10 Things To Bring When Exploring The National Parks

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Planning on visiting a National Park soon and not sure what to pack? 

Our family has recently explored several of America’s National Parks while on our 22 week RV road trip across the USA and into Western Canada. Once we had gone to several we realized that we had come up with a mental packing list of essentials we needed to explore the National Parks each day.

Planning to take a road trip to one of the USA National Parks? Here is a list of what to pack for a day of exploring.

Below is our list of essential day exploring items, but first let me tell you about one essential you are going to want to buy if you plan to visit more than two National Parks this year–a National Parks pass. A National Parks pass is good for one year and currently costs $80. Considering most National Parks cost around $30 for entry, if you visit just three in a year you are starting to save money. By the time our trip is over our family will have visited at least a dozen National Parks, making our pass purchase a huge money saver.

10 Things To Bring When Exploring The National Parks

1. A Map And A Plan

National parks are often very large in size and if you go into them without a plan you are going to waste precious time.

My husband and I spend a bit of time researching online what there is to see at each National Park before we arrive. We enter into Google “top 10 things to do at…” and usually a listing from the website TripAdvisor will come up and we are able to see pictures and reviews of top hikes and sights in the park.

We have found it very helpful to head first to the visitors center upon arrival at the park we are visiting and ask the rangers for  suggestions. Generally they will give you a map and highlight features that best suit your group’s wants, such as length of hike or desire to see a certain geographical feature.

Craters of the Moo National Monument

Craters Of The Moon National Monument

2. Good Hiking/Walking Shoes

Even if you just plan on doing the driving loop around a National Park, you are still going to do a lot of walking. Many of the best sites are not available right on the road, instead you have to walk a 1/2 mile or so to them. These paths are generally very user-friendly, but the walking does add up and if you are not wearing good footwear you are going to end up with tired and achy legs very quickly.

Our family didn’t invest in hiking shoes, although there are days that we wish we did. Instead knowing that we would be sticking to beginner/moderate hikes we purchased everyone in the family a good pair of walking shoes. My husband and daughter have Asics, I have Brooks, and my sons have Nike brand, These are not the “fashion” grade, lower cost footwear, but instead their higher grade walking/running shoes that come with more support.

Good socks are also another great investment. Ill fitting socks can cause blisters, our family likes the ones that hug the arches (like these ones) leaving less chance for a sock to bunch and create the perfect environment for a blister.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

3. A Weather Appropriate Hat

On cold and windy days a winter hat that covers the ears (we have one in this brand and find it very warm) is such a blessing on short walks out to see the sites. On a hot and sunny day a good summer hat that shades the eyes can make it easier on your eyes  and will help you avoid heat stroke (a simple ball cap will do, but if you want a bit more sun protection a hat like this is perfect).

Death Valley

Death Valley

4. Sunglasses

Protect your eyes not just from the sun, but from snow and water glare with a pair of good quality sunglasses. Our family has several tifosi brand sunglasses and we find them to be good quality at a fair price.

The Grand Canyon, South Rim

The Grand Canyon, South Rim

5. Sunscreen

A sunburn after a day of exploring is a painful souvenir. Avoid it by applying sunscreen before you head out for the day and make sure to slip a small bottle of it in your backpack for reapplying. A chapstick with SPF is also a good idea.

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

6. A Small Backpack

My husband and I both have small, sling style backpacks that have come in super handy for day hiking through the parks. This is the one my husband has (his is tan in color), and this is the one I have.

Packed in mine is our Canon digital SLR camera, my iPhone, my wallet, a few first aid items (more on that later), a water bottle, a snack bar for each of us and a travel sized container of wipes. I also like to slip in a hair elastic and/or a yoga headband so that I put my hair up if it is a windy day. The yoga headbands I buy can also cover my ears to keep them just a bit warmer if a cool breeze is blowing.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings

7. A Good Camera Or Smartphone Camera Accessories

If you can afford it, I highly recommend investing in a good digital SLR camera and a zoom lens. Our family has a Canon Rebel and find it to be a great camera. Also make sure you bring along an extra camera card in case you either forgot yours in the laptop in your travel trailer (yep, I have done that several times) or in case you should fill your card before you finish exploring for the day (I have also done that).

