- Plan ahead. A year ahead. Thinking of spending a few nights in a national park this summer? You might already be too late. In many of the most popular national parks, you can book a room a year or even more in advance, and summers book up right away. Campgrounds book up well in advance, too. The benefit to planning so far ahead? You get to look forward to your trip for a really long time.
- Weigh cost and convenience. While rooms inside the park boundaries may be booked up already, you’ll likely be able to find a room outside the park. This option could even be a lot cheaper than a park lodge, but what you save in dollars you’ll spend in time driving back and forth to the park entrance. It could suck couple hours from your day. Use Google Maps to find out just how far that hotel is from the park entrance, and decide what’s more important to you.
- Book the right flight. Most national parks are several hours from an airport, in a remote location at the end of a winding, perhaps harrowing, road. Choose your flight carefully so you don’t end up making hairpin turns on the side of a mountain at 2 a.m. If your flight gets in at night, consider staying at an airport hotel and making the drive in the morning, when you’re fresh.
- Get a guidebook. Do you want to hike? Take a tour? Go rafting? Horseback riding? Climbing? National parks are big, and there’s a lot to do. Figure out what you want to see and how far the sights are from where you’re staying. You could easily end up spending the whole trip in the car driving from place to place if you don’t arrive with a plan. I recommend focusing on one area of the park and experience it more intimately. Often, we’ll change lodging at least once in a week to focus on two areas of the park.
- Plan to get out of the car. Are you seeing a pattern emerge? Many people see a national park from the window of their car, stopping only at the roadside pullouts to snap a picture. That’s a total shame. Even if you’re not an active person, find an easy trail and get off the road, away from the cars and the visitor center, and find a quiet place to take in the beauty. It can change your life.