Pictured: Yellowstone Boardwalk. Photo: NPS / Neal Herbert.

With June being the official Great Outdoors Month, The National Park Service has released a top-ten list of visitation tips encouraging members of the public to “Plan Like a Park Ranger” this summer.  

With some parks already seeing record-shattering visitation numbers and an increase in attendance expected to grow through the summer, many parks and businesses in and around nearby communities are already feeling the strain as reduced or limited services, schedules and staffing, continue to be an issue.   

To help keep themselves and others safe, park visitors are encouraged to review CDC guidance when making their plans to recreate responsibly. Consistent with the CDC recommendations, people who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. Masks are required for everyone on all forms of public transportation.  

“We are excited to welcome visitors back to the great outdoors for their vacations at parks and public lands around the country. With many popular destinations expecting record visitation while parks and communities emerge from the ongoing pandemic, we hope these insider tips will help visitors make the most of their trips,” said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge.

Photo courtesy of NPS.

Top-Ten Tips to “Plan Like a Park Ranger”: 

  1. Have a plan…and a backup plan  
    For us, a park visit begins at home with a trip to NPS.gov. Park websites have ideas about where to go, what to see, and what to do, and most important, what we need to include in our planning. Flexibility and a backup plan are key, too, in case of changing weather conditions, road closures, etc.  
    Learn more > Tools of the trade for planning your visit 
  2. Be patient with each other and us 
    We always remember to allow ourselves extra time to get from one place to another and enjoy the experience. This season, national parks are already bustling. Like lots of places you go this year, we may not yet be able to offer the past level of service as we emerge from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And keep in mind that people who are not fully vaccinated must wear masks inside park buildings and in crowded outdoor areas.  
    Learn more > Information about the NPS response to the pandemic and operational updates 
  3. Travel off the beaten path  
    There are more than 400 national parks across the country. We love exploring the lesser-known ones. They can be a great option for travelers looking for all the beauty of nature, hiking trails, and rich history, with fewer crowds and lines. 
    Learn more > Advanced search for a park by topic, activity, or even close to you in your state 
  4. Reservations may be needed  
    We heart reservations. Many campgrounds and lodges in and around well-known parks are already fully booked. Having a reservation guarantees you won’t arrive at a park only to find  that you need an entrance reservation, there’s no place to sleep, or a popular trail is closed.  
    Learn more > Check the park website for details or visit recreation.gov 
  5. Ask a ranger  
    Have a question? Ask a ranger. (Yep, we ask other rangers about visiting their parks.) We’re always here to help. We can answer questions, share park stories (we’re always happy to point you to the nearest restroom), and we can let you know what activities are available.  
    Learn more > Ask a Ranger (Really, that’s the name of the page.) 
  6. Explore the new NPS app  
    We nerded out over our own app—it’s very cool. You can even access it offline if you plan ahead! The new NPS App offers tools to explore more than 400 national parks…interactive maps, tours, accessibility information, and more. And we’re adding new content every day!  
    Learn more > One app, every park at your fingertips 
  7. Keep safety in the picture  
    We love to take photos. (Have you seen our Instagram?) But we like surviving the process, too—so we’re careful to take them where it is safe. Some popular trails and views may be especially crowded this year, so an unobstructed photo might require a bit of a wait.   
    Learn more > Great tips for photography in parks 
  8. Don’t pet the fluffy cows  
    JK, but bison can weigh up to 2,000 lbs and run up to 35 mph—and they can really hurt you. We can’t run that fast and are pretty sure you can’t either. Keep your distance from wild animals, never feed the wildlife, and when taking pictures, use your zoom and give them room. #SafeSelfie  
    Learn more > Super ideas about what equipment to bring and how to protect yourself and those cool critters 
  9. Leave only footprints  
    We know that each of us—rangers, volunteers, visitors, everyone—plays a vital role in protecting YOUR national parks. Whether it’s carrying out what we brought in (including our pooch’s…well…you know), leaving the spots we visit as we found them, or staying on the trail, we’re careful to respect these incredible places.  
    Learn more > Seven principles to leave no trace 
  10. Ruffing it?  
    This one’s for the dogs. Many parks allow pets on leashes and in campgrounds, some even have kennels. But sometimes these furry friends are best left at home. Discover what you can (and can’t) do with your pet and follow the B.A.R.K. principles.  
    Learn more > Yep, your pet can be a BARK Ranger (See what we did there?) 

Several parks, including Zion, Acadia, and Rocky Mountain are using some form of a timed-entry reservation system this summer. Prior to arrival, make sure you know the specific park entrance rules and plan accordingly.