Every year more than 318 million people visit our National Parks (NPS). What many call our nation’s “best idea”, National Parks have been treasured by Americans for over a century. Some might say we’re even loving them to death.
I have spent the last 10 years living and working in multiple National Parks including Olympic, Glacier, and, most recently, Yosemite. As both a resident of and tourist to the Park’s, I have a unique perspective of the intersection between natural and human communities that call these special places home. Both your experience and the impact you have on the National Park(s) you chose to visit will be greatly improved if you avoid these 5 classic missteps.
- Driving like a Tourist
The chance to see a wild animal, especially from the safety of our cars, is a thrilling experience. And sometimes the beauty of a place can cause you to forget you’re driving at all. However, the temptation of stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture, swerving into oncoming traffic while your gaze stays on the “wild” deer, driving so slowly that the ground squirrels can keep up with you is not only a bother to the locals but is actually dangerous. We know it’s beautiful. We know it’s exciting. Just please pull over.
Picture: An example of “tourist driving” (Washington Post)
2. Dismal Bathroom Etiquette
This misstep is the main reason that you cannot drink straight from a mountain stream without fear of giardia. It’s not the animal poop that will make us gut wrenchingly sick, it’s our own human feces. So please, PLEASE, bury that poop! The vast majority of people either choose not to or are uninformed of this critical Leave No Trace protocol. Also, pack out your toilet paper if you choose to use it. “Paper lilies,” as they are sometimes referred to, not only pollute the environment but are a major eye sore while hiking.
Picture: The dreaded paper lilies (Pacific Trail Crest Association)
3. FOMO (fear of missing out)
A large draw of our country’s remaining open, undeveloped spaces is the silence. Many seek to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and connect with nature. If you are coming to the National Parks for “solitude” and “relaxation,” do not fall into the trap of FOMO. The hoards generally start hiking around 10:00 a.m. and all go to the same “can’t miss” trails. If you really want some solitude, start your hike either before 9:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m. and put in the effort to hike the longer trails.
Picture: Glacier’s famous Hidden Lake Overlook Trail at its worst (NPS)
4. Domesticating the Wildlife
Yes, they are cute– and their fur makes them seem so cuddly! But please, don’t be the person who feeds mountain goats skittles. Not only is human food unhealthy for wild animals, feeding wildlife can disrupt their natural foraging rhythms, causing them to starve in the winter months. Or worse, animals that become aggressive towards humans often have to be put down by Rangers. Resist the urge! Save a bear.
Picture: The first director of the National Park Service, Steven Mather, feeding a bear in 1923 (PBS). We know better now. Read the “Night of the Grizzlies” if you still think feeding bears (or any other wildlife) is a good idea.
5. Accidental Death
There is a 607 page book called “Death in Yosemite.” Do not make the book 608 pages! A major rising cause of accidental deaths in recent years is, you know it, the “selfie.” Though selfies appear innocent and safe, if you’re trying to get that –perfect– shot dangling over a 2,000 ft. waterfall luck may not always be on your side. The quest for extreme selfies killed 259 people between 2011 and 2017…don’t be the next selfie victim! (BBC)
Picture: Dumb Selfie (National Park Trips)
Author: Sara Edwards