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National Park Vacations

Staying Safe in the Parks
buffalo bison yellowstone national parkIt may seem self-evident, but many visitors forget that the wild animals they're in the park to see are just that: wild. Animal attacks in national parks are rare, but they do happen. Before you arrive in the park, be sure to thoroughly research what types of wildlife you might encounter and learn what to do if you find yourself in danger. Parks Canada has a useful guide to safely enjoying and protecting wildlife. Do not feed the animals, approach them or try to pose for photographs with them.

If you're traveling with children or pets, be sure to watch them carefully at all times, and never let pets off their leash -- small animals look like lunch to bears and other predators, and can lead them straight to your campsite. (Many parks do not allow pets at all, so check ahead of time.)

Bring plenty of bottled water, especially if you're planning strenuous activities like hiking, biking or kayaking. For longer hikes, it's a good idea to bring a water filter or purification tablets; no matter how pure that mountain stream may look, it's never a good idea to drink water that hasn't been disinfected or boiled. For more information about water purification, see our drinking water safety guide.

You'll also want to bring along some high-energy snack foods such as fruit, nutrition bars, nuts and trail mix. While some parks have concession stands where you can purchase snacks, your best option is to stock up at a grocery store outside the park -- not only will you have a greater selection, but you'll also pay the prices the locals do rather than the inflated tourist prices inside the park.

To prevent injury (or just pesky blisters!), be sure to break in your new hiking boots at home before you set out on a long schlep through a national park. Similarly, don't wait until you're on the trail to try out your shiny new camping equipment -- practice setting it up before your trip so you can do it smoothly when it counts.

Two of the more common afflictions for visitors to national parks are altitude sickness and heat exhaustion. If you are traveling to a mountainous park or will be spending a lot of time outdoors during your trip, read up on these conditions so that you know how to recognize and treat the symptoms.

No matter where you're headed, it's a good idea to pack a first-aid kit in case of illness or minor injury.

Protecting the Parks
National parks were established to protect native plants and wildlife, but these beautiful spaces cannot be maintained without the help of the people who visit them. Respect the natural environment by sticking to marked trails and taking photographs of animals only from a safe distance. Trash should be placed in marked receptacles or taken with you when you leave the park. Leave flowers, rocks and plants untouched -- it may not seem like a big deal to take one little stone home as a souvenir, but when thousands of visitors are doing the same thing, the impact is clear.

To minimize your carbon emissions, you may wish to park your car and take public transportation instead. Quite a few parks now offer shuttle services, including Glacier, Zion, Grand Canyon and Sequoia/King's Canyon. For more ideas on how to reduce your environmental impact, visit our Go Green Travel Center.

What to Pack
backpack hiking boots outdoors hikeWhat you pack will vary widely depending on the climate of your particular national park and on what kind of activities you have planned. However, the following list of basic gear should get you started:

Alcohol wipes
Backpack or day pack
Bathing suit
Bottled water and/or water filter/purifier
Camping gear
Extra clothing layers
First-aid kit
Hiking boots
Insect repellant
Plastic bags for wet or dirty clothes
Rain gear
Toilet paper
Trail map
Wide-brimmed hat

For more packing ideas, check out our Interactive Packing List.

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    --written by Sarah Schlichter

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