If you want to see the real America, get out of the city and head for the Great Outdoors.
27 of the country’s 50 states have at least one National Park within their borders, and millions of people, both Americans and otherwise, choose to holiday in National Parks every year.
The first National Park to be created, in 1872, was Yellowstone, so vast that it extends from Wyoming into Montana and Idaho. Other popular US National Parks include Yosemite, with its stunning valley and the iconic El Capitan; Sequoia; Zion; Arches; Big Bend; Joshua Tree and the hot ‘n’ sticky Everglades of Florida. Covering many diverse landscapes, from parched desert to mysterious swamp, snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes to volcanos, the US National Park system provides protected habitats to an astonishing variety of wildlife, including bears, wolves, bison, alligators and bald eagles. These parks make for some of the very best holiday destinations in the USA.
The best way to appreciate the majesty of Yellowstone National Park is with a Ranger Program
National Parks are all about exploring the incredible scenery, whether you’re swimming or kayaking in a lake, hiking, mountain biking or horse riding along a network of trails, or just pausing for breath while fly fishing. But the system only works because it is managed to accommodate all of the ‘stakeholders’ – visitors; industry; tourism organisations; environmentalists and conservationists; government and, of course, the flora and fauna of the parks themselves.
What do US park rangers do?
A big part of successful park management is down to the Ranger service. These men and women perform a variety of essential roles, from helping injured animals to maintaining trails, enforcing regulations to educating the public. As part of this, most if not all US National Parks offer ranger-led programs that visitors can join.
Why join a Ranger-led program in a US National Park?
There are many different types of ranger-led programs in US National Parks, from tours of historic and heritage sites, to guided hikes and talks about wildlife.
Why join one?
- To understand the fascinating ways in which a park functions, from managing the landscape to coping with transport, and learning firsthand the challenges and joys of being a ranger
- To discover how different ecosystems can coexist in harmony, the fragility of the environment, and how park visitors can help protect it
- To learn how to stay safe while wandering around the park with potentially dangerous wild animals in the vicinity, picking up tips such as how to dispose of food properly
- To learn about the plants and animals you seeing all about you – how to identify different tracks, droppings or leaves
- To find out fascinating park history such as how Yellowstone is actually centred over a gigantic supervolcano (ulp!) or why Joshua Trees are so-called
- To get out and about in beautiful natural landscapes accompanied by a professional guide who knows all the best routes
- To entertain and educate your children – they can even become junior rangers for a day
- To admire the breathtaking beauty of US National Parks during different seasons
How to book a Ranger Program in a US National Park
Every park should have its own seasonal schedules available on the individual website, such as this activity schedule for Yellowstone National Park.
Keep in mind that some activities such as Ranger-led hikes can be very popular, especially during peak season, so it’s worth booking in advance.
Some activities may need to be paid for, while others cost nothing but a donation is recommended.
How to holiday in an American National Park
- Dress for the weather and terrain, but always remember that park weather can be extremely changeable. In the morning it could be fresh and sunny, by afternoon it could be snowing
- Always be aware there are wild animals around you. Inexperienced hikers should stay on marked trails and if you do plan to go off them, ensure someone knows your route and when you plan to get back
- Carry water with you at all times, especially in parks such as Joshua Tree, Big Bend, Badlands or Arches where temperatures can be extreme and there’s little shade to be found
- Know when to visit National Parks – some routes may be closed off during winter for instance, while in the summer months some areas can be very crowded or mosquito-ridden
- It’s a cliche but it bears repeating: Take only photographs, leave only footprints
- Camp if you can, for the full park experience
- Coach tours operate in many US National Parks, but if you prefer to make your own way around then consider mountain-biking rather than driving to help with congestion
- Don’t expect to see everything in just one visit – and even if you do, you’ll probably find it impossible not to visit again