East Entrance Zion National Park Sign Utah

As well as heavy snows closed parts of Yosemite National Park in California, it’s a good reminder that when visiting one of the 63 national parks in the US, always have a backup plan.

National parks are a wonder to behold. They help preserve pristine natural areas and the organisms that live there. However, they are also subject to extreme and unpredictable weather and are home to wildlife that you won’t often encounter anywhere else, which may put a damper on your visit. The best way to have a fun and safe trip to any of these natural beauties is to come prepared.

The National Park Service (NPS) has several resources to help you prepare for your stay in the park. These include what to take and what to do if you get lost or go missing.

Cynthia Hernandez, spokeswoman for the National Park Service, and Joel Baird, public relations specialist at Grand Canyon National Park, offer tips on how to stay safe and come prepared to the national parks.

Stay safe while visiting national parks

National parks are great for outdoor recreation such as hiking, cycling, climbing and water sports. They’re even great for winter activities such as skis and snowshoes.

Read more: 5 of the best winter activities in national parks

According to Hernandez, “national parks are generally safe places” — especially for those who plan ahead. So if you’re planning to indulge in a vacation, make sure you’re prepared for whatever activity you’re considering.

Along with the national park website, NPS application there is plenty of safety information for each park. You can easily find any important news such as park closings, safety precautions and events. It’s free to download and even has a list of all the parks so you can check off the ones you’ve been to.

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Always check the weather before visiting the park as it can be unpredictable. According to Hernandez, you can even call the park to double-check the weather and see if there are any extra essentials to bring.

Some parks have significant elevation changes. For example, when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, the temperature in Estes Park – the gateway town – can be significantly different from that in the park itself. It may be warm and sunny at the foot of the mountain, but snowing higher up.

According to Baird, weather is one factor that can delay search and rescue (SAR) getting to someone if they become lost or injured while in the park. If the weather is bad, have a backup plan to protect yourself.

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There are informational signs throughout the parks that provide facts about the parks as well as safety precautions. At each entrance station, park officials hand out a map and important information you need to know about the park. Taking a few minutes to read these materials will help prepare you even more for your adventure.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. This can happen during physical activity in hot weather, such as hiking or cycling. According to Hernandez, you should carry more water than you think you need when visiting the parks. If you are outside in warmer temperatures, it may take longer 30 minutes to several hours feel the effects of dehydration.

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National parks are home to thousands unique look otherwise you may not see. Since I was little american spades to towering moose, all wildlife in the park deserves respect.

Feeding wild animals, from squirrels antelopes of bears, can cause this animal great harm. When animals start eating human food, their behavior can change. A bear, for example, may start approaching people for food. They can quickly become unpredictable and potentially harmful. Bears are often euthanized to prevent a threat to society. To avoid this, you can remember that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”

Read more: What to do if you encounter a bear

Although it can be tempting, you also need to be careful when approaching wildlife. The parks are home to some large animals, including elk, bison and bighorn sheep. They may not appear dangerous, like bears and cougars, but these animals can become aggressive if they feel threatened and are large enough to cause serious injury.

If you want to get close-up photos of wildlife, it’s a good idea to invest in high-quality camera equipment and photograph these animals from a safe distance or from the safety of your vehicle.

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Weather in the parks can be unpredictable and sometimes change due to altitude. Having the right kind of clothing while exploring the parks can help you feel more comfortable and safe. It is always wise to take extra pants, shorts, socks and a jacket just in case. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear if you intend to walk in rocky terrain. Decent hiking boots can help protect your feet and provide ankle support.

  • Tell someone where you are

If you’re heading to the parks, let people who aren’t traveling with you know your travel plans and when they can expect to hear from you. That way, they can immediately alert the authorities if you get lost.

Along with these tips, Hernandez also recommends that all park visitors check out the list of 10 essentials.

Park Safety: An Ounce of Prevention

The NPS compiled a list of 10 essentials to carry with you no matter which park you visit. The list includes:

  1. Navigation: Something other than your phone.
  2. Sun protection
  3. Insulation: Wear several layers of clothing.
  4. Illumination: Again, something other than your phone (flashlight or flashlight).
  5. First aid kit
  6. fire: Carrying a match or lighter can help provide a heat source and signal for rescue. However, use with caution; fires can quickly get out of control in some parks and started a forest fire.
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Eating: It’s wise to pack more food than you think you might need — without wasting it. Non-perishable items like trail mixes and granola bars are great examples. Just remember to store all food in a bear-safe container and follow no-trace practices.
  9. Hydration: More water than you think you’ll need.
  10. Emergency shelter: A tent, bivouac sack or space blanket are suitable.

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If you get lost

Even if you come prepared, there may be times when you need help in the parks. Maybe you sprained an ankle or got lost. If so, Hernandez and Baird offer tips to help SAR find you faster.

Baird suggests wearing bright colors, such as orange and yellow, to help the SAR team spot you more easily. This includes using a brightly colored backpack.

(Credit: Alexey Matrenin/Shutterstock)

Whistling can help the SAR hear you more easily, and you’ll also save energy so you don’t have to shout.

Unless there is an immediate threat to life, Baird recommends staying put. However, if staying put is not a valid option, we recommend that you move to a safer place with shade or away from danger. Wandering too far can slow the SAR to find you and tire you out.

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Pleasant trip!

Check it out NPS website for more information including recreating responsibly and leave-no-trace practices. The NPS is also working on a 2023 project called “Your story in the park.” After you’ve enjoyed your national park adventure, share with everyone the highlight of your trip and what the parks mean to you.

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“Our parks are for everyone,” Hernandez says. “There are so many wonderful, beautiful experiences that people can have. As the National Park Service, we are here to help you plan the safest trip.”

Read more: Why you should visit national parks after dark

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