Visiting one of America’s National Parks is the perfect way to see some of the country’s most beautiful sights. Even more, spending time in nature can help you pull of a successful digital detox, feel happier and become healthier. We recently chatted with Dawson Smith, the Lead Naturalist at Jackson Hole’s Spring Creek Ranch (which offers daily tours through Wyoming’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks), to score some top tips on how to maximize joy during your outdoor adventure.
6 Ways to Have an Epic Adventure in Any of America’s National Parks
Do Your Research. Doing your homework before you hit the road can make or break your National Park adventure—especially when it comes to braving the seasons and throngs of fellow tourists. Smith says, “Look into when the busy seasons are, check the weather for the time of year you plan to visit and make sure you can access all the place you want to go.” For example, he reminds us that Yellowstone National Park is closed to wheeled vehicles from early November to late April/early May.
In addition to informing yourself about seasons and weather, Smith is a huge fan of reading to brush up on knowledge about your destination. When it comes to Yellowstone, he explains, “So many people that see Old Faithful have no idea why it erupts when they first see it; some light reading not only will get you extra excited about your trip, but it can help you truly soak up all the amazing sights, sounds and information on your daily excursions.” Check out guidebooks, blogs and even park social media accounts for fun tidbits and interesting history.
Choose Where You’ll Stay Wisely. Travel can be exhausting and getting to and from a park can waste precious time you’ll prefer to spend inside. Smith tells us that choosing a great location is paramount to meeting your expectations. “Look for accommodations with great views, proximity to the park/parks and within a day trip’s drivable distance to the parks, outdoor activities, restaurants and shopping.” Spring Creek Ranch, where Smith works, is a fantastic place to experience the best of Jackson Hole (and score an epic, guided tour to Yellowstone).
Write Down the Sights You Want to See. “Identify your priorities when you travel to a National Park because there’s so much to see and do,” Smith reminds us. “When you do this, you’ll optimize your time and make your experience as transformational and fulfilling for you as possible. Is it wildlife viewing, hiking, fishing or photography?” If you’re going with a group, do your best to ensure that each person sees at least one item on their priority list.
Check Your Gear. “We all want to travel light, but the best time of year to visit a park can pose some wardrobe issues,” Smith admits. “For example, in early October in Grand Teton—a spectacular time to visit—it can be beautiful and mild, or cold and snowy on any given day. Don’t be left out in the cold!” The same applies to hot spots in summer, such as Joshua Tree National Park. Make sure you have appropriate clothing, a bottle to keep your liquids warm or cold, the right stuff to take dreamy pictures (including a portable charger for your phone!) and anything else you might need for your epic, outdoor experiences.
Treat Yourself to Some Local Knowledge With a Great Guide. Exploring on your own can be an ultra-rewarding experience, but splurging on a group or private tour with a local guide will make your experience much more memorable. Smith tells us, “The knowledge and know-how of a local guide can be an invaluable way to see and learn about a place while also simplifying your logistical analysis. Many guides can help you with many of your trip priorities too, such as viewing wildlife, photography, hiking ideas, places to eat, and they may just be a walking encyclopedia on the place you’re visiting.” So worth it!
Do Something Special to Add Depth to Your Experience. When it comes to crossing the ultimate experience off of your bucket list, Smith says everyone should make a concerted effort to safely get off the beaten path. After all, you’ll get to see and experience parts of the park that most other people don’t. “Ninety percent of visitors to Yellowstone see only 10% of the park,” Smith informs. “If you aren’t with a seasoned guide, do your research beforehand and ask a ranger at a park visitor center before heading out.”
Slow Down. “Make sure to take some time to slow down when in one of these amazing places,” Smith advises. “Solitude and natural beauty are good for you, so make sure to stop and smell the roses. Too many people fly around a national park trying to see every last spot in their travel guide, but leave unfulfilled.” Good point.
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