It may still be winter, but if you haven’t yet gotten serious about your summer adventure in our National Parks, the time is now. Like, right now. Demand to experience our parks remains at an all-time high. Over the last 10 years, the number of visitors to the most popular parks has increased more than 40%, according to the National Park Service. That’s huge. So, what now?
1. Decide where you want to go, but be flexible.
The demand for Yellowstone and Yosemite has been very high. And don’t even think about getting in to Grand Teton during the week of the Total Solar Eclipse (August 21). So the first thing to do is to decide where you want to go, but be flexible, because even now some lodges and campsites are booked up solid.
If your first choice is sold out, have second and third choices in mind. Some parks and monuments are amenable to last-minute bookings, like Canyonlands in Utah and Devils Tower in Wyoming. Also, keep in mind that some reputable outfitters, like Tracks & Trails, will still have access to many campgrounds.
2. Book your campsite or lodging.
Once you lock in where you want to go, reserve your campground or lodging. Reservations are essential, particularly at lodges inside National Parks. While some campsites at popular parks offer first-come, first-served sites, those can book up well before 10 am each day.
Many in-park lodges and campgrounds open up for reservations 5-6 months ahead of the month you plan to visit. And many can book up solid that same day. Be sure to visit the website for the park(s) you want to visit for the scoop on how to make reservations. Yosemite even lays out a step-by-step diagram for you.
3. Get an RV.
Just as campsites and lodges can book up quickly, so too can RV rentals. There are only so many to go around. Given an RV is one of the most popular ways to see and navigate our National Parks, you’ll want to book the right size RV for your family as soon as possible.
Most RVs can be picked up near major airports like Las Vegas and Denver that are within easy driving distance of top National Parks. Once you decide which parks you want to visit, Tracks & Trails will be able to both book your RV and your campsites, taking some of the stress out of the planning process.
4. Go at off-peak times.
As with travel to most other family destinations, you can find more availability when you book during an off-peak time. July is always a popular time in our National Parks, especially over the July 4th holiday, but if you can travel to our parks in May or late-August, even September, you’ll be rewarded.
There’s a lot of value to visiting our National Parks during off-peak times. Not only will there be fewer visitors in the parks, which means less-crowded trails and picnic areas, but you’ll also find more availability at prime campsites and with companies offering everything from horseback trail rides to fly fishing trips.
5. Plan ahead for early wake-up calls.
If you’re not an early-riser now, you may want to wrap your mind around waking up early while on vacation in our National Parks. I know, it seems crazy to have to wake up early while on vacation, but you’ll thank yourself when you’re able to avoid the crowds and get to popular areas before everyone else.
By waking up early, you can hit the trails before everyone else, capture the most beautiful photos and enjoy some incredible sunrises in our National Parks. Pack a tripod in your daypack if you can to help ensure steady, more sharply focused photos (you can even get a tripod for use with your iPhone camera).