Do’s and Don’ts When Exploring Our National Parks
In June of 2021, over 31 million people visited one of the many national parks in America just in that month alone. That’s a lot, don’t ya think? You may have heard over the past couple of years that park attendance has been increasing, and that trend shows no signs of stopping this year and into the future.
Many people have found that spending downtime at a national park is one of the few places they feel safe enough to travel, largely due to Covid. As a result, they discovered a newfound love of nature – all it took was one visit to a national park and they were hooked. It seemed to be just the elixir they needed to get a new lease on life.
We are thrilled to see more people appreciating the outdoors. With visitation rising, along with it has been a rise in overcrowding and consequently an increase in littering, vandalism, and traffic backups. This not only stresses park resources, it puts the wildlife at risk.
We know that people by and large mean well and want to be respectful of the outdoors, so we’ve gathered up a list of ‘park etiquette’ that everyone can use.
Do Leave No Trace
If you only pick one from this list (and for goodness sake, we hope you’ll keep all of them in mind) pick this one. Basically, it means, “take only photos, leave only footprints” and only on designated trails. Since the almighty smartphone has made photographers of us all, this should not be a problem.
Next time you visit the outdoors (not just a national park), be sure to not leave any trash behind and dispose of it all in a proper container or take it with you. And don’t take anything from the park with you – no, not even one wildflower! It’s tempting but it does affect the ecosystem.
Don’t’ Get Close to Wildlife
We get it! It can be amazing and exciting to see wildlife up close (those buffalos!) for the first time. But a wild animal is just that – and it needs to remain that way. In Yellowstone, for example, wildlife such as bears have become so accustomed to visitors that they are practically tame. And while that’s stretching it a bit, it means that it makes them incredibly susceptible to those that may do harm.
The minute you interact with a wild animal, it is not wild anymore. So always give them a wide berth – this isn’t a zoo, after all! We are on their turf. And interacting with them in a national park is a federal offense. And definitely don’t feed them!
Do Stay on Designated Trails
In a national park, in particular, there is really no need to stray off the established trails. The park staff has worked endless hours to create and keep the trails maintained. So why is it so important to keep to the trails?
People can do some serious damage to Mother Nature by walking around wherever they want. Imagine those 31 million people able to wander off into a delicate ecosystem that has never seen a human? Protected plants, not to mention the wildlife, would suffer quite a bit. And before long, those gorgeous habitats would be no more. It sounds like a no brainer, right? But you’d be surprised how quickly people forget.
As an added reason, trails are marked by park staff because they are deemed safe. When you wander off the trail, your safety is not at all guaranteed due to topographical changes, not to mention coming across a dangerous animal.
Don’t Smoke, Vape, or Vandalize
This is especially true in national parks – stiff fines can result. Again, this should be a given, but many people assume that just because it is outside and away from buildings means that it is fair game. Not so! Smoking of any kind causes a fire hazard, and vandalizing, well, we don’t have to tell you the unfortunate results of that!
Do Be Flexible and Plan Ahead of Time
While outdoor spaces like national parks are becoming a bit ‘Disneyland’ like in the summer months with respect to crowds, it should come as no surprise that a bit of planning is needed. Be sure to book as far in advance as possible, especially with campgrounds. Since the pandemic, planning ahead is no longer a choice – it’s a necessity if you hope to spend any length of time at a national park.
If you find that places are completely booked or too expensive, this is where your flexibility comes in. Be prepared to perhaps wait until fall, or better yet, spring! You’ll see better rates, to boot.
Following these do’s and don’ts will help you and your crew to enjoy the great outdoors this year and far into the future. See you on the trails!