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7 Tips for Planning an Eco-Friendly National Park Trip

It's easy to plan an eco-friendly National Park trip with these tips, from sustainable packing to respecting the area's wildlife.

national park trip
Written by
Briana Dodson
Are you planning the perfect summertime adventure to one of the country's many
National Parks
? You're not alone.

237,064,332 recreation visits in 2020 alone
, the park system—and the animals that call the parks their home—are beginning to feel the impact. In a past episode of
Good Together
, Kasey Morrissey, president of the travel tour company
Austin Adventures
, discusses how to plan a National Park trip that's both fun and sustainable.
Morrissey, who's been guiding tour groups since she was six years old, emphasizes the importance of doing your research and being prepared before arriving at your destination. Because as visitation increases,
so will the amount of cars and trash
that can put these beautiful destinations at risk.
When we do our part as travelers to sustain National Parks, future generations can enjoy them, too. With these six tips, you can plan a National Parks trip that keeps the planet in mind.

7 Tips for Planning an Eco-Friendly National Park Trip

national park trip

1. Pack Using the "Less Is More" Approach

Start planning 3 to 6 months in advance. This helps you determine which season you're visiting and the weather conditions of those seasons so you can just pack what you need.
If you're up for hiking in the afternoons during rainy season, you may want to bring a rain jacket. Or maybe you're an adventure junkie and want to get out and hike, bike, or whitewater raft. In that case, you'll need to pack more layers. This proactive planning helps cut down on last-minute impulse travel buys as well.

2. Swap Plastic Travel Items for Reusables

When packing for a day hike,
reusable water bottles
or travel coffee mugs (for those of us who need our coffee!) are eco-friendly alternatives that are easy to carry, and easy to refill. For lunch and snacks, opt for silicone bags and reusable utensils that are easily to clean instead of plastic wraps and styrofoam boxes. These small changes can lessen the waste you're generating and keep the parks pristine.

3. Buy or Rent Used Gear

The fun activities you'll be doing sometimes require gear, but purchasing new gear can be expensive and isn't very sustainable. Look into renting or buying used gear that people are no longer using at an outdoor gear shop in one of the surrounding National Park communities.
Another alternative is to keep reusing your older gear if you already have it (getting it fixed, if necessary). Or, invest in brands—like
or REI—that last longer and use more eco-friendly materials.

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4. Use a Park Shuttle System or Carpool

An influx of visitors to these destinations has increased the need for more roads and parking spots that simply don't exist. To combat this issue, parks like Zion have created park shuttle systems that carry visitors to and from the park entrance.
Because these systems are so new, understanding how they work is critical so you aren't waiting for hours to get to the park. If you're traveling with more than one car, you can also carpool, which cuts down on emissions and provides some
spontaneous road-trip karaoke

5. Be Kind to Animals That Call the Park Home

While it's tempting to get the perfect Instagram post, understanding how to interact with wildlife (and their home) is very important. Before you even enter the park, you can learn tips and tricks for interacting with wildlife by stopping at a visitor center or doing some research online.
"I also practice what I call the golden rule of thumb—especially with the kids," Morrissey says. "Put your arm out in front of you. Stick your thumb up, like you're giving someone a thumbs up, then you close one eye. If that thumb can cover the animal with your one eye looking at your thumb, then you're far enough away."

6. Keep an Eye Out for Park Recycling

Good news! Most National Parks have recycling stations on the premises. Keep an eye out for recycling bins that are typically in and around the visitor centers or lodges. These bins provide sections for recycling glass and plastic and aluminum cans, in case you forget your reusable water bottle. Just remember to properly dispose (and clean) your recyclables before tossing them.

7. Download the Parks App

Do a little bit of sleuthing ahead of time and you'll find that most parks have their own apps, including the
National Park Service app
, which has more than 400 National Parks and park sites. Downloading these apps will reduce paper usage and give you access to cool features, such as interactive maps.
Being a more sustainable traveler comes down to being prepared. With tons of information at our fingertips, we can all do our part to make our National Park vacations much more enjoyable for us and the planet.