National Parks For Beginners

Visiting some national parks in the New Year? With so many amazing locales to choose from, it can seem overwhelming to begin planning, but it’s easier than you think. Whether it’s your family’s first national park trip together or it has just been awhile, there are a few easy steps to get started.

Pick Your Park

There are so many parks to choose from, but, for novice explorers, stick to the most popular locales for your first trip. Some of the most visited parks, including Glacier National Park in Montana; Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming; Yosemite National Park in California; Zion National Park in Utah; or the Grand Canyon in Arizona, are a great way to begin. They have all the incredible beauty and trail variety you’re looking for, but with the added security that so many travelers have been there, done that.

Most national parks, during the on-season, have high functioning shuttles to and from scenic trails. During your ride from the parking lot to the trails, some shuttles offer announcements with basic information, including level of difficulty. If this isn’t the case for your park, just consult the Visitor Center for more information.

Once you’ve picked your park, download any applicable trail map and park app to your phone, just in case service is unavailable. This will also help with need-to-know park information like closings and safety measures.

Grand Teton National Park © Lisa Mckown |

Grand Teton National Park © Lisa Mckown |

When to Visit

Depending on the weather and region you’re visiting, you can narrow down the time of your visit. You want to stay safe and avoid dangerous weather seasons, which means you may end up in the high-tourist season. Spring and summer may be the easiest go-to time of year, especially for new national park visitors.

Check the weather before your trip and the days leading up to it. You can always purchase items at the park if need be, but plan for layers and interchangeable items to either load up or dress lighter at the park — this includes hiking shoes. While some trails are easier than others and most high-tourist parks even have paved trails, sneakers might not cut it for inclement weather. Make sure you and the kids have sturdy boots with traction for slick, icy or wet weather, while lighter trail shoes may be ideal for warm weather trails.

Where to Stay

While an Airbnb may be a fun way to enjoy the park, a chain hotel may be the way to go. You’ll have all the essentials you need with the added comfort of lodging staff to help with any tips and suggestions for the park.