Visiting the National Parks is the ultimate American Experience. However, making arrangements for the trip and dealing with the crowds of the more popular times of year can be a nightmare for families. Navigating these waters can be tricky, but there are a few key things that you can do to make sure your trip is as streamlined and stress free as possible.

Here are the 10 best tips to make sure your National Park experience is truly amazing!

1. Book your trip early! Most campsites in the National Parks are first come first serve, so you want to be sure you are the first one in line. As soon as you know the dates of your trip, make sure to book your campground to ensure your spot. The NPS site is the only way to book campgrounds in the park system, so make sure to do it from their website. You can book anywhere from three to six months in advance. Weekends go quickly, so be sure to stay on top of things.

2. Avoid the dead of summer and the dead of winter – a lot of parks will be at their harshest conditions during this time.

3. Avoid the holidays! It will be crowded as hell. Holidays are the most popular times for camping in the national parks, especially during warmer times of the year. People get off of work, and take a camping trip. While it may be tempting to join those throngs, it will be a less crowded experience to take a trip during a different time of year.

4. Enter the park early….or late. As with a lot of hiking opportunities in the park, as the morning and day advances, things tend to fill up quickly. You can very easily get stuck in traffic on your way in, potentially wasting a full day of enjoying the natural splendor of the park. Arriving early in the morning or later in the evening can help ensure an easier transition into the camping experience.

5. Bring plenty of water. Some parks have potable water and some don’t, or may be in drought during the time of your visit. Do your research beforehand, and remember- it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  You can never have too much water on a camping trip!

6. Gas up! The parks are beautiful and scenic and you can take endless drives…but don’t run out of gas!  I’ve almost done it countless times.  Always gas up before you enter the park and whenever you leave the park. Some of the parks have gas stations (Yosemite, Death Valley, etc.), but not many!

7. Bring plenty of food. The last thing you want to do on your trip is run out of food, and have to exit the park to get more, wasting valuable camping time. There aren’t many parks that have restaurants or food marts. Make sure you plan out the meals for your trip, and pack enough food to make it through to the end. I even recommend packing a little extra if you have the room for it, for ease of mind- and potential snacks!

8. Pack it out, pack it in. If you bring it into the park, you need to bring it back out. Leaving trash or other belongings behind after your trip can be harmful to the surrounding environment, and is disrespectful to the park and the other campers who may come in after you. Be respectful of the parks. Plan on bringing a trash bag or three for the weekend. There should be dumpsters throughout each campgrounds, so make sure to not leave any trash in the park.

9. Be patient. We know that you are excited to begin your park experience, and who wouldn’t be? There’s so much to do and so much to see in these incredible spectacles of nature. Of course, if  you are excited for your national parks adventure, other people are as well!  The parks can be over-crowded, have tons of traffic, and be filled with tons of families from across the world enjoying the views, especially during prime camping seasons. Be patient and respectful of the other park visitors, and everyone will get in smoothly!

10. Be respectful. The National Parks are some of our nation’s most beautiful treasures. They provide unique ecosystems and preservation for many different plant and animal species. Some of these habitats cannot be found anywhere else in the country, especially in such an untouched way. Disrespecting the park by littering, disturbing the local wildlife, or otherwise altering the environment around you can result in harm to these national treasures. If you respect the park and leave no trace, your children and your children’s children will be able to enjoy the park. Leave it as it is for the future generations.

With these tips, your camping adventure to the national parks will be as enjoyable and smooth as possible! With these in mind, you can focus on your time with your family and enjoy your time in the parks!