Monday, March 25, 2013

Trip Planning: National Parks

Our last two summer vacations were Yosemite and Yellowstone. They were both an incredible adventure. Not every girl can say she goes on the hike of a lifetime every year! This is year three of national park planning and I have learned some great tips for hikers planning a trip to popular national parks.

Book Early, Research Earlier
I suggest you start to plan six to nine months in advance, preferably a year if you have a large group or family. There is a high demand and limited availability for many activities and hotels at parks, so they book up fast.  True story - I called to get dinner reservations on a weekend at Yellowstone three months in advance. All they had was one spot at 9:00 p.m. I took it and adjusted our hike to start late the next day.
We typically book everything six to seven months in advance and it's still a scramble to get our vacation dates. My favorite resources for planning are friends, Moon travel books, Trip Advisor, and the national parks websites.

Lottos and Permits - Learn Them Early
To balance the high demand of areas and maintaining the natural resources, many hikes and campsites have permit limits or lottos in place. As you start to set your schedule, be sure to look out for the permits required and when you can get them. I'll set all of my calendar reminders early on so I don't forget to apply. 

Don't give up on permits either! We won Half Dome permits but saw it was going to rain the day of our hike (they typically don't allow you to ascend the cables in the rain) so we started to apply for daily permits. On day three, we got lucky again. I've read stories of other people meeting up with people at the trailheads to be a part of their group. Keep on applying and keep on trying. 

Ask Your Friends...and Strangers
Books and websites help, but your friends are even better. Ask your friends, your coworkers, and your starbucks barista if they have ever been to the park. My favorite questions to ask are:
What was your favorite part?
What was the most overrated thing you did?
What was the coolest thing you did that you didn't know about until you got there?
If you had one more day, what would you have done?

Without asking those questions, we would have overlooked spending time at the Grand Tetons. An intern's parents at my job enlightened us to spend at least two days there. We're glad we did!

A friend of ours told us that Beartooth Highway was worth the time for the scenic views and winding roads. We would have dismissed spending a day on the road by just reading guidebooks. Our friends were right.

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