Visiting one of America’s 63 National Parks is the adventure of a lifetime. Whether you’re climbing alongside glaciers in Rocky Mountain, or road tripping Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks, there’s a park for everyone to explore! But packing the right gear is crucial to a fun and safe trip in these wild and remote parks.
So, whether you’re hiking, camping, road tripping, visiting in summer or winter, this National Park packing list has all the essentials you’ll need for your next great National Park trip!
Want to take your list to go? Don’t forget to download and print my free National Park packing lists below! You’ll never leave home without everything you need again.
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Before You Pack: Planning Your National Parks Trip
Planning a successful National Parks trip can be complicated. With Park visitation numbers soaring, it can be difficult to book lodging, campground and permits at the most popular parks. An increasing number of National Parks are requiring advanced reservations to enter the most popular sections of the Parks, or even to enter the Park, period.
Before you start packing for your National Parks trip, make sure you’ve done the following:
Booked Campground and Lodging Reservations – Don’t assume that campsites or hotel reservations will be available on a walk-in basis. Book as far in advance as possible.
Booked Rental Cars, Flights and Other Transportation – Since the pandemic, rental car reservations have become very difficult to book, and Rental agencies often sell out. If you plan on traveling during summer, spring break, or the holidays, plan your rental car reservation weeks or months in advance.
Want to learn more about planning an epic National Parks trip? Grab my free Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide below. Inside are 70+ pages including printable National Park packing checklists, my best planning tips, and everything you need to know to start planning a trip to all 63 National Parks!
National Park Trip Essentials Packing List
No matter when or to what park you’re traveling, these items are essential to bring on any National Park trip.
1. America the Beautiful Annual Parks Pass
Do you plan on visiting more than one National Park this year? I seriously recommend buying an annual parks pass!
The America the Beautiful Pass costs $80 and allows for unlimited entry into all sites covered by the Pass. While that sounds expensive up front, just consider that most Parks charge between $20 and $30 per vehicle for each visit.
That means you only have to use the pass 3-4 times before it pays for itself
You can purchase an annual pass in person, online, or at your local outdoor retailer. National Park annual passes are available for in-person purchase at most National Park and federal recreation entrance stations.
Discounted or free passes are available for Military, Seniors, 4th Graders, and Volunteers.
2. National Park Passport Stamp Book
Okay this one isn’t absolutely essential, but I still never head to a National Park without it! Every National Park has a unique passport stamp, usually located in the Visitor Center or Gift Shop. Collecting stamps is a unique way to remember your National Park travels throughout the years. Plus its the perfect souvenir that doesn’t take up space and the stamps are free.
Bring your own journal to collect stamps, or grab the official Passport to Your National Parks stamp book, which has stamp space for all NPS sites, color-coded by region. These Passport books are sold in all National Park gift shops, (and online) and every purchase goes towards funding educational and interpretive programs at NPS sites!
3. National Parks Guide Books
National Parks are HUGE and there are dozens, if not hundreds of things to do on your trip! Help create your itinerary, check operating hours and find facilities, and learn about the history, geology, and ecology of the park with a guide book.
I love the National Geographic Guide to the National Parks, and use it to plan all our National Parks trips.
4. Printed Directions, Maps, and a Plan
The beauty of our National Parks are their remote wilderness locations. But with that remoteness comes some logistical issues. Plan ahead to lose cell service when driving to, near, and through a National Park. That means printing a hard copy (or downloading for offline use) of your driving directions, hotel, campground or activity reservations, and any other essential documents.
I usually keep a copy of all our reservation information, including hotel and campground addresses and contact info, as well as our planned itinerary in a small binder for easy access and organization.
5. Camera and Tripod
America’s National Parks are some of the most spectacular places on earth, and you’re gonna want to take photos!
For most photographers, an iPhone or other smartphone camera will take beautiful photos. For higher quality, consider investing in a mirrorless camera. I use the Sony Alpha mirrorless camera, as well as a GoProHero camera for action video.
The Joby flexible mount tripod is the perfect outdoor adventure tripod: its flexible legs can adapt to uneven surfaces like rocks or sand, and wrap around tree branches and handrails to nail the shot. The Joby is also small enough to fit in my hiking bag and relatively lightweight.
Binoculars will help you get a close-up look at wildlife like bears, bison, and elk – without putting yourself in harm’s way!
