As expert guides and trip planners in 26 of the U.S. National Parks, we’ve seen our fair share of trip planning mistakes. We lead hundreds of tours across the country each year, and have honed our craft to help you avoid these common mistakes for a seamless adventure!
Use these four tips when planning your next trip to our incredible public lands:
Mistake #1: Not planning ahead
Many parks now require advanced reservations, like vehicle reservations or timed entry tickets, to enter the park during peak season.
Some less visited parks still have great availability, while others are nearly booked out through the summer.
One of those parks is Glacier National Park; many of the roads in Glacier require vehicle reservations between May 26th-September 10th. Almost all of those advanced reservations have already been released and booked.
In many parks, there are some ways to get around these restrictions, including last minute reservations. However, you risk not being able to enter the park when and how you want.
PRO TIP: Did you know that by booking with Good Trip Adventures, you can bypass the timed entry system altogether? That’s right! Travel with one of expert guides & get guarenteed entry — we’ll handle the hassle of planning and securing a reservation, so that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your trip.
If you’re hoping to visit a national park with reservations required to enter, you should start the planning process no later than January, as many folks plan their trips six months to a year in advance.
Stay vigilant about when reservations and permits will be released, and plan to book those reservations as soon as they open.
The same goes for campsites, backcountry permits, and additional reservations — many of these things are popular within the national parks and get snatched up as soon as they’re released, so it’s always best to plan ahead!
Mistake #2: Delaying rental car bookings
Don’t wait to book your rental car! Due to the remote nature of many national parks, destinations around the parks have limited options for rental cars.
In many places, waiting until the last second to book a rental car and score a deal is generally preferable. Unfortunately, this is not the case around the national parks.
Book as early as you can, and make sure to arrive on time to pick up your rented vehicle.
PRO TIP: Turo is a great resource that allows you to rent vehicles from locals instead!
Mistake #3: Not checking the weather
The national parks are wild, outdoor places and can often have extreme, variable weather.
In many of the high-altitude and mountainous parks out West, it’s not uncommon to see snow year-round — even in summer!
And if you’re visiting any of the Southwest parks, expect temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer and early fall months.
A great way to gauge the weather for your trip is to check out past year’s weather for the time you’ll be there.
Pack appropriately, with plenty of varying layers, and plan accordingly, with backup itineraries, to be safe and comfortable on your trip
Mistake #4: Not being flexible
As professional trip planners, we love to plan! It’s great to outline a tentative itinerary with things you hope to see.
But, the parks can be unpredictable — weather and conditions might change, roads or trails might be closed due to flooding, rockfall, wildfires or wildlife, and you may encounter traffic or construction in popular areas.
Allow the park to reveal itself to you, rather than hold on too tightly to any set expectations or features. It’s often the unexpected experiences that are the most memorable.