By GCI ambassador Grae Buck
As national parks enthusiasts, my wife and I enjoy an annual adventure on a quest to visit as many US national parks as possible over our lifetime. From the awe-inspiring scenery, to wildlife and recreational opportunities, the 63 (and counting!) national parks lend themselves to fantastic getaways for the whole family. In this article, I’ll share some tips for planning an unforgettable outdoor adventure, as well as how to utilize the GCI PackSeat™—a must-have for our outdoor explorations!
It’s no secret that my wife is the planner. If planning the trip was my responsibility, we would board a plane with only lodging accommodations, a car rental, and map—and of course the local fishing streams mapped out! While some travelers prefer an unscheduled itinerary, our approach is much different: each day is planned out to experience all we that can from these magnificent preserved gems. Below are a few resources we use to plan our trips, from selection of hikes to mapping routes and gear recommendations.
Unsure about how to begin planning your trip? From park selection to booking accommodations, start by visiting the National Parks Service website.
This website is our go-to for planning. Start by searching the park name. Under “Plan Your Visit,” there are fantastic planning tools including sample itineraries based on length of stay, resources for lodging and dining, directions, maps, and suggestions for times of year to visit. With such diversity in terms of geography, geology, and climate, careful consideration should be taken as a first step when planning your national park trip.
Weather is a huge factor when trip planning. Many parks have short peak-weather visitation seasons! From the arid southwest, to the Rocky Mountains, to the coral reef ecosystems of Biscayne Bay in Florida, there is no shortage of parks to visit year-round.
To fully experience the splendor of the parks, to eliminate entry wait times each morning, and to be completely immersed in the scenery and experience, lodging inside the parks is our go-to. In-park lodging ranges from campsites and rustic cabins (our preference while traveling on a budget!) to historic lodges and lavish hotels with amenities.
However, if you are looking to stay within a national park (for those parks which do offer lodging inside the gates), plan ahead! In-park lodging often books a year in advance.
Dining within the parks also varies in availability, from snack shops where you can grab a sandwich, to cafeterias and fine dining. Because each park offers different food options, planning ahead is crucial to ensure a good meal after a long day on the trails!
To save money on food, and to ensure a quick lunch while off the beaten path, consider stocking up on supplies outside of the park. With an ice-packed cooler, you can keep quick and easy food choices on hand, no matter how remote your itinerary takes you. Our favorite meals to keep on hand include tuna fish, peanut butter, protein bars, mixed nuts, meat sticks and jerky, and deli meat. If you are flying home at the end of your trip, consider rehoming the cooler with another parks traveler!
So you’ve planned your park location and dates—what next? Consider which activities you and your family are interested in, what activities you enjoy, and which highlights you absolutely cannot miss while in the park.
The NPS website is again a fantastic resource for planning your days! The “Places to Go” and “Things to Do” on each park website page will ensure that you capture the highlights. The “Calendar” as well as park newspapers that you can pick up at the entrance gates contain schedules of ranger-led activities and programs, including the Junior Ranger programs for children, a great free program to encourage youth to learn about and protect parks and natural resources.
One of our favorite activities, and the simplest way to explore the parks, is hiking. Hiking takes you on your own two feet to fantastic vistas unseen from a vehicle, with opportunities to see wildlife and immerse yourself in the scenery while enjoying the physical activity. To plan your hikes within the parks, the NPS website often breaks down the hikes by geographic area and/or difficulty level.
When it comes to venturing out into the mountains, valleys, or a remote trout stream to drop a line, there’s one piece of equipment I always have in the pack: the GCI PackSeat™. Lightweight, extremely portable, and durable, this stool easily stows on my pack and provides welcomed rest on a long day’s excursion!
Pack a lunch, and refuel while high up on a mountain or deep within the forest. Wherever your travels take you, the PackSeat will provide comfort for your weary legs as you take in the view! One of my favorite PackSeat moments was resting my legs on the shoreline of Glacier National Park’s Fishercap Lake last September, watching moose gently forage for aquatic vegetation.
Two other go-to GCI products for our outdoor adventures are the RoadTrip Rocker™ and the Compact Camp Table 25™. Both are must-haves for camping trips, providing lightweight, reliable convenience and relaxation for cooking and reclining by the campfire.