If you’re gearing up for a national park trip, it's imperative to come prepared. National Parks are busier than ever, making preparation & planning much more difficult than just a few years ago.
This is your ultimate guide to getting the most out of your national park trips this year. We will cover everything from what to pack, how to get reservations & permits, and what to expect out of your national park trip.
Let’s dive in.
What to Expect During Your National Park Trip
Here are some things you should expect when planning a national parks trip:
There’s a lot that goes into keeping national parks pristine and beautiful. This means clean-up costs, rangers, bathroom facilities, wildlife conservation, and more. This is why entrance fees are fairly standard when you’re visiting a national park.
Plan on entrance fees costing anywhere from $25 to $35 per vehicle to enter, but for a full updated list of fees by park, click here. Annual passes are also available and are well worth the investment if you plan on visiting more than a couple of national parks in a year.
This pass is the America The Beautiful pass and it costs $80 and covers entrance fees to over 2,000 federally recognized sites including national parks and wildlife refugees.
If you plan on camping at any campsites within the national parks, plan on making a reservation ahead of time. This will also cost depending on the park and site you want to reserve.
If you’re visiting a national park during peak season, expect that you may need to make a few reservations ahead of time. You may need reservations for campsites, guided tours, permits for specific trails, and even entrance tickets for peak seasons.
One of the biggest draws to national parks is the pristine wilderness you find in the parks. This wilderness draws in not just people, but animals as well.
Always be sure to follow guidelines for the wild animals you may encounter at the national parks you visit. If there are bear boxes available, use them. Keep your food out of your tent and keep your camp tidy to deter bears, snakes, mountain lions, and more.
One resource you should always utilize when visiting a national park is the visitor's center. You’ll find up-to-date information about trail closures, safety, tours, permits, and plenty of educational resources.
The Ultimate National Park Packing List
Coming prepared will make all the difference in the quality of your experience in these beautiful parks. Here is the ultimate national parks packing list to ensure you’re well-prepared for your trip:
Here at TEREN, we believe it's important to pack the right clothes so you’re not bogged down with excess stuff. Always bring layers and anticipate the weather changing at a moment's notice. Here is exactly what we bring along on our national parks trips:
Lightweight, moisture-wicking shirts
We recommend bringing a high-quality moisture-wicking shirt to ensure you stay dry, comfortable, and odor-free. The Traveler Tee is the perfect addition to any wardrobe and ideal for any camping trip since its anti-microbial, temperature-regulating, and ultra-soft.
Regardless of which park you visit, you’re most likely going to spend a lot of time outdoors. A long-sleeve shirt not only serves as an additional layer to keep you warm but also protects you from the sun & bugs.
The Traveler Tee comes in a long-sleeved version as well and offers all of the same great benefits of the short-sleeved version.
Quick-drying pants & shorts
It's important to bring clothing you can rely on when you’re heading out into the national parks. We made the Lightweight Traveler pants to be the perfect do-everything pants. They’re stylish, bug-repellant, stretchy, quick-drying, moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, UV protectant, and more.
Truly, you can wear them through the wilderness on a 40-mile excursion and immediately finish with a cold brew at a nice restaurant without feeling out of place. And since they’re anti-microbial you won’t have to worry about them smelling bad either.
Never underestimate the importance of having a great pair of hiking shoes. Take it from someone who’s lost a few toenails after long backpacking trips and used to chronically sprain my ankles.
We recommend going into a store with staff well-versed in recreational shoes. Every foot is different which is why we won’t make a specific recommendation for you. Look for a pair that feels good all around, but is also waterproof, provides stability, and gives your feet room to swell a little bit.
If you’re prone to ankle sprains, we recommend picking up some hiking boots because they give your ankles some extra stability. They’re also better at keeping water out if you’re hiking through any river crossings.
Socks suitable for hiking
Bring along a few pairs of great-quality socks. They should be durable, odor-resistant, moisture-wicking, and not so bulky they make your shoes feel tight.
