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The United States' national parks are some of the most iconic symbols of America. They represent the rich history of our country and its future, as well as the beauty, variety, and abundance of nature. Preserving areas of great natural beauty, historic and archaeological importance, unique and diverse geological features and ecosystems, and recreational opportunities in a formal, protective system of national parks stands as one of America's greatest achievements.  What better way to recognize and celebrate this achievement than with a visit to one (or more) of these gems during National Park Week which runs from April 16 to 24?

The National Park Service (NPS) recognizes and protects 423 entities within the United States, which include 63 national parks and nearly 400 national monuments, preserves, historic sites, battlefields, memorials, recreation areas, seashores, lakeshores, rivers, parkways, and trails.  No matter what kind of NPS location you decide to visit, you will be met with that unit's own unique and memorable experience.  And Energy Saver has some tips to ensure that your visit is effortless and pleasant. 

Check Into the Best Times to Visit

It is important to think about the type of experience you want to have in the national park. If you’re looking for something quiet and relaxing, aim to go right after school starts again in the late summer/early fall, or right before school gets out in the late spring/early summer. Targeting these two times of year can oftentimes mean cooler weather and fewer crowds.

If you love the hustle and bustle of people, the peak summer season for national parks might be the right time for you. Also, if you’re traveling with kids, summer may be your only choice because of the school year or work obligations.

There is no uniform opening time for national parks, and some of the parks are not open year-round, so you’ll want to do your research on that before embarking on your journey. The last thing you want to do is plan your trip and show up to the national park of your choice, only to find its gates closed for the season.  Many national parks are so popular that they require reservations that book up months ahead of time, so be sure to plan ahead. Additionally, you will also need to consider that each park’s operating status may be dependent on local climate and weather conditions.  As your visitation time draws close check on the conditions in and around the park, and have a Plan B ready just in case.

Bring the Proper Gear

Having the right gear is paramount to having a successful trip.. A proper coat to keep you warm on cooler nights or rainy days, appropriate shoes for hiking, and even remembering a bathing suit could really improve your experience. Sometimes it is easy to remember the big things but it’s the basics like hats and sunscreen that get forgotten and left behind.

At the same time, you also don’t want to over pack and be weighted down with too much stuff.  To travel light but prepared consider these packing tips:

Choose a Backpack Over a Suitcase

You’ll want to be mobile while in the parks, and dragging around a suitcase can really hinder your mobility. Instead, use a backpack and pack a smaller daypack with things you’ll use during the day while in the park. 

Don't Forget the Food and Water

If you venture into the park, food and water are a must.  Plenty of water is especially key to any trip as safe, drinkable water may not be available in some areas of a park, and chances are you will get more thirsty than you expect. 

While most national parks have food available at cafes, kiosks and vending machines, it’s always a good idea to at least have some snacks for any excursions. If you planning on spending the majority of the day in the park, consider packing a larger lunch.  And even for short excursions or physical activities like hiking and canoeing, bringing some snacks to sustain energy can be necessary to fight off becoming hangry

Prepare and Plan Your Time in the Park

Arriving to a park without researching or making plans, may easily become overwhelming. Some of these national parks are incredibly expansive in size. Even those that are not quite as large might be bigger than you think.  And even smaller parks have a lot of activities and different areas to experience. Planning ahead to visit popular parks may require reservations.

The national parks have so many things to see and do that you likely won’t have time to see and do everything. So, it is key to plan ahead and pick what is most important to see, and plan for that. It’s also typically a good idea not to pack in as much as possible and check off all the sights in one trip. Rather, than rushing to see all the sights, find a couple of priorities on your list, and make those the focal points of your visit

Seek Out the Park Rangers

The friendly folks in the wide brimmed hats know the parks inside and out.  They can help you enjoy your experience with insider information on events and things and places to see, as well as how to stay safe during your visit.  Don’t just seek them out, listen to them and take their advice to heart.  After all, this is their adopted backyard.

Explore Smaller Parks

While a lot of deserved notoriety is given to some of the major national parks, some of the smaller parks offer equally fulfilling experiences.  While many of the smaller parks don’t get the spotlight of the bigger parks, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve as much attention and respect.  Oftentimes the smaller parks have the advantage of being easier to plan, they do not have the crowds of the larger parks, and the chances increase of having a smaller park nearby.

Leave No Trace

The national parks set a visitation record in 2017, with more than 84 million visitors, which makes responsible visitation to preserve these fragile lands so important.  Not only should we all be sure to not leave any trace behind following a park visit, to ensure people can continue enjoying these national parks we all have to do our part in keeping them as pristine as we found them, or better.  A few tips include;

  • Take all garbage and gear with you  
  • If you started a (legal) camp fire in a designated fire ring, make certain the coals are completely put out, cold, and buried. 
  • Do not disturb the natural habit or animals of the park.

Look for DOE's Influence During Your Visit

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is doing its part to keep the park's pristine through several efforts.  First, by partnering with the National Park Service (NPS) through the Clean Cities National Parks Initiative, DOE is providing sustainable transportation systems in the parks to reduce vehicle congestion and air pollution, and preserve their enjoyment and long-term quality. At the same time, these transportation projects showcase the benefits of alternative fuels, advanced vehicles, and fuel-saving technologies.. Since 2010, there have been 35 projects that put alternative fuel and fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, reduce vehicle idling, and improve fuel economy. 

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In addition, DOE's Renewing Our National Parks initiative works to support the parks with technical support for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for park infrastructure - usually for facilities such as visitor centers and ranger stations.  

Keep the Experience Going

National Park Week should not be the end of your national park experience, only the beginning.  With 423 national park units there is so much more to explore and experience.  And chances are there is a park near you.

If you’re planning to go to more than one national park this year, then it is worth it for you to look into purchasing an annual America The Beautiful park pass. This pass provides access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, as well as free entrance to all national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard day use fees at national forests and grasslands, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  There are discount passes for military, veterans, Gold Star families, and seniors.  

This pass isn’t just for one person — it covers free admission for the driver and all the other people in your car. So, grab your friends, grab a pass and head to the parks!