Where are you dreaming to travel to? We love planning trips, especially trips to national parks. National Parks are some of the most underappreciated places in the country. When someone mentions national parks, what do you think of? Most think of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or Yosemite, but there are over 63 National Parks and 423 National Park sites (such as historical sites or monuments) across the country. Many of these sites and parks are free, while all others can be accessed with either daily passes or a yearly national park pass.
Planning a national park road trip can be fun, but also overwhelming. There are so many different options and parts of our trip to organize. It took us many bouts of trial and error to find the easiest (and least stressful) way to plan a trip. Having the right resources can make planning your trips easier. I want to share with you the resources that we consider essential to planning the perfect national park trip.
**FYI This post is NOT sponsored. We truly believe that all of these resources are super helpful and can help you have the national park trip of your dreams. **
13 Resources To Help You Plan The Best National Park Trip Ever
1. National Park Service (NPS) website
-Useful For: Finding official information about each national park
The National Park Service does a great job of putting together useful information for planning any type of trip. Each National Park has its own website with all sorts of information about the national park and how to visit. I also love that on the national parks website that there is history for each location. It also has all of the programming such as ranger programs, walking tours, and shows. Most importantly, it has the latest updates on the park, such as closings, construction, and delays.
-Useful For: Finding trails and outdoor activities
AllTrails is a resource that we use every single week. AllTrails is a website and an app with maps with trails all over the country. Trails is a term used loosely- it lists small walks in the park up to thousand mile trails. It is super helpful if you plan on hiking, especially if in a national park. One great thing about AllTrails is that, if you are a member for $2.99 per month, you can download maps and trails to use when you don’t have service on your device.
-Useful For: Reserving campsites, national park entry, or tickets.
Recreation.gov is a database and reservation portal that has over 120,000 recreation area records. Here you can reserve campsites, reserve entry to some parks, and reserve tickets. Recreation.gov is really helpful because it gives detailed information on campsites and even has pictures of many of the campsites. Many national parks do not have a lot of accommodation options, so Recreation.gov is helpful to find those few accommodations that are available. We have used Recreation.gov numerous times to book campsites. The cancellation policies and date change policies for most sites are also super flexible. We recommend looking for accommodation in national parks on Recreation.gov.
-Useful For: Finding outdoor accommodations near national and state parks
ReserveAmerica is similar to Recreation.gov, but instead of listing accommodations for nationally owned lands, it lists more private and state land accommodations. For example, all New York State Park accommodations must be booked through ReserveAmerica. When we are unable to find something on through Recreation.gov, then we will look on ReserveAmerica. The policies differ more between sites, so make sure to look at each site’s reservation policies separately. This can be a great resource for accommodation especially if you are unable to find accommodation on Recreation.gov.
-Useful For: Finding hotel accommodations and car rentals around the world.
Out of all hotel booking website, we like Booking.com the best. It is a very easy to use website. Besides being user friendly, there are pictures, ratings, a wide variety of options, and lists of amenities for hotels. Also Booking.com gives good rates and great flexibility to booking, rescheduling, or cancelling bookings without a penalty. Booking.com allows you to easily book some of the cutest and best hotels.
-Useful For: Finding unique accommodations with a wide variety of options
AirBnb allows people to rent their houses, land, or unique places (think treehouses, houseboats, etc) online for people to rent. Sometimes, when there are not hotels in the area, AirBnB may be the best way for you to find someplace to stay. AirBnB also allows you the option to rent bigger places, great for if you are going with a larger group of people. When booking an AirBnb, make sure you read all the information and verify that you are happy with the amenities or situation (some AirBnbs are set up so that you will share a house with people). Also, read the reviews to make sure that the listing is correctly advertising what you are paying for. We love using AirBnB and have had a great experience using it all over the world!
7. Instagram Location Tags
-Useful For: Finding beautiful, off-the-beaten path locations
One way I find some of the places we go is through Instagram Location Tags. If we are going to a new a place, I will search the location on Instagram and look at the most recent and most popular pictures. This gives me a good idea of what I can expect the place to look like, rather than fancy super edited pictures online. It also shows me places that we should visit in that park or area that are not as mainstream and less crowded. Several places we have visited at national parks have been from using the Instagram Location Tags. They can be really useful!
-Useful For: Finding tips, locations, itineraries, inspiration and so much more for your trip
Pinterest is a great resource to use while planning your national park trip. If you can think to search it, there is likely an answer on Pinterest. Pinterest gives you the easiest access to blogs and websites that have the information you are looking for. Also, Pinterest is a great way to inspire your trip. I like searching the place I will be traveling to and look at pictures from that place to get me excited for the trip. Pinterest can be a great resource for you.
9. Google Flights
-Useful for: Finding flights
Google Flights is by far the best way to find the cheapest and best flights. Google Flights gives you so many options when searching for a flight which is one of the main reasons I love it. You can pick your dates and “explore” the flight map to see the cheapest flights in the country and world on the dates you want to fly. Also, they will share with you which flights and companies are cheapest to your destination. You can even see if the price is lower or higher than usual and what the price usually is. We used to try to use other sites, but Google Flights is always superior. It is safe and easy to book flights through Google Flights.
10. Travel Blogs
-Useful for: Planning a trip, planning your itinerary, learning tips for visiting your destination
Travel blogs can be so super helpful when planning your trip. Travel bloggers have been sitting right where you are, planning a trip from scratch just like you. They can save you so much time by giving you information that usually you would have to spend a great deal of time finding yourself. Also, since they have already been there, they can tell you what is worth your time versus not. Travel bloggers come from all different perspectives, so you can find the travel blogger that best fits your travel style. Before all of our trips, I read so many travel blogs to get all the details on where we plan on going. Travel blogs can help make your trip easier to plan!
11. Nearby State Park Websites
-Useful for: Planning activities to do on your trip
State Parks are often forgot about when planning a National Park trip. However, they can be just as beautiful and less crowded in the areas you plan on visiting. Many National Parks are surrounded by State Parks. If we have difficulty finding accommodation in the National Park, we often look to State Parks since they usually have more availability. Nearby State Parks can also have more information about the area and list more activities to do.
12. Google Maps
-Useful For: Arranging driving routes, picking destinations, and finding new activities
Most people use Google Maps to help them get to a destination while driving, however there are so many more ways that Google Maps can be used. On the computer, Google Maps can be a great way to help plan your trip. I like to use Google Maps to search the area I plan on visiting, and zoom in and out of the area to see what towns and places to see are around the place I plan on visiting. This allows you to check out the area and plan your trip so that you don’t miss anything worth stopping at! We have found so many of our favorite stops on Google Maps before actually leaving our house!
-Useful For: seeing possible itineraries, finding things to do on your road trip, inspire you to take another trip
At one time, books were some of the only ways that you could plan a road trip, but now they seem to be used less and less. Books can be a great way to find things to do on your trip and plan an itinerary. We also use books to help us find new trails that are not on AllTrails. Falcon Guides are my favorite book company that publishes hiking guides. Books can also help inspire your next trip. They may not have the very latest information, but they can be very useful in finding new places to go.
Overall, these are the 13 resources that have been super helpful to us on planning all of our road trips to national parks. We use all of these to help us plan every single trip. Depending on the type of national park trip you want to plan, some may be more useful to you than others. However, you use these resources, I hope they help you on your journey to creating a trip of a lifetime!
Are there any other resources that you like to use when planning a trip? Let me know down below in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
Pin for later!