National Parks Journal: Useful for Bucket List Completion

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Bridalveil Fall Yosemite National Parks
Bridal veil Fall Yosemite. Margot Black photo.

This Interactive Journal is one part Planning Guide and one part Log to Help you remember your Exciting National Parks Adventures

The National Parks Journal

Whether you’re planning a road trip to visit the Grand Canyon, a hiking excursion through Acadia, or spending a day in the Everglades, this book is your must-have companion for the perfect trip to any of the parks across the United States.

Start by learning more about the national parks themselves and get some essential planning advice from experts to make your trip as easy and fun as possible. Then use the planning pages to plan and record an adventure of your own.

You’ll be prepared for everything from paying park fees to figuring out which landmarks you want to see the most. Record pages will help you remember anything fun and exciting that happens on your trip—as well as anything you want to do differently on your next visit.

From the Cape Cod National Seashore to the Sequoia National Park, this journal is the key to a fun and memorable national park vacation that you’ll want to remember (and revisit) for a lifetime.

Planning Advice for Your  National Parks Journey

The National Parks Journal is all about helping you plan, pack for, and record your national park experiences. This excerpt will spur your planning mindset with useful tips for preparation, smart tools and hacks used by seasoned park travelers, and a few important notes on how to explore responsibly.

Research In Advance

Many of the great park experiences have already been explored by others, and you can use their knowledge, pointers, and missteps to your advantage! Conducting location-based web searches before your trip can turn up unexpectedly cool and lesser-known sights, top-notch regional outfitters, and adventures you haven’t yet considered but are suddenly dying to try.

Searching “national park images” on the web is also a smart idea, as it can provide a glimpse of how others are capturing iconic scenes and also possibly inspire ideas on how you can put your own stamp on your park photography.

Make Reservations

Whether it be for popular hiking trails, campgrounds, or sometimes even viewpoints—reservations made in advance can help improve your experience by minimizing wait times while making life easier for Park Service staff managing these areas.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park. Janis Turk photos. National Parks
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park. Janis Turk photo.

Take Pictures

Snapping a quick shot of trailheads, parking spots, and other reference points of where you are traveling can help you find your way back if you get turned around.

Also, remember: safety first, pictures second. Whether you are determined to photograph wildlife or a beautiful landscape, it’s important to remember that animals will not pose, and sprawling views are often seen from areas that can be treacherous—such as near rivers, sheer drops, or on scrambling trails.

You might need to wait for the right conditions to capture your magic shot. Patience and careful steps are key.

Plan to Explore Lesser-Known Areas

Hitting off-the-beaten-trail landmarks, trail systems, and road routes can offer a taste of the uncommon and unfamiliar, while minimizing impact at heavily trafficked locations. Ask rangers in the visitor centers for advice on lesser-known places they love to explore—they can reveal hidden gems that are typically every bit as awesome as more touristy areas. As you share these experiences, you’ll see how excited others become learning about places they’ve perhaps never heard of.

The Roosevelt Arch, entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
The Roosevelt Arch, entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Leave Behind a Trip Plan

Outline your route and itinerary, planned dates of departure and return, scheduled activities, recognizable equipment you’ll tote (e.g., tent color, car make and model, and so on), and any specific medical needs you might have. Leave one copy at home with a loved one and one copy on the dash or in the glove box of your vehicle. This information is invaluable to rescue teams in an emergency situation.

Useful Tools and Advice to Help You Explore Our National Parks

Cape Cod National Seashore
Follow Route 6 to the very end of Cape Cod and to the north you’ll find a winding sideroad to the sand dunes. Cape Cod National Seashore.

With more than a century of experience hosting outdoor enthusiasts from around the world, the National Park Service knows a thing or two about providing guidance to park visitors. The following resources are free (with the exception of the annual pass) and will open your mind to all there is to see in the national parks.

Access the visitor centers. Safety and ease start in the NPS visitor centers! Rangers and staff know of closures, current local weather systems, and countless other bits of information that can make all the difference once you step foot into the parks.

Get to know the rangers. They are there to help and are ready to provide insider tips, give you intel on recent wildlife sightings, and guide you along complex trail systems. They have great stories to tell too!

The Denali Star in National Parks in Alaska.
The Denali Star in the National Park in Alaska.

Join ranger-led activities. National Park ranger-led outings abound in the parks! They are fun for kids and adults alike, are usually relatively short in duration, and allow you to ask questions while exploring and learning about some of the most frequented areas. You can learn more about them in the park visitor centers.

Try out audio- and auto-touring guides. Many of the national parks provide self-guided audio- and auto-tours, which are a great way of learning more about what you are seeing in areas that have multiple points of interest. Inquire about these in park visitor centers.

Check out the NPS webcams. Want to know if wildflowers are at peak bloom? Or if bald eagle eaglets are about to hatch? Want to find out what marine life is up to in sawgrass marshes or beneath the surface of the sea? There is a full list of webcams on the National Park Service official website! Simply go to NPS .gov and search “webcams” to find which are presently most active. Webcams can sometimes help steer your journey, and can also inspire you from the comfort of your home or on your mobile device while you’re on the road.

National Park Pass

Pick up park brochures at the entrance gates. National park brochures and park newspapers given at points-of-entry offer current information, including special events, trail maps, and insight into what each particular park is best known for.

Use the NPS mobile app. The NPS has a world-class mobile app covering the full National Park System portfolio. From the palm of your hand you can tap in to general information, get a lay of the land with interactive maps, save favorite places, make must-see lists, and uncover plenty more that can enhance your national park adventures. Download before you go! The NPS app is free and available for iOS and Android devices.

Consider buying an annual pass. If you plan to visit multiple parks within the space of one year, an annual America the Beautiful national parks pass will save you money. You can purchase it for $80. Individual vehicle entries can cost up to $35 per day—which can add up quickly—making the annual pass entirely worthwhile. Military passes (free) and senior passes ($80 lifetime/$20 annual) are also available.

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Stephanie PayneStefanie Payne is a creative professional and communications strategist supporting NASA human spaceflight at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC. She is based in Golden, Colorado. When not telling the story of human exploration in space, she writes about adventures on Earth—with articles and photographs appearing on The Travel Channel and blogs for The National Geographic Society, Thrillist, HuffPost, and The Lonely Planet; as well as three books about the US National Parks. In 2016, she took on “the Greatest American Road Trip,” exploring and documenting fifty-nine of the US National Parks over fifty-two weeks. Learn more at TheGreatestRoadTrip.com.

Excerpted from The National Parks Journal by Stefanie Payne. Copyright © 2022 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.