Before the Trip: "Know Before You Go"

Image of different park brochures
Plan your visit using publications available through park websites on

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You've decided to take a trip to a national park either alone, with your family and friends, or as a group leader. Do you know what information you should research and what skills you should practice before you head out? Use these trip planning principles to help you, your family, friends and group members prepare and "Know Before You Go".

Ensure that the Trip Leader has the right level of skill and experience to serve in a leadership role.
Skill: Determine the skill level needed to safely enjoy the activity you picked. Do you and you group members have the right skill level for the activity?

Experience: Determine if you and your group members have any outdoor experience. Is this your or their first time? Have you done this activity before?

Fitness Level: Identify how physically fit you and you group members
are. Are you prepared to take a short hike on a paved trail or can you go on a long hike up a mountain?

Required Medication: Determine if you or any group members have a
medical considerations. Will you need to bring medications with you on the trip (e.g. inhalers)?

Health Considerations*: Find out if you or any group members have health conditions which may limit the kind of activity you can participate in? Do you have any mental or physical disabilities that should be considered? Do you have a medical conditions that could be worsened by certain activities or changes in altitude (asthma, heart condition)?

* Consult a physician if you have any questions on fitness levels, health conditions, or medications required
Visit to find a park in your area. If planning a group trip, try to visit the park prior to the trip.
Available activities can be found under “Plan Your Trip” on each park’s
website at Consider participating in Ranger-guided and Junior Ranger programs offered by many parks. In choosing your activity,
be sure to “Know Your Limits” and those of your group members and
consider these factors:

Time of year: During what season will you be doing your activity?

Setting: Does the activity take place at the beach, on a trail, in a
cave, or at a historical site?

Duration: Will your trip and activity last a few hours or all day?

Difficulty level: Will you be going a short distance at a slow pace
on flat terrain or a long distance at a faster pace on difficult terrain?

Skill level: Do you need special skills (e.g. rock climbing) to safely
enjoy the activity?
You cell phone is not a light source, not a map, not a survival kit and will not always have reception
Don't rely on your cellphone when recreating in a National Park

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Every park in unique. Environments and hazards can even vary within a park. Research your park’s website or call the park to find out what risks and hazards are associated with your activity (e.g. wildlife, swift water, uneven steps) so you can prepare for them before you go on your adventure.

Potential hazards include:
Inclement Weather
Physical Environment
Poisonous Plants
Wildlife Encounters
Requirements for each park can be found under the “Plan your Trip” menu on every park’s website at Review requirements for:
Group size restrictions
Open fires regulations
Food storage & disposal requirements
Testing and practicing with your equipment are important steps in planning for a safe trip. You or the group’s Trip Leader should:

Make a packing list - research the activity you selected and make sure that you and group members have the required gear (e.g. hiking boots, life jackets) including the 10 Essentials.

• Do a test run - learn how to use your equipment properly. Make sure it works and that items like hiking boots, backpacks, and life jackets fit correctly.

• Decide who is going to carry the equipment.

• Practice - practice packing and carrying your backpack, and pitching a tent if you are planning a long trip.
Have a back-up plan in case something comes up and keeps you or your group from doing your planned activity. Consider having an alternative activity or rescheduling your trip for another date
A Safety Leader(s) is someone, or a couple of people, in your group responsible for safety. If you are traveling alone, you are the Safety Leader! Your job includes:
Checking all equipment before and during the trip
Monitoring your or group members’ health and energy levels
Being aware of changes in the environment (e.g. weather) and physical conditions and communication them to the Trip Leader
Looking out for hazards during the activity It is always a good idea for you or at least one person in your group to have received CPR and First Aid training.
A Trip Plan includes information such as destination, list of group members, and expected return time. This information helps Search and Rescue authorities respond if an emergency occurs or if you don’t return from your trip on time. Leave the plan with your emergency contact, a reliable person who is NOT going on the trip. Find a Trip Plan template that you can use at the end of this guide.
An emergency plan will help you and your group respond to a lost or injured group member. Do not count on your cell phone reception. Practice your plan before you go so everyone knows what to do. Additional information on emergency planning can be found in our article and in the NPS Trip Planning Guide file below.
NPS Trip Planning Guide PDF
Access the NPS Trip Planning Guide, the step-by-step overview of health and safety considerations for trip planning in the national parks.
NPS Trip Planning Checklist PDF
Access the NPS Trip Planning Checklist, a summary of the steps found within the guide.
Sample Trip Plan
Access the NPS Trip Plan, a template that you can use to help prepare a trip plan.

Last updated: June 4, 2018