Camping Tips for National Parks

Reserve Your Campsite (Backcountry or Campground)

As we mentioned last week in our 5 favorite campsite post, (put the link here), we often like to fly by the seat of our pants and go into places without a plan or schedule. If, however, there are specific campgrounds or backcountry sites at a National Park that you want to stay at make sure to plan ahead and book as soon as you can. Some National Parks have easy to use online booking systems or even lottery systems you have to sign up for. You should do some research because every National Park is different on how, when and where to sign up. If you are able to, book ahead!

Safety – Know the surroundings

Whether you're camping in bear country or a canyon, make sure you know where your campsite is located. We always want the best views from our campsites, but some of the best could be some of the most dangerous. In Zion National Park there are some amazing campsites along the narrows if you hike far enough up river, but before you go be sure to check the weather and you know what to do if it begins to rain. Flash floods, especially in the summer, are common in canyons. Camping in Yosemite? Check your car and put all your food in bear lockers, because even if it is in your car, it can cause a lot of problems. We have talked with Rangers that told us that Yosemite bears have started to recognize minivans as a good source of food and they will break in by pushing on the windows until they break.

Cooking – Understand where you are

Are you car camping? Backcountry camping? Backpacking for several days? Think about how much food you will need and also think about how much trash or equipment you need to make the meals you will be eating. If you are backpacking you will want to look for high calorie foods that are compact and light enough to carry. If you are in bear country and car camping you will want to make sure that everything you cook with goes inside a bear locker. Car camping has the luxury of being able to cook large, more intricate meals, but that usually means more equipment and more waste. Cleaning out pans thoroughly especially in the backcountry is very important, but leaving little food waste, and waste in general, is also important to not attract animals like bears.

Stay in specified area

In campgrounds we have noticed that sometimes people will take up more room than their campsite allows pushing other campers out of sites or giving them very little room. This is part of the reason we love backcountry camping. In the backcountry the sites are sometimes marked. If it is not "at large" camping, often times there will be spots you notice that have been camped in before. Find a level spot but don’t camp on top of a bed of flowers or plants. There is usually a well-worn spot that is the best, flattest spot in the area. Some national parks like Canyonlands or Capitol reef will give you more leeway with choosing sites in the backcountry because you won’t have to worry about setting up a tent over any vegetation.


We believe in the leave no trace philosophy and the “leave it better than you found it” statement I always heard from my parents. Don’t leave things behind in a fire pit. Also, know the bathroom etiquette for your area, namely at backcountry sites. We once settled into a beautiful campsite with an amazing view. I went to use the restroom before bed and I found an area that was perfect out of the way with the best bathroom view I will ever have, however, I noticed toilet paper strewn through the area with poop wrapped up in it. The rule of the area was that you were supposed to bury your waste. I guess not everyone got that memo. Nothing ruins a hike more than seeing garbage and human waste along the way.

Noise – Be considerate of other campers

Take note of your surroundings and maintain an appropriate noise level. If you are at a campground, they will have posted quiet hours but even outside of quiet hours, just be considerate. Most people are outdoors trying to escape the noise of every day life and they do not want to hear your radio that's turned up too loud or your drunk ramblings. We certainly never mind people staying up late and enjoying themselves but remember there may be people sleeping and small children in ear-shot. If you are being bothered but a loud campsite neighbor, take the time to go say something and be polite about it. Often people just don't realize how loud they are or that it's affecting others. It doesn't always work, but worth a try!

Enjoy the adventure

Sit back , unplug and relax. Enjoy the sights and sounds of nature while you let your cares drift away.

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