5 Steps to Camp in a National Park

Camping inside a National Park makes exploring the park and maximizing your adventure easy. Normally hotels, Airbnb’s and other accommodation end up being a far drive from the trails, even if they are close to the park. Because parks are so large, a 30 minute drive to the park entrance can quickly become a 1 hour drive to get to the trailheads. Then you have to compete for parking once inside. Imagine waking up and seeing the sunrise over the beautiful scenery!

Step 1: Make a Reservation

With National Park popularity on the rise since outbreak of COVID-19, snagging a campsite has become more and more challenging. Once you decide which park you’d like to visit head over to the nps.gov website and see when campsite reservations open to plan accordingly. Some will open all sites for the upcoming season 6 months in advance on a particular day. So it’s important to plan ahead!

Campsites full? The alternative is to find a campsite outside the park in close proximity; hipcamp.com and sites like it can be a good resource to find other options.

We barely snagged a site 3 months in advance. Thanks to a little luck, we found two separate sites at the same campground to accommodate our two night stay which required us to pick up and and move from one site to the other after the first night. We camped at Gros Ventre but if you can snag a spot at Jenny Lake Campground, you’ll be so close to the best views!

Step 2: Gather Camping Supplies

We suggest at a minimum the following items:

  • Tent
  • Inflatable Mattress or Cots
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Pillows
  • Power Banks
  • Water Bottles
  • First Aid Kit
  • Day Bag
  • Fire Starter or Propane Burner
  • Cast Iron
  • Ice Chest
  • Cooler
  • Bear Spray
  • Sunscreen/Bug Spray
  • Microfiber Towel
  • Foldable Chairs
  • Hiking Boots
  • Sandals with secure back (to hike in water)

Step 3: Know How to Stay ALIVE

It’s not complicated and not something to worry about, but you should do some research and be prepared. If you’re in North America be BEAR AWARE! Bears kill people every year. It’s important that each person carries a can of bear spray and knows how to use it. Keep in mind bear spray is prohibited on airplanes.

The buddy system really works. For those in the back… THE BUDDY SYSTEM WORKS! Try not to go alone if you can help it. People disappear more often than you think, only to have their bodies found days or weeks later… or never found at all.

Which brings us to our next point, don’t go off trail. Not only is it risky, but it also erodes the landscape and disrupts animals’ environment.

Make sure you understand what leave no trace behind entails. Read about the seven principles here.

Lastly, make sure to bring enough food and water with you along your hike. Sunscreen and bug spray is also important. We also never hike without our first aid kit that includes a tourniquet in case of a snake bite.

Step 4: Scope Out Trails

The app AllTrails is our favorite for figuring out which trails give the best payoff. It also helps ensure you don’t get lost by tracking your progress, even if you’re offline.

Grand Teton is HUGE! So much so that we spent one day driving around taking advantage of all the lookouts and short trails since we were there for only two days. We especially enjoyed taking the Jenny Lake ferry across the lake to explore a little further out completing the Hidden Falls trail with a beautiful waterfall at the end (pictured above). We’re suckers for chasing water falls.

Step 5: Have a Great Time

Keep in mind that nothing goes as planned so be flexible. A positive and optimistic attitude will make for the best memories no matter what happens. We had planned to spend the entire trip in Grand Teton but ended up spending a day exploring Yellowstone since it was SOOOO close. We also had issues with building fires to cook our food and ended up sleeping in when we planned to wake up early to tackle sunrise hikes. But at the end of the trip, we had a great time and made amazing memories. So prepare, plan, but remember to relax and enjoy the moment!

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