Monday, January 4, 2016

Travel tips for visiting national parks

Great Smoky Mountains is America's most visited national park.
The arrival of 2016 marks an exciting time at America’s most popular national parks – it’s the hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service. Thanks to the National Park Centennial Initiative, a variety of projects to benefit national parks are underway; they range from restoring ancient redwood forest to creating new Junior Ranger programs for children.

With the improvements and increased news coverage of national parks, visitation is expected to rise this year.

If you should be among those traveling to one this year, remember that services and amenities at national parks can vary greatly depending on the number of visitors and the part of the park you’re in. For example, you almost always can expect to find a visitor center and campgrounds with bathrooms, but that doesn’t always mean there will be a restaurant or even a vending machine with snacks and water, however.

If hoping to stay in a park lodge or at a campground, quickly make reservations (The same goes for hotels, motels and campgrounds near the park.). A safe bet to ensure that a reservation can be made is make them at least six months ahead and even up to a year in advance at the most popular parks.

National parks are always open, but some times of the day are busier than others. Usually, park visitors make their way from the nearest hotels mid-morning to the front gates and then set off again before sunset to their lodging. In addition, visitor centers at some parks will close for holidays, usually Christmas.

Most parks have at least some trails available for those with disabilities to traverse. Be aware, however, that these trails may not head to a park’s top sights.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.