Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Questions to Ask When Planning a National Park Vacation

Great Sand Dunes NP
        I have mentioned a few times in my blog that one of my lifetime goals is to visit at least one new national park each year with my children. I started this goal three years ago when my kids were nine and five. At five years old, my son had stopped napping, could sustain attention, had a lot of energy and could do more outdoor activities without constant adult intervention (like being carried in a backpack while hiking). Each year, I choose a new park or two and amp up the adventure scale. In 2010, we played on the sand dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park; in 2011, we camped, rock scrambled, hiked and biked in Acadia National Park; and last summer, we camped, kayaked, rafted and did long hikes in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.     It's winter; tis the season to be thinking about the opposite season, summer, and planning our family's next national park adventure. This year, we are road tripping to camp in Sleeping Dunes and Isle of Royale National Parks in Michigan. So as I begin my internet search for information to formulate a plan, I thought I would develop a list of questions that I need answered.
  1. What is the travel distance from home to each destination?
  2. How do we get to each destination? 
  3. What is the cost of getting there? 
  4. What is the transportation schedule?
  5. How long does it take?
  6. What is the park entrance fee?
  7. How many campgrounds does the park have?
  8. Where are the campgrounds located?
  9. How does the location of the campgrounds compare to the proximity of activities available in the park?
  10. What is the cost of a campsite?
  11. Is there a minimum night stay?
  12. How do I reserve a campsite? First-come, first-serve?
  13. If first-come, first-serve, how fast do the campgrounds fill?
  14. What facilities are offered at the campgrounds: flush toilets, pit toilets, showers, water pumps, firewood, tent pad, picnic table, fire ring and bear boxes?
  15. Where is the closest store for food and supplies?
  16. What activities are available in the park: boat rentals (kayak, canoe, row, small motor), fishing, outfitters, horseback riding, tours, ranger programs, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting, hiking, backpacking and swimming?
  17. How do I obtain a backcountry permit to backpack?
  18. What are the bear regulations? Can I rent a bear canister ?
  19. Where do I buy camping fuel?
  20. Grand Teton NP
  21. What are the campfire regulations?
     Of course these are general questions. Depending on your destination, you will develop more specific questions related to your family's needs and goals. Planning though is necessary to ensure your family's safety during its outdoor adventures, to decrease your impact on the natural environment and to increase the fun-factor for your family vacation.


  1. Ok, this is a good and helpful list. You seem organized. I tend to ask these questions at the campground front gate! I have a similar goal, parks wise, and I notched off the close NPs last year - Shenandoah, Harper's Ferry - (my boys were 2 and 4 last summer), and am making my summer camping plans now. I am from Michigan, but I am sorry to say I have never visited either of these parks, but my mom and sister loved Sleeping Bear Dunes several years ago, and their photos were amazing. I can tell you that the northern shores of Lake Michigan are beautiful, and the UP is equally scenic. Have you thought about Minnesota though? the Mississippi headwaters is one of my most memorable childhood camping roadtrips, and we drove back through the UP, stayed in Mackinaw for a long weekend, and then drove on to the grandparents on the thumb (Michigan speak, I know!). You can't see and do everything, but I love Minnesota for hiking, camping, canoeing (my very favorite nature activity) and exploring. I spent about 6 summers in Bemidji for summer camp, and loved it. I promise I do not work for Minnesota tourism. Just wanted to mention it for the bucket list. Thanks for the inspiring blog, you rock.

  2. Thank you Jessie for your thoughtful comments and your compliment. I try hard to be organized, sometimes it is easier than others. I would love to go to Minnesota. A few families members have canoe camped in the Boundary Waters and loved it. Our family has to postpone our MI trip this summer due to a new puppy. We are instead heading to the Adirondaks for some outdoor adventure.

  3. Yellowstone National Park in the first national park in the world and the oldest in the United States. Fast picking up as a hot tourist destination this place is full of budget hotels, car rentals, restaurants etc.

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