Remember, never get close enough to impact an animal’s behavior. If you see a wild animal looking at you or moving away, you are too close.
Many federally protected areas require visitors to stand at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators like bears and wolves.
7. Garmin InReach Satellite Communicator
While I typically use my Garmin InReach Communicator for hiking and backpacking trips, I always bring it along on my National Parks trips as well – even when I don’t plan on doing much hiking! In fact, the only time I’ve come close to activating the SOS button was while driving in Zion National Park.
In 2022, my husband and I struck a deer while driving our rental vehicle. We were returning to Zion after a day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park and the accident occurred on a rural highway, with no cell service. Our car was completely totaled, the sun had set, and nighttime winter temperatures were falling into the 20s.
National Parks Hiking Packing List
If you plan on visiting a National Park, you’ll almost certainly be doing some hiking. Don’t forget to pack these hiking essentials, like appropriate hiking clothing, a hiking bag, and the 10 Essentials for an enjoyable and safe hike.
8. Hiking Backpack
Whether you plan on doing strenuous hiking or leisurely nature walks, you’ll want to include a daypack or hiking backpack on your national park packing list.
The Osprey Tempest 20L is my go-to daypack for strenuous hikes. This pack is the perfect combination of features, comfort, and support, making it one of the most widely used and best daypacks for women. The Osprey Talon 22L is the men’s version.
The REI Flash 22L pack is my go-to recommendation for new hikers who aren’t ready to invest in a pricy pack and don’t need internal frames.
This pack is also my favorite travel-friendly daypack. Because there is no internal frame, this lightweight pack fits easily inside your carry on or checked bag.
9. Reusable Water Bottle
Stay hydrated and eco-friendly by carrying a reusable water bottle. Carry at least ½ liter of water for every half hour of hiking. More if your hike is strenuous or in hot conditions.
10. Comfortable Hiking Shoes and Hiking Socks
Most beginner hiking trails don’t require special hiking boots or hiking shoes. Athletic sneakers will work fine on most easy to moderate trails. If you bring sneakers, make sure they are comfortable and have good traction.
When the trail is rocky, unstable, icy, wet and/or muddy, or if you expect to hike more than 5 miles, consider packing in a pair of hiking boots or shoes.
11. The 10 Essentials for Hiking
Hikers refer to the essential items that you should pack on every hike as the “Ten Essentials.”
The purpose of the 10 Essentials list is to 1. Prevent and properly respond to emergencies on the trail and 2. Allow you to safely survive a night (or more) outside if necessary.
Think this is overkill? Unfortunately, a recent study says that about 90% of hikers requiring Search and Rescue assistance are day hikers, most of whom became lost when accidentally wandering off trail. Every year, thousands of search and rescue operations occur in our National Parks. Carrying the 10 essentials helps make sure you aren’t one of them!
So, what are the 10 Essentials?
The “10 Essentials” to Bring on Every Hike
- Sun Protection
- First Aid Kit
- Gear Repair – Knife, Multi tool, repair tape
- Emergency Shelter
- Food – and a garbage back to pack it out.
- Extra Clothing
Learn More about the 10 Essentials to pack for your National Park day hiking in my complete guide to Packing for A Day Hike.
12. Weather-Appropriate Hiking Clothing
Choose hiking clothes that are quick drying and moisture-wicking to pull sweat away from your body and keep you dry. No matter where you’re traveling, avoid cotton and denim clothing, which take a long time to dry and pull heat from your body.
My Favorite Hiking Shirts, Pants, and Shorts
My Favorite Hiking Jackets
Weather can change quickly in any season, so I recommend always bringing an extra warm layer of insulation. A down jacket or lightweight fleece will keep you warm when temps drop without adding too much weight to your pack.
Many National Parks experience severe afternoon storms in the summer, especially in the high desert and mountains. Make sure to always pack a rain jacket, even if the forecast only calls for a slight chance of rain.
13. Bear Protection
If you’re hiking in a National Park where bear encounters are common, especially in grizzly country (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho), I strongly recommend carrying bear-spray.
Bear-Spray works like pepper spray and is a non-lethal defense formulated for use against an aggressive bear. Remember to keep your bear spray easily accessible in a holster (bear encounters happen FAST) and not in your pack.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, or any other bear country hikes? Check out this video from the National Park service on bear spray.
