What To Bring To Four Of America's Most Incredible National Parks

Our public lands are as sacred as the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. With 52 million acres of gorgeous National Parks land available to explore, you owe it to yourself to start checking boxes nationwide.

Best Park for Epic Day Hikes

Zion National Park, known for its spectacular Navajo Sandstone canyon walls and stunning vista, is an outstanding choice for single-day sojourns. Depending on how motivated you are, you can travel for miles in a single day on multiple different trails. Choose from short, scenic hikes like the brief journey to Emerald Pools, or longer treks to Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail, a moderate 7-miler that should take you two to three hours to complete. There’s no wrong way to enjoy Zion.

One standout trail you might be aware of is the Narrows. This route can refer to either the short, 3.6-mile bottom-up hike or the arduous 16-mile top-down hike from Chamberlain's Ranch back to the Temple of Sinawava. Consider a water-friendly Gore-Tex boot like the Salewa Raven 3, especially for the longer route. For the shorter route, you could keep it super light with a pair of minimalist, water-friendly Xero Aqua X shoes.

There's always a chance of a summer shower or two. Layer up against the light rain.

Best Park for Epic Day Hikes

Zion National Park, known for its spectacular Navajo Sandstone canyon walls and stunning vista, is an outstanding choice for single-day sojourns. Depending on how motivated you are, you can travel for miles in a single day on multiple different trails. Choose from short, scenic hikes like the brief journey to Emerald Pools, or longer treks to Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail, a moderate 7-miler that should take you two to three hours to complete. There’s no wrong way to enjoy Zion.

One standout trail you might be aware of is the Narrows. This route can refer to either the short, 3.6-mile bottom-up hike or the arduous 16-mile top-down hike from Chamberlain's Ranch back to the Temple of Sinawava. Consider a water-friendly Gore-Tex boot like the Salewa Raven 3, especially for the longer route. For the shorter route, you could keep it super light with a pair of minimalist, water-friendly Xero Aqua X shoes.

Best Park to See Wildlife

When I visited Yellowstone with my brother a few years ago, we noticed a dozen empty cars on the shoulder of Route 191. We stopped our car too and got out.

There in the shallow waters of the Snake River was a family of elk. Tourists watched them in silence from the road. It was late in the day and the sunlight reflected gold off the still water, making majestic silhouettes of the great antlered creatures. Watching from a distance is the best way to enjoy Yellowstone’s abundant, highly visible wildlife.

But it seems like every year there’s a new story of a tourist who decided to test the boundaries and got too close to a moose or a bison or a bear and got maimed or even killed. Do yourself and the animals a favor: Don’t get too close, watch from a distance, and use a good pair of binoculars. If you’re headed into the backcountry, make sure to bring along bear mace as a precaution. (In fact, they won’t let you into the wilderness without it.) But the best way to enjoy Yellowstone’s wildlife and stay safe is to avoid getting too close. If you keep to yourself, chances are they will too.

Best Park to See Wildlife

When I visited Yellowstone with my brother a few years ago, we noticed a dozen empty cars on the shoulder of Route 191. We stopped our car too and got out.


There in the shallow waters of the Snake River was a family of elk. Tourists watched them in silence from the road. It was late in the day and the sunlight reflected gold off the still water, making majestic silhouettes of the great antlered creatures. Watching from a distance is the best way to enjoy Yellowstone’s abundant, highly visible wildlife.


But it seems like every year there’s a new story of a tourist who decided to test the boundaries and got too close to a moose or a bison or a bear and got maimed or even killed. Do yourself and the animals a favor: Don’t get too close, watch from a distance, and use a good pair of binoculars. If you’re headed into the backcountry, make sure to bring along bear mace as a precaution. (In fact, they won’t let you into the wilderness without it.) But the best way to enjoy Yellowstone’s wildlife and stay safe is to avoid getting too close. If you keep to yourself, chances are they will too.

Best Park for The Most Scenic Bike Trip of Your Life

If you enjoy the propulsive power of two wheels, I honestly can’t recommend a better route than Cades Cove Loop in the Great Smoky Mountains. This 11-mile loop has stunning views of one of America’s most majestic mountain ranges. In the fall, trees explode in panoramas of red and orange and yellow, and in the spring, the fields are full of wildflowers. Remember: Appreciating the natural beauty of America is without a doubt the best possible way to express your patriotism. And if you can do it on a reliable pair of wheels, all the better.

Here’s an added benefit: The National Park Service prohibits motor vehicles between May 4 and September 28, so it’s a pedestrian’s and cyclist’s paradise for that entire time.

Best Park for The Most Scenic Bike Trip of Your Life

If you enjoy the propulsive power of two wheels, I honestly can’t recommend a better route than Cades Cove Loop in the Great Smoky Mountains. This 11-mile loop has stunning views of one of America’s most majestic mountain ranges. In the fall, trees explode in panoramas of red and orange and yellow, and in the spring, the fields are full of wildflowers. Remember: Appreciating the natural beauty of America is without a doubt the best possible way to express your patriotism. And if you can do it on a reliable pair of wheels, all the better.


Here’s an added benefit: The National Park Service prohibits motor vehicles between May 4 and September 28, so it’s a pedestrian’s and cyclist’s paradise for that entire time.

Best for Backcountry Camping

Everyone knows how popular Yosemite is. Three million Americans per year, to be specific. And for good reason—every American should witness the majesty of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls at least once. But if you want to experience Yosemite without the hassle of the crowds, essentially putting yourself in the shoes of adventurers like John Muir and Galen Clark, then the backcountry is for you. With over 700,000 acres and over 750 miles of trails, you can hike for hours and not see a single other person. Wander into the vast backcountry armed with a Wilderness Permit (required, by the way), pitch a ten at your designated site, and enjoy a measure of solitude that’s becoming increasingly rare these days.

What do we recommend for a backpacking trip? For a one- to three-night trip, any backpack between 30 and 50 liters is a good choice. Consider the TanuckLITE 40 from Mountainsmith. For experienced hikers looking to spend a five or more nights out there, the Terraframe 80 from Mystery Ranch is an ideal long-distance backpack.

We also recommend a reliable knife. I’m a really big fan of the Benchmade Bugout for its compact size and superb handling. But if you don’t mind something a little larger, you can’t go wrong with the Bushcrafter, a reliable fixed blade option. Check out our ultimate Benchmade buyer’s guide for more options.

BEST FOR BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING

Everyone knows how popular Yosemite is. Three million Americans per year, to be specific. And for good reason—every American should witness the majesty of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls at least once. But if you want to experience Yosemite without the hassle of the crowds, essentially putting yourself in the shoes of adventurers like John Muir and Galen Clark, then the backcountry is for you. With over 700,000 acres and over 750 miles of trails, you can hike for hours and not see a single other person. Wander into the vast backcountry armed with a Wilderness Permit (required, by the way), pitch a ten at your designated site, and enjoy a measure of solitude that’s becoming increasingly rare these days.

What do we recommend for a backpacking trip? For a one- to three-night trip, any backpack between 30 and 50 liters is a good choice. Consider the TanuckLITE 40 from Mountainsmith. For experienced hikers looking to spend a five or more nights out there, the Terraframe 80 from Mystery Ranch is an ideal long-distance backpack.

We also recommend a reliable knife. I’m a really big fan of the Benchmade Bugout for its compact size and superb handling. But if you don’t mind something a little larger, you can’t go wrong with the Bushcrafter, a reliable fixed blade option. Check out our ultimate Benchmade buyer’s guide for more options.


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