If you can’t afford to invest in a digital SLR camera, you can still get really good pictures using your smartphone. I suggest investing in a selfie stick, but not primarily for selfies; the stick allows you to just a bit closer to what you are snapping a picture of much like a zoom lens does on a camera. You might also want to look into purchasing a set of zoom lenses for your smartphone. I have not tested these attachable smartphone lenses, but the reviews on them seem to say that they work fairly well.

Two other smartphone accessories to bring along are a car charger and a portable battery charger so that you never miss a shot because you smartphone died.

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

8. A Small Cooler or Backpack Cooler

With five of us on our trip across North America we have both a small cooler and a backpack cooler. We keep the cooler in the truck packed with drinks for the day. This not only saves us money, but it also means we have something to drink even if we are miles from the National Park facilities offering food and drinks.

We use our backpack cooler to pack a lunch for the day. We really like it because it makes transporting our lunch to a great view so simple.

We have about half a dozen small freezer packs that we rotate between the coolers and the freezer so we are never without something to keep our drinks and food cool for the day.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

9. A Few First Aid Essentials

Blisters happen, bugs bite, brambles scratch and all can be taken care of quickly if you pack the right supplies.

In my day pack I keep a few band-aids for blister and scratches. I also keep after bite cream to quickly soothe a bee sting. In our vehicle we keep a larger first aid kit that includes numerous items–seriously, it is huge–but my husband is an RN so he likes to be prepared for anything. What we have used most out of this huge first aid kit is pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, and anti-nausea medications, such as Dramamine (roads can get really rough in some areas of National Parks).

Yellowstone

Yellowstone

10. Snacks

When exploring a National Park to its fullest, you tend to walk a lot! All that physical activity can make you a little more hungry than usual.

Our family is ready for hiking hunger with a gallon sized bag full of various granola bars and trail mix sleeves in the truck as well as one for everyone in my day pack.

Here is a list of our favorites

psst…all of these bars are include in Prime Pantry, one of many services available to Amazon Prime members. You can try Amazon Prime for free with their 30-Day Free Trial. I really enjoy the convenience of having essential, everyday items delivered right to my door at good prices.

A bonus item for wildlife and bird lovers

If you love watching wildlife and/or birds, make sure to pack a small pair of binoculars.

Experienced explores of National Parks, what would you add to my list?

See pictures of our 22 week RV road trip here.

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RV Trip Update Week 19: Craters Of The Moon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton

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We saw so many wonderful things this week it was really hard to pick just 10 pictures. I have a feeling that is going to be the case for these last few weeks of our trip. Looking at our agenda, we have crammed these final weeks with a lot of travel and sightseeing.

Craters Of The Moon: seen during week 19 of a 22 week RV road trip.

We started our week with an incredibly long drive from Polson, Montana on the shores of Flathead Lake to Arco, Idaho–just a short drive from Craters of the Moon.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect at Craters of the Moon National Monument, but once again I fell in love with yet another National Park–or monument, I should say.

The area was full of different types of volcanic features. From the Inferno Cone Mountain pictured above to the caves created by lava tubes such as Indian Tunnel Cave pictured below.

Indian Tunnel Cave In Craters of The Moon: Seen during week 19 of a 22 week RV road trip.

Indian Tunnel cave went on for quite a while and turned out to be a bit of a climbing adventure in parts as we maneuvered around piles of rubble and snow.

Buffalo seen just outside Yellowstone during week 19 of a 22 week RV road trip.

Tuesday we moved to a KOA just outside the West gate of Yellowstone. We woke up Wednesday morning to snow! My mind had a little trouble wrapping itself around the idea of snow in mid May. Thank goodness for the long johns we bought everyone before we entered the Grand Canyon area back in February where we got over a foot of snow. They have come in handy several times now as we have faced exploring in freezing temperatures.

The morning brought more surprises than snow though, as we also got to see our first Bison–or Buffalo–whatever you prefer.

Later in the week we also saw bears (seen here), and even moose (seen here).