If you plan on hiking or backpacking in bear country, research and obey all food storage regulations, including hanging bags, bear boxes, and bear vaults.
Road Trip Essentials for a National Park Trip
14. Garmin InReach Satellite Communicator
While I typically use my Garmin InReach Communicator for hiking and backpacking trips, having one of these communicators is crucial for anyone driving in remote areas without cellphone coverage – like National Parks!
In fact, the only time I’ve come close to activating the SOS button was while driving in Zion National Park.
In 2022, my husband and I struck a deer while driving our rental vehicle. We were returning to Zion after a day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park and the accident occurred on a rural highway, with no cell service. Our car was completely totaled, the sun had set, and nighttime winter temperatures were falling into the 20s. Thankfully, we were eventually able to reach 911, but knowing that I had the Garmin InReach SOS button available kept the panic in check, and from now on I always include this device on my National Parks packing lists.
15. Road Trip Emergency Kit
Speaking of road emergencies, don’t leave for a National Parks trip without a fully stocked vehicle emergency kit. Flying and picking up a rental vehicle? I pack a small bag that fits in my suitcase and includes the following emergency essentials:
For road trips and short camping trips, the smaller soft sided cooler will fit your snacks, drinks and a meal or two. For longer trips, I recommend investing in the ultra-light hard sided cooler.
17. Reusable Cups, Plates, and Cookware
My favorite money-saving tip on my road trips is to hit the grocery store and make as many of your meals in your hotel room, campsite or cabin as possible. A set of lightweight reusable plates, bowls and utensils means we can eat cereal and sandwiches while saving our money for dinner.
National Park Camping Packing List
For millions of visitors, its just not a National Park trip without camping! While our Parks have some of the hands-down best camping locations in the world, there are a few extra things to consider when packing for a National Parks camping trip:
- Reservations for the most popular campgrounds in places like Yosemite and Yellowstone sell out within seconds of going online (seriously – not an exaggeration!) Tip : create calendar reminders for reservation and permit window openings and make sure to start planning your camping trip as soon as possible.
- National Park campgrounds may be more primitive than private or state park camping. Many campgrounds do not have showers, or electricity. Most (but not all) sites have bathrooms and potable water.
If you’re camping, you’re gonna want somewhere to sleep! Camping tents vary in cost and size, depending on your needs. If you plan on backpacking, make sure to pack a specialized backpacking tent. These tents are lighter and smaller to fit inside your pack.
Tip: Not all National Parks allow hammocks or sleeping inside vehicles. That’s why I always recommend including a tent on your National Parks packing list.
Wondering how big a tent to get? A good rule for car campers (that is, non-backpackers) is to use a tent that built for at least 1 person more than will actually be sleeping inside. That means for 2 people, a 3 person tent allows room for your gear and sleeping systems, without getting too cramped.
When it’s just my husband and I, we use the Marmot 3p Limelight (now available as the Marmot 3p Catalyst). This tent is excellent for both backpacking or car-camping for 2 people.
Camping as a family or a group? Check out the Slumberjack 10p Riverbend Tent. I recently tested out this massive home-away-from-home on a camping trip. This tent has 2 removable room dividers, 3 doors, windows for views and ventilation, and the 80″ center height means even the tall campers can completely stand inside. I’d recommend this tent for up to 6 people, including gear.
19. Sleeping Bag + Sleep System
A comfortable sleeping set-up is essential for your National Park packing list. The type of sleeping bag and sleeping pad you pack will vary, depending on the weather.
Tip: Choose a sleeping bag that is rated at least 10 – 20 degrees warmer than your expected nighttime temps. Trust me, I learned this during a very chilly evening backpacking! Even though my sleeping bag was “rated” to 30 degrees, I was shivering all night through the high 20s and low 30s.
A sleeping pad provides insulation against the cold, and comfort from the ground. Inflatable air sleeping pads, like the Sea to Summit Comfort Lite, are more expensive but offer better insulation, and fold up compactly, about the size of a water bottle. Closed-cell foam pads are lightweight, cheaper, and won’t leak when punctured, but provide less insulation and comfort against the ground.
Camping Cots and Air Mattresses
As much as I love camping, I’ve never truly been able to get a great night’s sleep using a sleeping pad alone. It’s the curse of being a light, side-sleeper.
