6 National Park Trip Planning Tips
Insights into creating a great national park RV trip.

By: Howard & Katelyn Newstate

We understand that not everyone wants to visit ALL the National Parks in one year. Maybe you’re interested in building a road trip to a few parks. Regardless of how many parks you plan to see, you’ll want to consider weather, how much time you can spend in each park, and some must-see areas or attractions. That will help you map out your ideal route to optimize your time!

1. Consider Seasonality and Weather

Most U.S. national parks have specific times of year where all roads, trails, and campgrounds are open. If you’re planning a visit, it’s important to know the best time of year or season for a given park! 

As a first step, check out the official National Park Service website and find the park you’re interested in visiting. They will list important details of planned openings/closures, construction, and weather-related schedules.

This information can work to your advantage in multiple ways. For example, a popular time of year to visit Acadia National Park is during the fall when the leaves are changing color. Make your reservations far in advance if you intend to visit during this time. However, if you don’t mind missing the fall colors and have flexibility, try visiting in early June for warmer weather and much lower crowds.

2. Set Calendar Reminders for Camping Reservations

A calendar will become your best friend as you plan your trip. While some campsites are first come, first served (no reservations), most have advanced reservation windows between two to six months in advance. 

This information can be found on the park website (look under “Plan Your Visit” and then the “Eating and Sleeping” menu) and also recreation.gov (the official site for all sorts of reservations across Federal sites). It is invaluable to know these dates because you often have less than a few minutes to secure the most popular campsites when they are released to the public. Set a calendar reminder for the dates and times these campsites become available!

Camping at Gilbert Ray Campground near Saguaro National Park.

What if you are unlucky getting a campsite? Campnab is a resource we use often for sold-out campgrounds. You can set alerts for specific dates, campgrounds, even length of your RV, and you’ll get a text when there is an opening or cancellation! We’ve scored reservations at several hard-to-get campgrounds using this.

3. Remember Campgrounds May Not Be the Only Reservation You Need

National parks are more crowded than ever. Attendance at some parks has reached the point where visitor limits have been established to help everyone have a better experience. 

Depending on time of year, you will need reservations to drive into the park at Rocky Mountain, Glacier, and others. You also need a reservation during certain months to drive up Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. 

Typically, these reservations are very inexpensive and cost less than $5 (most are only $1). The idea is not necessarily to make money, but to cover basic costs of operating the reservation/ticketing system and to help with crowd flow. Yet another great idea to set calendar reminders for when these reservation windows open!

4. Research in Advance for Activity Recommendations

From ‘things to do to’ maps and even a calendar of events (for ranger programs and other special events), the National Park Service website is full of great information to help plan your trip. 

Exploring Channel Islands National Park.

Have you already downloaded the official National Park Service app on your phone? Available for Android and Apple devices, the app contains almost everything on the website AND you can download an entire park’s information for offline access, including trail maps! (This is great for parks with limited cell service.) It is a wonderful free resource and comes in handy both for planning and when visiting the park.

5. Watch Videos and Check Out Park-Specific Guides 

There is a lot of great content out there from people like us! Shameless plug aside, as we travel this year you can look for a dedicated video episode for each park. We include our top recommendations, where to stay and other planning advice. 

And that’s just from us! If you’re looking for videos, do a search on YouTube or search for travel articles on park websites, NY Times Travel, Conde Nast Traveler and wherever you get travel advice.

6. Stop at the Visitors Center When You Arrive

Our absolute first stop is always to meet the rangers at the visitors center. Talking with a ranger about your plans, length of your visit, and physical abilities will yield great results. Rangers are full of ideas and share their favorite places in the park. It is also the best way to learn about weather forecasts, temporary closures, and other real-time updates for your visit.

While you’re there, get your stamp, it’s free! Of course, it’s not a requirement to use the National Park Passport books ... but let’s be honest, we love collecting and looking back on all our park stamps! However, you can stamp anything you’d like. A great free souvenir of a park visit is to stamp the official park map. That way you have a date stamp of your visit to the park!


Watch this video for more insights for planning your national park road trip:


Howard and Katelyn Newstate have traveled over 80,000 miles in their Winnebago Navion Class C RV, exploring from Alaska to mainland Mexico since 2018. Joined by their adventure pups, Piper, Ella, and Scout, they share how to “Live Like a Local” in every new state they explore. For more information on their travels or the 51 Parks in 52 Weeks tour, visit NewstateNomads.com/NationalParks


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User commented on March 27, 2023 5:08 PM
Great tips! I’d include that when you get there, talk to locals, your waitress etc. ask them what’s there secret hidden activity or location to visit, hike or eat. We found tips to find historical sites, petroglyphs on private property you could visit and of course, great eats!
User commented on June 19, 2023 6:00 AM
Getting ready to retire, wanting to buy the national Park foundation edition having a good time is it worth it me and the wife want to travel the United States thank you for your insight I’m going to be following you