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The Complete Beginner’s Guide to National Parks


Summer is full of so much potential. The days are longer, there are no (or at least fewer) classes to keep you away from doing what you want. Now the only decision you have to make is: What should I do with my free time?

The options are limitless – lay in bed all day watching Netflix, work on your tan by the pool, practice your Wii bowling skills… the list goes on and on. One option that may not have jumped to the front of your mind involves a bit more physical motion, but is well worth the extra effort. You could try visiting your nearest National Park.

What Are National Parks?

They are not like the park with the duck pond in your neighborhood, or the “park” that consists of grass and a few trees in the middle of the city. National Parks are protected areas that were chosen for their awe-inspiring beauty, unique natural features and abundant wildlife to be conserved as they were at the time the park was created.

That means that entering into a National Park can be like stepping back in time to a world free from the stressors of modern day life. Sounds like the perfect way to experience your summer.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to visiting National Parks, but here are a few of the basics to get you started on the right track:

  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Watching
  • Camping
  • Adventure

Leave Only Footprints

The best way to explore any National Park is on foot. No matter which park you choose to visit, there are bound to be hiking trails galore. It does not matter what your fitness level is – you will be able to find a trail that is the right fit for you. After spending 8 long months hefting ridiculously large books around campus, a stroll along a winding trail through the woods should be a breeze.

The best way to explore any National Park is on foot.

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You could follow a narrow path along a creek and wind up at a roaring waterfall that cools you down with its refreshing mist, or hike down into the depths of a canyon to discover what lies within. If you feel strong, you could trek up a steep trail to a mountain’s peak and survey the hard-earned view (don’t forget to take a selfie while you are there).

Top Tips:

  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses honestly when choosing your trails.
  • Anything can happen in the wilderness, so listen to the boy scouts and always be prepared.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace principles.

Finding the Wild Heart

From hardcore birders to city slickers, everyone can find their thrill in the wild lands of National Parks. These protected areas are hotspots for wildlife, free from the habitat destruction that is rampant in much of the world.

Looking into the eyes of a truly wild animal brings you back to a time when humans lived in nature instead of paving over it, and can awaken the wild heart inside of you.

Top Tips:

  • It is extremely important to read up on how to safely view whatever species of wild animal you hope to see. Bears may look cute and cuddly, but hugging them is not recommended.
  • Bring binoculars. National Parks are not zoos, so you should not expect to get up close and personal with the wildlife.
  • Take plenty of pictures, but don’t forget to put the camera down sometimes and just see with your own eyes the amazing world that surrounds you.

Pitching a Tent

Nothing screams summer more than roasting marshmallows over an open fire under the light of billions of glittering stars. Whether you have a fondness for telling ghost stories or simply want to figure out how to put up a tent for the first time, camping has a way of bringing you closer to both nature and your camping companions.

Top Tips:

  • Some campgrounds fill up fast, so make sure you reserve well in advance or have a backup plan.
  • Check and double check your camping gear before you leave. It’s never fun to set up your tent at the campsite, only to realize it has a gaping hole.
  • Learn and follow all campsite regulations – since they are in place for your safety.

National Parks are protected areas that were chosen for their awe-inspiring beauty.

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Unleashing Your Wild Side

Looking for something a little more adventurous to do this summer? That can be arranged. If hiking seems like too much of a ‘walk in the park’ to you, and you are looking for something that will really get your blood pumping, check out some of these activities:

  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Ziplining
  • Spelunking
  • Rock Climbing

Top Tips:

  • Know and stay within your limits.
  • Hire a guide if you are new to the activity or do not know the area well.
  • Do not be afraid to try something new, you may just find your passion in life.

How to Begin

So, you have decided to visit a National Park, and you have in hand your list of preferred activities. Now what? The first step is to decide where to go. That can be as easy as a quick search on the internet to find the closest National Park to you. Next, find a few friends who you think could use a nature retreat. Then you can make reservations, figure out what gear you will need and pack it all up. Now the real fun begins, your adventure awaits.

National Parks are, as stated in the inscription on the Roosevelt Arch, ‘For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.’ Summer is the perfect time to start exploring these amazing places that have thankfully been preserved. So get out there and find your park!