out, ensure that park conditions are ideal for your planned activity. Check the park’s website for current weather and operating conditions. Make sure to get gas and use the bathroom before you head out to a park, in case facilities are closed. Check in with your emergency contact and leave them a copy of your trip plan document, and double-check you’ve packed your permits and any important paperwork.
Source: National Parks.org
Zion National Park – photo source egorshitikov on Pixabay