National Park Etiquette

Do's and Don't for a busy park season

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National Parks will be busy this summer—a tanked economy and fee-free weekends practically guarantee it. It also means that scores of newcomers will experience the glory of our national parks for the first time, and they may not always know how to behave.

In light of that, Colorado National Parks released a list of park etiquette for visitors this summer. We’re following suit by sharing our own. This season, remember these staff etiquette tips:

  • Just because you can get cell service on a trail doesn’t mean you should use it for non-emergency calls.
  • For the average National Park tourist, seeing wildlife in its most natural setting is an overwhelming experience. So go ahead, feel free to back up traffic by parking in the middle of the road to take a look. In fact, climb out of your SUV and get as close as possible (suggestion: ten to twelve feet for optimal viewing) of the elk, bison, bear or fox—and make sure you have your kids in tow. Go for it: Alienate the wildlife and put you and your family in harm’s way!*
  • Always, always, always bring your bedside table when traveling about. Because you never know when you’ll find yourself at the gates of Crater Lake National Park, wishing you would have brought your bedside table on the trip….because that is where you left your National Park pass.
  • If you’ve got kids, stop at a visitor center on the way in to the park and ask about the Junior Ranger Program. Kids get a booklet full of fun activities to do in the park (and in the tent at night) that teach them about the area, history, geology, flora, fauna, trails, etc. At the end of your trip, stop back at the visitor center so your kid can get a pep talk from a real, live ranger, then sworn in and given a badge.
  • When seeking advice from a ranger about anything backcountry related (such as trail conditions, water sources, campsites, bear activity) be sure that you’re talking to a backcountry ranger and not a desk jockey.
  • Do not coat backcountry gear in a light spray of bear spray.
  • Assist tourists, don’t reassure them that wildlife gets put back into cages and dusk and that rivers all flow in convenient circles.
  • Do not position children next to large wildlife (Buffalo, Elk, Moose) for a photo op. As docile as they may seem, they will gore you and enjoy it.
  • If cell reception permits, promptly call friends and family as you approach the summit to announce your victory. Speaker phone is preferred so standers by can also relish in your accomplishment.*
  • Unleash your inner artist – desecrate a tree. Trees, aka nature’s post-it-notes, are a great way to show the wilderness just how much First-Initial-period-Last-Initial hearts First-Initial-period-Last-Initial 4-ever.*
  • Litter. Those brightly colored energy bar wrappers don’t just protect our on-the-go sustenance, they can double as pleasing decoration for everyone to enjoy. Besides, If you don’t leave a trace, how will you find your way back?*
  • Pick flowers. They look better in your girlfriend’s hair anyway. Bonus: no flowers = no bee stings.*

*For the sarcasm deficient, this is…sarcastic!

Snark aside, in the end, it’s up to you, the Daily Dirt faithful, to ensure these national-park noobs learn the ropes. Share your tips for National Parks Etiquette on the trail and in the comments section below.

—Ted Alvarez