How to See America’s National Parks & Monuments

By hintonthetrail | Jul 23, 2021
North America > United States

America's National Parks and Monuments are very popular places to see anytime. They can be especially busy during the on-season (March-October). Whether you go during the on or off-season, these tips will make your visit more enjoyable. Read on to find out 9 tips for a better park experience, how to get your National Park Pass, and the top apps to use for exploring National Parks and Monuments.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Tips for a Great Visit!


1. Get there EARLY! Many parks recommend arriving before 8 am or late in the afternoon, depending on what your plans are for the day. Here's why:

  • Arriving early helps to avoid traffic, beat the crowds, and get a decent parking spot!
  • The temperatures are cooler in the morning, especially in places like Utah and Arizona.
  • Wildlife! You are more likely to spot animals earlier in the morning.
  • If you enjoy photography and videography, early morning has the best lighting… the golden hour.
Buffalo at Sunrise in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Buffalo at Sunrise in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

2. If you plan to do multiple hikes or sights, start at the end of the park and work your way back. Research ahead of time which trails/sights you want to see using one of the apps listed below.

3. Bring refillable water containers. Many parks have water refill stations and recommend using them. Just be careful as others like to use them too.

Elk Drinking at Water Fill Station in Grand Canyon National Park

Elk Drinking at Water Fill Station in Grand Canyon National Park

4. Wear layers and appropriate shoes. High heels have no business here. I say this because we see it all the time… not sure why. It's a recipe for disaster or a broken ankle!

5. Pack a picnic to enjoy nature and avoid the crowds at lunchtime!

6. Sunscreen/sunglasses/hats. Basically, something to protect you from the sun.

7. Bear Spray: Check each national park's website because this may be highly suggested depending on where you are going.

Bear on Trail at Big Bend National Park

Bear on Trail at Big Bend National Park

8. Don't forget your camera! ! You don't want to miss that perfect photo opportunity such as the bear in the photo above!

9. Get a National Park Pass! ! (see next topic for more details)

How to Get Your National Park Pass


America the Beautiful Pass is available to everyone! This pass is great. It gives you access to over 2,000 national parks and recreation areas… for one price! Many parks have a fee to get in and usually, it can range from $20-40. The pass has an annual fee of $80 or less depending on your situation. They offer military, disabled, 4th-grade students, volunteer, and senior passes, in addition to the regular pass. If you plan to see more than one national park or recreation area in a year then you need this pass! You will save money! So how do you get one?

Skull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park

Skull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park

  • Many of the parks and recreation areas have them at the entrance gates or visitor centers. Check HERE to see which parks have this option.

  • You can also purchase the pass online at the USGS Store. Be aware that you need to do this early because your pass is mailed to you. You don't receive an image or number to use in the meantime, you have to wait for it to come in the mail.

  • Call 888-ASK-USGS, extension 2 to purchase by phone. This pass also comes in the mail, so you will have to wait for it.

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park

Best Apps to See America's National Parks!


The apps below are really useful to see America's National Parks and all they have to offer. We use one or a combination of all the apps depending on where we are going. Some of the bigger parks have so many sightseeing and hiking opportunities that using multiple apps gives us the information we need for exploring efficiently. I would say that the National Park Service App is by far the one we use the most and is all-inclusive.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Entrance

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Entrance

National Park Service App

This is the official NPS app and IT'S FREE! You can select by state and it will list everything in the area… national parks, national monuments, historic trails, etc. There are more than 400 loaded on here! Pretty cool. Alerts are posted, as well as park entrance fees. It also has hiking/sightseeing suggestions for different times of the day, what to do, where to stay self-guided tours, and more. The park calendar of events and park news is available, and for those with national park passports, it lists the stamp locations! There is parking and visitor center information and how to visit with pets. You can even download the park information to use offline. This is essentially the park website on the app!

El Capitan at Yosemite National Park

El Capitan at Yosemite National Park

Gypsy Guide

If you are looking for a tour guide then this is the app to get. Gypsy Guide gives you detailed information and history through a driving tour with audio narration and is a good way to entertain your children! This app is great because it works off of GPS and not WIFI. Most national parks have little to no internet so this is an easy way to explore. It tells you where to go, what to see, and how to see it! This is not free, but well worth the purchase as you learn a lot! You download the app and then purchase each park or bundle of parks you wish to visit. Prices start at $4.99.

Park Avenue at Arches National Park

Park Avenue at Arches National Park

National Park Trail Guide

Another awesome free app is the National Park Trail Guide. It's great because you can select which national park you are visiting or click on what's nearby. The app gives you an overview of the park, “gems” (most popular sights/trails), best hikes, photos, and family-friendly ideas. You can click on the trail map and zoom in to see trails, gems, and other points of interest. There is also a section at the bottom with local information such as food, camping, shuttles, and other useful tidbits. Note: Not all the national parks are on this app but they are working on it. Available for iOS and Android.

Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park

Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park

All Trails

All Trails is all about trails. Whether you want to hike, bike, or just explore, you can find what you need on this app. You can browse by what activity you plan to do or search what's nearby. The app tells you what the trails are rated; easy, moderate, or hard. It gives you the length, approximate time to complete, whether it's dog-friendly, the elevation gain, and so much more. There are hiker reviews and the weather forecast. I like this app because the reviews for the trails are usually recent so you can find out tips about the trail before you go.

Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon National Park

Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon National Park

Individual Park Apps

Some national parks have their own apps. You need to check and download before you go because of the lack of internet in the parks. For example, Yellowstone has its own app and it has not only trails, but it has updated information on when Old Faithful and other geysers around the park are going to erupt. It makes it easier to plan your day if you know when to be in a certain area when you go see national parks.

Sunset at White Sands National Park

Sunset at White Sands National Park

Go Visit Some National Parks! !


Now you have all the tools you need to go see America's national parks or monuments! Make the best of your visit. Go visit the one that's been on your bucket list. No excuses, just do it! !

United States Planning North America National Parks Apps Wildlife

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Written by Hinton the Trail
We're the Hintons, a full-time travel family sharing our journey around the world with blogs, vlogs, and travel reviews. We've been traveling full-time for over two years and have learned a lot. Our goal is to share the where-to, how-to, and how much for great locations the world over.

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