Tips for Camping in a National Park

Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone NP

Follow all posted signs and directions of Park Rangers and Staff

Now I know this isn’t super glamorous but it’s very important for your safety and frankly for the sustainability of the park. Wild animals really are wild and dangerous, sometimes the conditions really are too dry for a campfire, and the terrain can be very unforgiving. I saw a lot of people on our most recent road trip putting themselves and wildlife in danger because they were approaching them beyond the safe distance just to get a “great” picture!. Then when we were camping in the nearby National Forest there were several people every night at our campground having campfires even though there were many posted signs about the current extreme fire danger and active wildfires burning in Montana. (Literally, one Law Enforcement Ranger we talked to described the area as a “tinder box”.) Just follow the freaking rules so we can all continue to enjoy the land.

Do Some Research and Make Reservations If Necessary

The National Park System has a lot of different options for camping. They have campgrounds complete with general stores and restaurants, completely primitive backcountry camping and literally everything in between. There are also some campgrounds that take reservations and some that operate on a strictly first-come-first-served basis. I would say that especially if you’re planning on camping in the parks during the peak seasons (usually the summer months), check around and see if you’re able to make a reservation. However, if you’re going to a park that only has first-come-first-served basis camp sites or even if that’s your preference, you can often check the website (like this one that pertains to Yellowstone) to see what time the campgrounds generally fill up each day or even call the National Park and the rangers are happy to help answer questions! And if you plan to go into the backcountry, be sure to check on whether or not you need a permit!

*not a National Park map

Stay for Two or More Nights If You Can

Nothing is worse than finding an amazing spot to camp and then remembering you just have to pack up and get back on the road the next day! There is so much to see and do in the National Parks that it’s really nice to spend at least 2 nights, ensuring at least one travel free day at the park. You’ll have more time explore and give yourself more time to relax and a break from setting up and breaking down camp every single day.

Always Say Yes to the Map and Newspaper

Y’all, there is so much park information in these little pamphlets. You can learn about the geography, history, landscape, wildlife in the park and more! They are not just an ideal, but totally necessary tool you can use to plan and get the most out of your visit! It is something I never leave the Ranger Station without and has earned many an eyeroll from my husband when the Park Ranger says “Map and newspaper?” and I shout an enthusiastic “YES!!!” from the passenger seat. (If you’re super eager, some parks will even mail them to you ahead of time! Or you can find them online, like this one from Glacier NP!)


In general, I’ve really enjoyed each time we’ve been able to camp in a National Park (though we’re becoming pretty partial to National Forests as well) and can’t wait to do it again. Do any of you have a favorite camping tip for camping within the National Park system?

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