En español | Disasters in national parks, even those highly patrolled, happen every year — everything from dehydration to deadly falls from cliffs. Avoid the dangers and follow these tips to keep yourself safe and sound during your travels to America's great open spaces.
1. DON'T run out of gas
There are some long stretches of highway between many parks, especially in the Southwest, the Rockies and Alaska. A good rule of thumb: Whenever you see a gas station, stop in and fill up. That way, you won't ever have to worry whether you've got enough gas to make it to the next filling station.
2. DON'T wear designer shoes
You're going to be walking around — a lot. Even if you don't think you will, you won't be able to resist the walks and hikes once you're on the ground. A pair of good, flexible hiking boots and another pair of toe-protected water shoes are absolutely essential hardware for these trips. With the right footwear, your dogs won't be barking at night.
3. DON'T forget to drink water
The Mayo Clinic notes that the general "8 x 8" rule — eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day — needs to be supplemented with an additional two cups if you're exercising or in a high-altitude environment. Many parks feature scenic points at high altitudes (especially the Rocky Mountain Parks) and/or dry, dusty, desert-like conditions (several parks in the Southwest). So always have a bottle of water with you. And, like your gas tank, whenever you get a chance to fill it, do so — you'll never run dry this way.
4. DON'T push yourself too hard
The five-mile hike to that stunning Zion Canyon vista point looks amazing, right? Or how about that 14-mile hike to Half Dome in Yosemite? Well, unless you're a seasoned hiker, there's a reason why these trails are listed as "strenuous" in the park's trail guide — they're long, hard and usually have significant elevation gains. Start with trails in the "easy" section of the park's trail guide until you become acclimatized to that park's conditions.
5. DON'T leave the trail
Let's repeat that: DON'T leave the trail. There's a reason why there are trails through these parks, and an even better reason why they're marked by the National Park Service: the footing off-trail is often slippery and dangerous. Trust us, you'll be able to take great pictures from the trails and vista points themselves, without having to climb a rock or go right to the edge of a cliff — and you'll be able to look at them when you get home.
Also of interest: Slideshow of America's most beautiful sunrises and sunsets.