Travel Tips 

U.S. National Park FAQs

America's national parks are an iconic part of the outdoor experience in the United States. Planning a visit to one or all of these incredible national parks can raise a lot of questions. Luckily, we have answers! Make the most of your national park visit with information and helpful tips regarding the most frequently-asked national park questions!
Prepared By:

VUPContributor

Adventurer & Photographer

Yellowstone Boardwalk

1. How many national parks are there in total in the United States?

There are currently 63 national parks in the United States. The most recently established national park is New River Gorge National Park, located in West Virginia. The national park system includes 423 national park sites in total. These sites include memorials, national historic landmarks, heritage areas, etc. Most national parks are located in the western United States, in states such as California, Utah and Colorado.

2. Which national parks are the best?

We think that every national park is worth visiting. However, there are some national parks that are particularly unique in the world due to their geography. To get the best national park experience, we recommend visiting the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Zion, and Arches National Parks in the Western United States. Within the Eastern United States, the most famous national parks are Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Everglades. Browse our national park trip itineraries by region for trip ideas, planning essentials, and national park travel inspiration.

3. Which national parks have the most visitors?

Popular national parks with the most overnight visitors are Grand Canyon, Yosemite & Yellowstone. However, several national parks have are more popular for day visitors, making them feel more private and secluded from sundown to sunrise. For national parks with a higher amount of overnight visitors, we recommend making lodging and camping reservations in advance.

4. Which national parks have the most wildlife?

All national parks have wildlife from snakes and birds to larger animals such as wolves, bears, moose and buffalo and even marine life. To see the most wildlife we always recommend national parks that cover large forest areas such as Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Isle Royale, Rocky Mountain or Alaska’s Denali National Park. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is often referred to as the “Serengeti of America” because of its abundant variety of wildlife.

5. Do national parks have guided tours?

Yes, each national park offers guided tours that can either be hosted by the National Park Service (NPS) or by certified guides. A large part of the National Park Service mission aims to educate visitors about the uniqueness of each different park and how to enjoy each park to its fullest. Find information about guided tours at official park visitor and welcome centers or research for certified guides in gateway towns.

6. How many people visit national parks each year?

Last year, there were 327 million national park visits in the United States. Some national parks, like Zion, can become overcrowded during warmer months and require visitors to use park transportation rather than personal vehicles. Therefore, we recommend visiting during off-season months.

7. Are there general rules when visiting a national park or does each park have specific ones?

Yes, there are general rules when visiting national parks and you will find this information on the official national park website. In addition, each national park has specific rules that can change seasonally. For example, campfire regulations may fluctuate depending on drought conditions and the risk of wildfires.

8. Where can I find official park maps?

We think the best way to utilize a complete map of all national parks on a map is to use the Find Your Park tool provided by the National Park Service website. Many national parks have digital, downloadable versions of park maps as well hard copies in visitor and welcome centers.

9. How do I make reservations for camping or staying in national parks?

Most of the campsites in national parks and national forests are available on a first-come, first serve basis, but we still recommend travelers make reservations online whenever possible. We highly recommend making online reservations for popular national parks at least three to five months in advance.

10. Can I drive into a national park and is there an entrance fee?

Most of the national parks in the United States are accessible by car, RV or bus. When you enter the park, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee, which is usually between $20-$40 per vehicle. Park passes can be valid for up to seven days depending on the park and season. If you plan to visit several national parks, we recommend you buy the America the Beautiful Pass for $80.

11. What are concessions?

A concession is the official allowance by the National Park Service to have a hotel, gift shop or restaurant doing business inside the park. There are usually only 1-3 companies that have been granted permission to operate the food, lodging, or activities inside a national park. All concessioners are required to uphold high sustainability and architectural standards to operate inside the park with a minimum impact on the environment.

12. When were the national parks established and why?

The National Park Service was established by Congress and initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt during the year 1916. The goal was to give American people the opportunity to enjoy public lands and make recreational activity more accessible to the public.

13. Who is in charge of the national parks?

All national parks in the United States are managed and and supervised by the National Park Service, which is a federal agency of the Department of Interior. Park rangers operate as federal law enforcement officers inside a national park, with full authority to protect the people and the nature inside of each park.

14. What are the rules for the campgrounds in national parks?

Most national parks have campgrounds with rules that apply once inside the national park. When entering a campground, find the campsite bulletin board to learn about the specific rules for campgrounds. As a general rule, it is required to maintain quiet hours after dark and to keep the campsite clean, including practicing pack-in pack-out and leave no trace habits. Most campgrounds also have a camp host that can answer specific questions about the rules.

15. Are national parks open all year round?

The answer to this frequently-asked national parks question is that it depends on the park. While most national parks are open year-round, there might be some entrances that are closed due to weather or construction. The best way to find out about specific opening hours and road closures is to visit the specific park page on the NPS website.

16. What is the best way to explore nature?

The best way to enjoy nature in a national park is to spend as much time outside as possible and less time in the car. Before entering a national park, create a plan highlighting certain hikes and view points. If you are able, take at least a one-mile hike away from parking areas to enjoy more silence and natural surroundings. Explore on foot, by bike or paddled vessel to get more in touch with nature in any national park. 

17. What’s the best way to plan my trip to a national park?

There are two ways to plan a national park vacation. You can choose a special tour operator that will map out your itinerary for you or you can organize the trip on your own. Both options have valid advantages. You might get a better price on a hotel through a tour operator; however, you might not have the same flexibility and freedom as if you would organizing your own vacation.

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