A quality outer shell
Staying dry & comfortable while out in the wilderness can easily make or break your trip. We created the Cloudland Shell to be the ultimate companion for outdoor adventures big & small.
It doubles as a rain jacket & windbreaker and is guaranteed to keep you dry in the most severe weather. It also has a breathable lining that will keep your body temperature regulated. It’ll help keep you warm in the winter months, but also dry in the summer months during the rainy season.
This shell is packable, and durable, and will ensure you’re comfortable even if the weather takes a turn.
A hat with a wide brim for sun protection
A lot of US national parks are at high elevations or have very exposed terrain. Keep yourself protected from the sun by bringing along a wide-brimmed hat. UV exposure is far more dangerous in higher elevations than on a beach, so always come prepared.
Sunglasses with UV protection
Prolonged exposure to UV rays can modify the protein in your eyes, cause cataracts, and damage your eyesight. Always bring along a high-quality pair of shades.
Hiking Gear & Equipment
Here is a quick guide to some of the hiking essentials and equipment to bring on your park trip:
- Lightweight hiking backpack with padded shoulder straps
- Reusable water bottle or hydration system
- Portable water filters or purification tablets
- Trail maps and compass or GPS device
- Multi-tool or knife
- Bear spray
- Lightweight, quick-drying towel
- Power bank or power station
- Hiking poles
- Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
If you plan on camping, here is a list of items you should include. Remember that wildlife safety is even more important if you’re camping, so follow regulations, carry bear spray, and always use provided bear boxes if you’re camping in bear country.
- Tent with stakes and guylines
- Sleeping bag suitable for the season
- Sleeping pad or air mattress for insulation and comfort
- Camping stove or portable cooking system
- Lightweight cookware and utensils
- Biodegradable soap and small towel for washing dishes
- Camp stove
- Fire starter
These are some essentials to keep in your hiking backpack:
- Your I.D. card, national parks pass, and any necessary permits
- Cash and credit cards
- Cell phone with portable charger or solar charger
- Insect repellent
- Sunscreen with high SPF
- Lip balm with SPF
- Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.)
- Prescription medications and basic first-aid supplies
Food & Snacks
Your food needs will vary depending on your accommodations and the outdoor activities you’re planning. Regardless, you’ll want to bring some nutrient-dense snacks to keep on you.
- Lightweight, non-perishable food items (energy bars, nuts, dried fruits, etc.)
- Reusable utensils and containers
- Collapsible water bowl if traveling with pets
Here are a few miscellaneous things you should consider bringing along with you if you have the space:
- Camera or smartphone for capturing memories
- Binoculars for bird watching or wildlife observation
- Travel guidebook or nature identification guide
- Garbage bags for carrying out waste (Follow Leave No Trace principles)
- Portable seating pad or lightweight portable chair for resting breaks
Navigating Reservations & Permits
Reservations and permits used to be easy for America’s national parks, but because of their growing popularity several national parks now require timed entry, permits, and camping reservations.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular national parks and their reservation pages, but for the others you can check the official national park website for up-to-date information:
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some commonly asked questions about visiting national parks:
Are pets allowed in national parks, and what do I need to pack for them?
Many national parks have restrictions on pets. They’re generally allowed in campsites but rarely allowed on trails. Check the park's regulations beforehand. If allowed, pack pet essentials including food, water, leash, waste disposal bags, and a portable water bowl.
How can I find updated information about the national park I plan to visit?
Plan well in advance and make reservations online through official park websites. Research the park's specific permit requirements and understand the reservation policies.
How can I minimize my environmental impact while visiting national parks?
Follow Leave No Trace principles—pack out all waste, stay on designated trails, respect wildlife and plants, and avoid making excessive noise. Use eco-friendly camping stoves and reusable utensils.
We hope this national park packing list and guide help you have the best time on your trip to some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the country.
Just remember that the natural world can be unpredictable, so always come prepared for changing weather, wild animal encounters, and the sun’s harmful UV rays. Bring extra clothes, food, and outdoor gear to ensure you’re ready for anything these gorgeous and sometimes remote parks can offer.