Over the last 12 months I've had the tremendous opportunity to travel to 8 National Parks, 5 National Forests and countless other local and state parks. Every time I take off for an off the beaten path outdoor adventure I think of winding dirt roads and buffalo roaming freely juxtaposed against beautiful girls with easels painting wildflowers and ravens circling overhead.
The National Park experience can range from blistering heat in the summers to stark white cold in the winter, sprawling across ecosystems, from the dramatically high peaks, ancient desert badlands, old-growth lush rainforests and wildly rugged coasts. At each of the parks I’ve experienced (the full list is at the end of this post) the visitor centers always offers fantastic itineraries for day visit and overnight stays.
This weekend is weekend #2 of the National Park free weekend, so to celebrate I've got a quick run down of a few need to knows that will help you plan a dynamite experience in preparation for the great outdoors!
Before we get to that, however, a note about the park program, it's current funding situation and a way you can help!
Our National Parks are currently facing extreme budget cuts, there are 84 million acres of National Park land at stake. In honor of National Park Week (through April 24) Free People has created three vintage-inspired tees that represent three of the most traveled National Parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone and Joshua Tree. They're $68 and a portion of each sale will be donated to the National Parks Foundation.
I've always been a fan of the brand and now I'm like 🏞 💕 🙋🏼 seriously high fiving them for taking on this initiative. Get your hands on one of the tees to donate to the Park Foundation (and to represent your park love all year round).
You can shop the tees directly here:
So next up! Here's a few things to keep in consideration before you venture out this weekend:
Hours and Seasons:
The National Parks are open year-round, however, which parts of the parks you can access varies with the season. Depending on where you're traveling to and what the weather conditions have been - all roads aren't always open. Take a read back through my post on making out of the desert alive for a little reminder on how significantly a little bit of rain can impact a seemingly easy off road adventure.
Even if all the roads are opened, not all the trails will be open. When we visited Glacier National Park last May many trails were still snow covered, some were closed for grizzly sightings and others had avalanche conditions - including the Going to the Sun Road (one of the highlights of the park).
Always call or stop into the visitors center to get current information about what's happening out on the park roads. You'll have a beautiful time no matter, but safety is always first!
Camping, Lodging, and Where to Stay:
There's typically so many options for camping, or parking an RV, however, if you haven't planned in advance you'll need to get a game plan before making your way out, don't assume you can just pitch a tent and crash. Often camp sites are first come first serve, and I'll tell you, one late night as I Ben and I drove along the primitive roads of Big Bend we came across campsites wayyyyy out.
There's no way I would have wanted to stay where rattlesnakes and scorpions make their home and I don't watch movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a reason. We typically Airbnb or stay in roadside lodges in nearby towns, however even these can fill up quickly on weekends like this one. If you're braver than me check in early to get dibs on a campsite; and - if you'll be spending your day hiking make sure you remember how to get back to your tent, things can look very different after dark.
What to Pack
I shared this list before in my Glamping Essentials post however, it's a good one I think so here it is again:
Tent, sleeping bag and pillows (or an air mattress and an SUV) - unless you're traveling in an RV, of course or staying in an Airbnb or lodge
Bug Spray, Bear Spray (yep, that's a real thing) and a Traveling First Aid Kit
Jugs of Water (lots of it)
Sunscreen (I can't stress it enough, you need it even when you're not swimming or in direct light!)
Bathing Suits (I like to pack a one piece and a two piece, the one piece can double as a top when worn under skirts or shorts)
Layers of Clothes (hot days transition to cold nights)
Baby or Makeup Wipes (there isn't always water for washing your face at night)
Your Favorite Read (I like to pick up used books on the road too)
A Journal and a Pen
Travel Beauty Products (just the basics!)
Snacks and Organic Canned Foods (things that wont spoil)
Solar Powered Chargers and a Portable Record Player (there's nothing better than old records under the stars!)
I'll close with a few of my favorite photos from our journey across the park system. Over the course of the year we visited Big Bend, White Sands, Zion, The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Rocky Mountain and Joshua Tree. The National Forests we spent time in: Los Padres, Santa Fe, Gallatin, Shadow Mountain and Arapaho. Whew, I'm having such nostalgia just thinking about it! So much of these adventures are covered in my coming book! Be sure to pre-order you guys!
I hope this list is useful and I'd love to see your National Park photos! Share with me where you'll be going in the comments and tag #OuiLoveParks to share your park photos!
All photos were shot by Ben (the landscape shots from the parks are all 35 mm).