Sapphire Pool in Yellowstone: Week 19 of 22 week RV road trip.

After a leisurely morning at the campsite we bundled up and headed out to explore the portion of Yellowstone that was open that day. Several roads were closed, but we were still able to see many basins, geysers and of course–Old Faithful.

The basin above was called Sapphire Pool and it was my favorite because of its beautiful color and clear water.

Canyon Falls in Yellowstone: Seen during week 19 of 22 week RV road trip.

Yellowstone has several beautiful waterfalls. Pictured is the upper fall at Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.

I am a HUGE lover of waterfalls, and so of course we had to check them all out.

Mud pots in Yellowstone: Seen during week 19 of 22 week RV road trip.

Yellowstone is such a geographically diverse park with canyons, waterfalls, geysers, basins and more.

I liked pretty much all we saw, but the spitting mud pots I found most entertaining. I don’t know why, but it just made me giggle watching them spit mud up into the area–and oh, the sounds they make as they do it. Yeah, perhaps I am still not beyond 5 year-old potty humor.

Old Faithful: Seen during week 19 of 22 week road trip.

We stood for 20 minutes waiting for Old Faithful to put on a show. It was worth it in the end. Because it was so cold there was a lot of steam mixed in with the water so our pictures really don’t do it justice.

Norris Basin in Yellowstone: Seen during week 19 of 22 week RV trip.

WARNING: If you ever go to Yellowstone on a wet day, be prepared to end up with really smelly shoes. As in so smelly that you can barely stand the smell on the ride home and when you get home you throw them outside so they won’t smell up your home.

My guess is they pick up smells because you are walking on these wooden paths directly over ground that has a high concentration of sulfur. The ground is also steaming, making your shoes even wetter and helping the smell permeate further into them.

Grand Teton National Park: Seen during week 19 of 22 week RV road trip.

Friday we headed to Grand Teton National Park where we have been soaking up mountain views.

Anter Arches in Jackson: Seen during week 19 of 22 week roadtrip

We also headed into nearby Jackson for just a few minutes. Just long enough to grab a few pictures of the famous antler arches and grab some belated Mother’s Day frappuccinos from Starbucks.

My daughter and I have gone out every Mother’s Day for years to Starbucks for the 1/2 price frappuccino sale but this year we were not near one on Mother’s day so when I saw one in Jackson, she and I indulged in our ritual a few days late–and unfortunately at full price, but it put a smile on her face and mine so it was worth it.

Come back next Monday to see what we got up to this week.

Join me on Instagram for daily updates. I am doing my best to post one photo update a day on Facebook too.

First time hearing about our trip? You can catch up on our all our trip updates on the RV trip page.

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RV Trip Update Week 18: Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake

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On Monday we crossed the border, leaving Canada and entering back into the USA. But not before we did one last Canadian candy run–we stocked up on Canadian Smarties, Mars bars, Coffee Crisps, Scotch Mints, and my favorite candy bar.

We spent our first night back in the States in the small town of Shelby, Montana. The next morning we drove to a KOA just outside of Glacier National Park.

RV Trip Update Week 18 of 22: Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald.

Since we arrived at lunchtime we thought we would go into the park that day, get a map and talk to a park ranger so that we could make a decision as to what we wanted to explore during our two full days in the area.

Once we were done we decided to drive down the portion of the Going To The Sun Road that is currently open to vehicles. This portion goes the length of Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald was so beautiful. The water was a deep shade of blue and was so clear that it acted like a mirror reflecting the images of the many snow-capped mountains that line its shores.

RV Trip Update Week 18 of 22: Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald.

When we reached the lodge we parked and walk down to the lake. There we found a dock where I couldn’t resist sitting down and letting my feet dangle in the water. It sure was cold, but it felt so good.

RV Trip Update Week 18 of 22: Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald.

Although the portion of the Going To The Sun Road after the lodge was currently closed to vehicles, you were allowed to either hike along it or bike it. We chose to bike it. We have been dragging along five bikes for this entire trip and have barely used them so it was great to finally put them to good use.

