WASHINGTON, D.C. — Whether it’s a quick drive or camping for a whole week, time spent at a national park can turn any ordinary day into an unforgettable experience with friends and family.
On the National Park Service’s (NPS) birthday each August 25 and at other special times throughout the year, you can enjoy free admission to the parks. But whenever you go, it’s important to keep these tips from USAGov in mind to stay safe as you explore the land and encounter wildlife along the way.
- Keep your distance. National parks are home to many creatures and the NPS recommends giving them a little space. A simple pat or scratch behind the ears could feel threatening and cause a dangerous reaction, so keep back from most wild animals at least 75 feet. That’s about the length of two school buses. With animals like bears or mountain lions, keep back at least 120 feet or three bus-lengths. Wild animals don’t get yearly check-ups and can carry diseases, ticks, and can injure you or damage your property. Always be aware of them and your surroundings when hiking or exploring an area populated with wildlife.
- Don’t feed any animals. Feeding some, like moose or deer, might not seem like a big deal. But this well-intended action can encourage wildlife to seek humans for food rather than naturally hunting or foraging for their food. This increases the risk of danger for you and for them.
- Always clean up. Whether you’re camping or hiking, it’s important to clean up any food, clothes, or trash left behind. Leaving food unattended or behind on a trip attracts animals that will keep coming back to campsites or popular hiking paths. Strive to leave the park cleaner than you found it. And discover volunteer opportunities year-round to help keep national parks safe and beautiful.
- Follow safety signs. Obey any warning signs put up by park staff if you’re on foot, riding a bike, or driving. They’re meant to keep you and any wildlife safe. Staying on boardwalks and designated trails prevent the risk of injuries and getting lost. Plan any camping trips with that in mind and know how to contact officials in case there’s an emergency.
- Stay hydrated! Make sure you’re prepared for any long hikes. Even if you go during sunrise or sunset, temperature changes and humidity can affect your health. Make sure you bring enough water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing. Check this list from NPS before heading out.
Most parks are open year-round, so you can plan an escape whenever you want. Find a park near you or someplace you’ve always wanted to visit and start planning your adventure.
Image: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Elverson, PA
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