If you have room and can’t sleep comfortably on a sleeping pad, consider investing in a camping cot or air mattress. Sure, this might feel more like “glamping” then camping, but who cares! You’ll want a good night’s sleep for your National Park hikes and adventures.
Air mattresses are a comfortable and usually more space-effective alternative to cots. But don’t forget to consider how you will inflate your mattress – especially in Park campgrounds where there is no electricity. The Slumberjack Grand Mesa has its own removable, battery-powered air pump, so there’s no need to scramble and find a generator or electric outlet.
20. Camp Stove
Not all National Park campgrounds permit campfires for cooking, so don’t forget a stove to prepare your favorite camping meals.
21. Camping Cookware
Ditch disposable cookware for an eco-friendly reusable camp set. Don’t forget plates/ bowels, cups, eating utensils, and food prep essentials, like a cutting board, knife, spatula, and pots and pans.
22. Dishwashing Supplies
Somehow I always remember the dishes, but always forget something to clean them with! Remember to bring eco-friendly biodegradable soap and a collapsible bucket to clean your dirty dishes, pans and utensils.
23. Lantern and Camp Lights
Illuminate your campsite (and find your way to the bathroom at night) with a lantern, headlamp, or string of camping lights.
24. Cooler and Water Storage
For short camping trips, a smaller soft sided cooler will fit your snacks, drinks and a meal or two. For longer trips, I recommend investing in the ultra-light hard sided cooler.
Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and a water storage jug to refill.
25. Power Bank
Bring a power bank to charge your electronics and camp lights, even in campgrounds without electric hook-ups. A small power bank will charge your cell phone and lights, or invest in a portable, solar-powered, power station for extended off-the-grid trips.
26. Camp Chairs
Relax in camp after a long day of hiking in a folding camp chair, or snuggle by the fire in a folding loveseat.
27. Campfire Supplies
Where campfires are permitted, obey all Park regulations about when, where, and how campfires are allowed. Consider bringing a fire starter, like Duraflame, to quickly light a fire, even with wet wood. As a bonus, these fire starters are actually MORE eco-friendly than burning actual wood!
Oh, and don’t forget your s’mores equipment!
Summer National Park Packing Essentials
Summer is the most popular time to visit many National Parks. From the beaches of Dry Tortugas in Florida, to the sunny glaciated peaks of Mt. Rainer – don’t forget these items on your summer National Park packing list!
28. Bathing Suit
Whether you’re kayaking in Biscayne Bay, braving the rapids of New River Gorge, or floating down the lazy Merced river in Yosemite Valley, you’re almost certainly going to need a bathing suit on your trip!
29. Water Shoes
Water shoes protect your feet in rocky rivers and lakes, and work great as a comfy camp shoe or shower shoe.
30. Quick Drying Towel
A quick-drying, sand resistant towel makes camp showers, and trips to the river a lot less messy. An all purpose towel, like the Tesalate Beach towel is sand resistant for the beach, absorbent and quick drying for hikes to the river.
In fact, after Tesalate gifted me this towel, I brought it to our hot springs hike in Big Bend National Park! I loved how easily it fit into my daypack and kept the desert sand off my body – and out of my pack.
31. Insect Repellent
Bugs aren’t just annoying, they can carry dangerous diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Use insect repellant, and permethrin-treated clothing, especially during the summer when ticks, mosquitos, and other bugs are most active!
Winter National Park Packing List
Visiting a National Park in winter can take a little extra effort, but the results (fewer crowds, incredible views) are absolutely worth it! If you plan on taking a trip this winter, don’t forget to add these important items to your National Park packing list.
And make sure to read up on winter hiking and outdoors safety before you head out!
32. Footwear Traction Devices
Raise your hand if you’ve ever fallen on your behind and bruised your butt – or worse – while walking on ice? 🙋♀️🙄
If you’re going to head out during winter, you will most likely encounter ice and snow on the trail. The solution? Traction.
Microspikes, Crampons, and Snowshoes are the three ways to get a sure-footed grip on slippery ground.
33. Warm Base Layers
A base layer is the layer closest to your skin (other than your underwear). A base layer should insulate and regulate your body temperature by wicking moisture (aka sweat) away from your body to keep you warm and dry.
Don’t Forget – Download Your National Parks Packing List!
Before you go – don’t forget to download and print your free National Park Packing Lists, included in your National Parks Planning Guide below! You’ll never leave home without everything you need again.