Tips to Recreate Responsibly in Our National Parks

Guidelines for Visiting Safely
Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
Seated photographer at right takes picture of slot canyon
Lake Mead National Recreation Area - NPS Photo / Andrew Cattoir

When visiting any of the over 400 national parks across the country, it is essential to follow proper guidelines, directions, and measures to ensure the safety of both you and other visitors to the park. From planning the excursion and packing properly to maintaining a safe distance from others and cleaning up after yourself, small and simple steps can make a big impact on how you and other park enthusiasts enjoy our national parks.  

Real talk: When we all work together, we can protect each other and our national parks while we #RecreateResponsibly in our wonderful national parks. And remember: if you’re feeling sick, don’t venture to a park – keep yourself and others safe by sitting this visit out. The parks will be there to enjoy when you recover. 

As Always, Know Before You Go 

looking up the trunk of a huge tree into the canopy overhead

Forest canopy along New River Gorge National River

NPS Photo

Planning for your park adventure is key to a safe, enjoyable trip. Visit the park’s website on before you go to check current park conditions, facility operations, and weather. You can also check a park’s social media channels for the latest park information. Be mindful of where you plan to visit – don’t overcrowd areas, as this may endanger the safety of yourself and others.  

Explore Locally

A pond full of pink lotus flowers at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

Lotus flowers at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

NPS Photo

Don’t forget about the gems in your own backyard! If traveling long distances is off limits, research places nearby. Follow your local and state public health guidelines and the guidelines of the place you want to visit – the National Park Service works closely with local health departments to keep visitors as safe as possible. If you can’t make it to a park, discover ways to explore national parks virtually.  

Plan Ahead & Pack Properly 

An unpacked first aid kit with a hand starting to go down a checklist for the First Aid Kit
Shutterstock / Fotosenmeer

Gear up before you head out to the park – a safe adventure is a fun adventure! No matter what activity you’re planning to enjoy, make sure you have packed the 10 Essentials prescribed by the National Park Service, including navigation materials, sun protection, nutrition, and hydration supplies. Check our guide to keeping your first-aid kit in tip-top condition and check your first-aid kits on a consistent basis, as well as before you head out to a park. Don't forget to pack any additional safety materials like hand sanitizer, face masks, and additional toilet paper.

Travel Wisely 

Road leading past trees towards mountains

Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

NPS / Victoria Stauffenberg

Planning ahead doesn’t just mean a complete packing list. Plan your route to the park ahead of time, and make sure to get gas and use the bathroom before you head out to a park, as facilities may be closed. Need the perfect playlist for your journey? Try a playlist of songs that share a love of national parks.   

Keep Your Distance 

A hiker walks along a trail surrounded by green grass

A park visitor walks through a trail in Kahuku, climbing the lower elevations of Mauna Loa in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

NPS Photo / J. Wei

Once you get to the park, make sure to give others plenty of room so we can all enjoy the park to its fullest potential. Whether you’re on a trail, on a sidewalk, or in the parking lot, maintain a safe distance between yourself and others. To practice safe distancing, keep at least six feet between you and those outside your immediate household. Cover your nose and mouth with a mask if you’re near others to keep everyone safe.

Play It Safe & Know Your Limits 

Boardwalk trail passing over the water and through the wetland

Marsh Trail at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

NPS Photo / William Mobilian

Choose the activities you enjoy in parks wisely. Reduce the chance of needing to be rescued by playing it safe and choosing easier activities while in the park. Postpone challenging hikes or trying new activities for the first time to ensure that first responders and park employees have adequate resources. Rescues in national parks add to the strain on local healthcare systems and emergency resources – know your limits and play it safe when in parks to keep us all healthy and safe. 

Leave No Trace 

woman removes garbage from under a rock

A visitor at Noatak National Preserve follows Leave No Trace Principles by removing garbage

NPS Photo / Cait Johnson

When you’re ready to leave a park, make sure to pack out your garbage, including any disposable materials. If you brought something with you to the park, make sure to take it with you when you leave. And though they might be beautiful, be sure not to pick any flowers or do anything that would disrupt the park's natural ecosystem. Trash pickup and restroom facilities in parks could be limited and picking up after yourself and following the Leave No Trace principles will help keep the park a safe, clean place for visitors. Pack it in, pack it out, and remember – don’t be trashy.

Build an Inclusive Outdoors

Man in three wheeled chair sits on the rim of a deep canyon and takes a photo of it

Photographing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from an off-road wheelchair in Yellowstone National Park

NPS Photo / Jacob W. Frank

National parks belong to all of us and are here for all of us. Be an active part of making the outdoors safe and welcoming for park visitors of all identities and abilities. Tune in to episode 24 of the National Park Service's FriYAY podcast to hear some of National Park Foundation Chief Program Officer LaTresse Snead's ideas about how we can work together to create more equitable spaces.

The health and safety of ourselves, fellow park lovers, and our parks themselves rely on all of us keeping these ideas top of mind. Whether you’re seeking a wide, open space or exploring a historic neighborhood, we share in the responsibility to make sure everyone is able to experience parks safely. Together, small efforts can help us all #recreateresponsibly in our parks.  

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