By Sara Novak, Planet Green
The U.S. National Park System is second to none and heading outdoors is the best way to learn for yourself and teach your children the importance of preserving all the natural beauty that we are lucky enough to get to enjoy.
Most recently, I headed to a number of national parks in California including Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, and others. Along the way I’ve gathered some really valuable tips about camping in the park system that will ensure your voyage is what you expected and more.
1. Make a Reservation
You can reserve a campsite in many national parks and you should. Especially during the busier times of the year like the spring and summer; the more popular national parks really fill up. Yosemite and Yellowstone are always packed during peak times but you can reserve one year ahead for Yosemite and six months ahead for Yellowstone. Some of the camps don’t require a reservation but in those cases, you can’t be sure if you’ll get there and have a place to stay. In the few campgrounds in Yosemite that don’t require a reservation, many of them fill up in the early afternoon, so you’d better arrive early. Think ahead and reserve online.
2. You Must Get a Permit if You Plan to Back Country Camp
For the more ambitious of campers that don’t require any facilities and want to escape all civilization, back country camping is likely your chosen route. Remember that at most parks you must check in at a ranger site and purchase a back country camping permit. Additionally, the ranger will tell you the safest places to camp and the best hikes to take you there. Come prepared with light weight gear. Back country campers will likely want a light weight tent, or you can do as my husband does, and just camp with a tarp overhead. Don’t overdo the gear because you have to haul it in and back.
3. Know Park Predators and Listen to Prescribed Precautions
Each park has its known predators and it’s critical to know what they are, and be aware of the associated precautions. We recently visited Big Bend National Park in Texas where the predators are mountain lions and black bears. A black bear made its way a little too close to our campground but it was no big deal because everyone’s food and toiletries were safely secured. Put all food and food remnants in the secured bear locker. Do the same with toiletries. That means that if you drain beans or cook pasta the liquid must be discarded in the camp’s facilities and if there’s not any, store in a water bottle until you get to a proper place.
4. Camp Away From the RVs
The RVs often have separate portions of a campground and then there’s another area labeled “no RV hookup.” If you’re just tent camping, that’s where you want to be because there’s less noise. We like to stake out and reserve our campground early on so that we can find the more secluded areas. RVs have more equipment and sometimes more people, which can be disruptive. If you want to really connect with nature with little distraction, find more isolated campgrounds with fewer facilities.