I bought a rear detachable wire basket for my bike back in Florida that is very similar to this one and it worked great for holding our lunch, extra water and our camera.

We ended up eating our lunch by the river’s edge about two thirds of the way into our bike ride.

RV Trip Update Week 18 of 22: Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald.

In total I think we biked about 20 miles that day. It was beautiful weather and the views were amazing. We made it all the way to where they had the road closed even to bikes. I asked another biker there if they would snap a picture of us. They were kind enough to oblige. Oh, how I wish my husband wasn’t wearing his hat! Even after lightening up the picture you can’t see his face. OH WELL. We do have other better family photos at other locations along the way.

RV Trip Update Week 18 of 22: Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald.

Thursday we decided to try a trail that was much longer than any other trail we have attempted on this trip.

We went to Lincoln Lake Trail in hopes of making it all 8 miles to the lake to have lunch and then come home.

RV Trip Update Week 18 of 22: Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald.

However the trail turned out to be a bit steeper than we thought and one family member in particular was not happy about going up hill for so long.

We made it in about four miles when the trail was about to take a very steep downhill for another mile or so. I looked at my husband and we both shared the same thought in our facial expressions. There was no way the child who complained so much about the first two miles of uphill was going to make it up these two miles of uphill on the way back.

So we sat down right there and ate our lunch while enjoying the mountain views between the trees. I must admit at the end of the day a part of me was glad we only went eight miles round trip as my thighs were hurting me, but part of me really wished we had seen Lincoln Lake with our own eyes.

I must admit though the child that had a rough start finished the hike with a good attitude and that made my mom heart gush.

RV Trip Update Week 18: Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake

Most nights this week have been warm and light. Many nights my husband and I have spent an hour or two outside reading side by side. I finished At Home In The World that I had started the week before.

I so agree with Tsh’s thoughts at the end of her nine month long travel with her family of five. She basically says that she knows the trip has changed her, but she feels like she won’t know how until she returns to everyday life in the States. I feel exactly the same now that we only have four weeks left of our 5 1/2 month trip. I know this trip has changed me but right now I can’t pinpoint it. I read the quote to my husband and he said, “Man, that is how I feel right now too.”

If you have a wanderlust growing within you to get out there and see the world I am pretty sure you will really like At Home In The World.

I have now started on The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have To Be Beautiful To Be Perfect and it is helping me think about exactly what I want to do to our home in Indiana when we get there. It once seemed quiet and cozy, but in the last few years I have felt like it has gotten cluttered and chaotic and I am ready for that to change.

 

RV Trip Update Week 18: Restaurants we tried in Polson, Montana.

Friday we left the West Glacier area for Polson, Montana on the shores of Flathead Lake.

We didn’t do much Friday except for grabbing lunch from Burgerville (very good) and groceries for the next few days from Walmart.

By the time we had all our groceries put away it started to rain and didn’t stop until sometime early Saturday.

We headed out to explore a few areas Saturday including the pictured Lake City Bakery where we all grabbed doughnuts and some rolls to use for lunch.

I really like trying out locally owned restaurants, bakeries and cafes as we travel. The prices are usually really good and so is the food. We have only had one or two places where the food was okay, not spectacular, but none where we truly disliked all that we were served. Trip Advisor and Yelp really help us choose ones we know we will like.

RV Trip Update Week 18: Flathead Lake, Kerr Dam.

After feasting on doughnuts we headed out to the Kerr Dam, about a five minute drive from downtown Polson. The icy blue waters were so beautiful against the rocky sides of the waterway.

RV Trip Update Week 18: Flathead Lake near Polson, Montana.

After lunch we went for a brief walk around the shores of Flathead Lake in the Polson area.

And now I am back in the RV typing this because Sunday is going to be a very long travel day. Yep, I am spending Mother’s Day driving 8 plus hours to our new campsite near Craters of the Moon. From there we will head to Yellowstone–so be sure to come back next week to see the photos.

Come back next Monday to see what we got up to this week.

Join me on Instagram for daily updates. I am doing my best to post one photo update a day on Facebook too.

First time hearing about our trip? You can catch up on our all our trip updates on the RV trip page.

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