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Your Trip to US National Parks: What Do You Need to Know?

We may have been cramped up and locked down for over a year, but there’s one place we don’t have to worry about social distancing: the great outdoors. 

If you have a trip to one of the National Parks on your calendar, then don’t skimp on some of the prep work that will ensure smooth sails. 

You’ll want to know your physical limits and pack your day bag like your life depends on it. There are admission fees and required passes for the National Park Service, so don’t gloss over that part of the planning stage, either.

Together, let’s get our checklists going with a few essentials for savvy adventurers. 

Your Limits

Before you plan your trip, be honest with yourself about your limitations. How many miles do you typically walk in a day? Don’t try to plan for a 10-mile hike if you barely clock a mile most days. 

The National Park Service labels hiking difficulty through a numerical rating system

  • Elevation Gain x 2 x distance

Once you have the answer, you take its square root and arrive at the numerical rating.  

For example, a 10-mile hike that gains 2,000 feet in elevation would be 2,000 x 2 x 10 = 40,000.

The square root of 40,000 is 200. 

So, what does 200 mean for your limitations? Every numerical rating gets categorized into one of five categories: 

  1. Easiest – Numerical rating less than 50
  2. Moderate – Numerical rating of 50-100
  3. Moderately Strenuous – Numerical rating of 100-150
  4. Strenuous – Numerical rating of 150-200 
  5. Very Strenuous – Numerical rating greater than 200

As such, a 10-mile hike might be out of range for someone who isn’t able to clock a one-mile walk every day. And remember: even if this was an example of a two-mile walk, don’t immediately assume it’s doable. The elevation gain could be a bit of a wrench, in terms of difficulty. 

The Regulations

Next, take a gander at the park’s regulations. Don’t assume you can bring Fido just because you’re in the great outdoors. Also, there may be group size restrictions or fire regulations (if you’re planning on camping).

There’s no point in planning a peaceful, relaxing weekend under the moon and the stars, only to have a run-in with the law.

Take a quick peek at the park’s site before planning a family reunion with 100 first and second cousins. 

The Essentials

Whether it’s a day trip or a weekend getaway, you must include the essentials in your gear. The National Park Service comes through again with a list of 10 essential items. Here are some of the most important ones: 

  • Offline map (in case cell service goes down)
  • Paper map (in case your cell phone dies)
  • Hat
  • Sunblock
  • Rain gear
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Matches
  • Water

Whether you’re dealing with a day pack or a weekend duffel, these items are your bare minimum. We didn’t even discuss food and repair tools (like a Swiss Army knife). But, you have to weigh how long you’re hiking and how long you’re staying in the balance. 

Off-roading is another option. Knowing where to buy Jeep accessories, for example, could lead you to all kinds of new adventures. You won’t have to worry about finding the square root of any number at all! 

Instead, you can pop the sides off your Jeep, wrangle through all kinds of terrain, and soak up the sun (and mud) on what’s sure to be a wild ride. (This is a good time to check park regulations before you get too many ideas in your head.) 

The Paperwork

Sure, most people don’t talk about paperwork for a day trip in the great outdoors. But, there are a few items you should consider. 

First, you’ll need some type of ID if you’re planning an extended stay in a national park.

Second, you’ll need your tickets. The National Park system does charge an entrance fee. So, you’ll want to print your tickets out to make sure (after all this planning) you get in without a second glance. 

But, here’s the good news: an annual pass for the National Park Service is $80 for Americans. Needless to say, an individual day pass won’t break the bank. You can check each park’s individual site for full admission details. 

Then, if you’re planning on fishing, you may need to show a permit for this type of activity. Again, familiarize yourself with the park regulations and make sure you have whatever you need in hand at all times. 

Finally, if you’re old school, you might want to keep a resource book in your pack. Maybe you’ll want to know more about the local flora and fauna. That’s a fun way to add a little enhancement to your visit – be it long or short. 

The Weather

This is pretty intuitive, right? Still, the weather impacts every aspect of your trip. It indicates what type of gear to pack and what type of activities are possible. 

So, you can’t go wrong by downloading the National Weather Service app. If you’re planning on camping, research the average temperature during the time of year you’d like to go. 

What if the days are glorious, but the nights are frigid? That’s nothing to worry about, just something to pack about. 

Visit All the National Parks

Wouldn’t that be an awesome goal? There must be plenty of people out there who have made it their life mission to visit all the National Parks in America. You could be one, too, especially if you make some of them off-roading expeditions. 

As you keep leveling up to a healthy lifestyle and get out there in the great outdoors, keep coming back to check out the latest articles. They’re always being updated, with your personal growth and success in mind. 

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