Plan Ahead and Play It Safe for Your Next Outdoor Adventure
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Outdoor recreation is in high demand as visitors seek experiences among the nation's public land and water destinations in record numbers. Planning ahead and understanding what to expect for your trip is more important now than ever. Visitors also have an opportunity and responsibility to respect these special places and each other along the way.
In this article we offer helpful tips and recommendations so you can make lifetime memories (the good ones) on your next outdoor adventure: Embrace Safety, Plan Ahead, Manage Your Reservations, and Be Kind and Courteous to All.
A guide to planning and preparing for an epic outdoor trip
John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir (Joshua Davis, US Army Corps of Engineers)
Knowing what to expect as you plan for a safe visit to public lands and waters across the country will help ensure you arrive ready. These are just a few safety tips and reminders, but it is best to thoroughly read descriptions and important trip planning information of the places you plan to visit from the experts who live and work in those areas.
- Check the Weather: The weather can change suddenly and dramatically. Be prepared by monitoring weather conditions before you set out for the day.
- Respect Wildlife: Stay a safe distance from wildlife, keep your campsite area clean and store food in airtight containers, and never feed wild animals. Check here for more wildlife safety tips from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Prevent Wildfires, as "Only You" Can: First, find out if there are fire restrictions prior to your trip. If allowed, learn how to properly build, maintain and extinguish your campfire from our good friend, Smokey Bear.
- Make a Plan, Tell a Friend: Map out your route, pay attention to your surroundings, and let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return. It is always best to travel with others rather than on your own.
Manti-La Sal National Forest (Stella Klaus, Share the Experience)
The outdoor recreation landscape has evolved with more people discovering natural spaces and falling in love with these special places. Adapting to higher demand requires a bit more advanced planning and can help reduce stress when traveling, especially to popular locations.
- Seek Information: Visit agency websites for updates and search Recreation.gov for trip inspiration and reservation opportunities.
- Reserve a Campsite: Be aware that you can reserve most campsites six months prior to your arrival date, and some popular campgrounds can book up in minutes. Identify when reservations are available for the dates you plan to visit and have a back-up plan. Try mid-week or non-peak seasons for popular locations that tend to book up quickly if you have flexibility in your schedule. Also, take time to research nearby locations and recommendations that may have availability for the dates you are traveling – you may just find a new favorite!
- Install the Recreation.gov Mobile App: For more spontaneous visitors there are also first-come, first-served campsites that offer Scan & Pay, a Recreation.gov service to pay on site once you arrive through the mobile app. Install the app prior to your trip, to ensure you have access while you are on the go.
- Purchase Site and Activity Passes in Advance: There are a variety of passes that you can purchase in advance for added convenience. Learn more about which passes are right for you.
- Schedule Tours or Purchase Tickets: Did you know that many public lands and waters offer rich programming to help you learn what makes that place special? Take a look at a variety of tours and tickets available for your next trip.
- Secure a Permit: There are some experiences and locations that are so unique and in such fragile ecosystems that a limited number of opportunities are available each year. These experiences often require some skill, knowledge, and a lot of advanced planning. Think whitewater rafting, backcountry hiking, wilderness backpacking, and other activities. Learn more here.
Manage Your Reservations
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (John Vermette, Share the Experience)
We hope you enjoy your reservation, but we all know life happens – things come up (especially these days). As courteous visitors to public lands, please cancel your reservation if you do not intend to use it. This opens space for others!
Heads-up! Visitors who do not arrive at the campground by a certain date and time and do not cancel, may forfeit their reservation, and are assessed service fees. These service fees are returned to the managing agency for care and upkeep of the facility. Learn more about standard campground policies from Recreation.gov participating agencies.
- Adjust your stay: You may have made your reservation six months ago and now you need to leave a day early to attend your cousin’s wedding. Here is how you modify your campsite reservation so you can enjoy nature and then join friends and family for the celebration.
- Arrive on time: Did you know campgrounds have check-in and check-out times? Review your reservation confirmation email so you maximize your campground experience. Also, keep in mind, many locations have security gates that are locked at night. Just another reason to check all the details in your reservation confirmation email and Need to Know information.
- Park in Designated Spaces: Friendly reminder – campgrounds typically have just enough space for one or two vehicles per campsite. If you have a large family or are expecting a few friends, check the campground facility page on Recreation.gov or your reservation confirmation email to understand if the campground has overflow parking and what fees apply.
- Install the Recreation.gov app: Quickly and conveniently view the details of your reservation, modify or cancel reservations, or simply book a new reservation all from your mobile device. Available at select campgrounds, the Recreation.gov mobile app now features Scan & Pay to pay directly from your mobile device for first-come, first-served campsites and activities. Install the app before you leave home as connectivity in the outdoors can be limited or non-existent.
Be Kind and Courteous to All
Bryce Canyon National Park (Lin Chao, Share the Experience)
Let's all take a pledge to make our outdoor and cultural spaces a safe, welcoming, and respectful space for all. This includes taking care of the lands and waters, as well as those who choose to recreate within these spaces. Here are just a few tips from our Recreate Responsibly friends for being a kind and courteous camper.
- Build an inclusive outdoors. Be an active part of making the outdoors safe and welcoming for all identities and abilities.
- Respect others. There is space for everyone and countless outdoor activities. Be kind to all who use the outdoors and nature differently.
- Leave no trace. Respect the land, water, wildlife, and Native communities. Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles.
- Make it better. We all have a responsibility to sustain the places we love. Volunteer, donate, and advocate for the outdoors.
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