One of our favourite vacations is visiting National Parks and we have a national park bucket list that we are slowly ticking off. In the process of ticking this off we have already visited quite a few National Parks at different times of year and across the country and have noticed that there are some things that we take with us wherever we go. We have therefore decided to create the ULTIMATE US National Park packing list with the essential things that you should take with you no matter what park and at what time of year you are visiting.
Important Note: This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click through and make a purchase I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Ultimate US National Park Packing List
Whenever we are visiting a National Park I always start with my clothing packing list. Now you might think that visiting Badlands in Fall or Summer is different from visiting Moab in Summer. And yes there are definitely some things that are weather dependent but I always start with this base clothing packing list.
- Lightweight fleece
Now if you are visiting one of the Northern Parks in Winter you will definitely need a fleece layer however even if you are visiting one of the Utah national parks in summer you will be surprised by how the temperature can drop at night. I always pack at least one fleece no matter what national park I am visiting.
- T Shirts
This for me is the best base layer you can have for national parks. I like to bring a mix of short and long sleeve t shirts as they are great for added warmth but also can give some added sun protection.
- I personally recommend bringing some long sleeve cotton t-shirts with you for added sun protection.
- Zip Off walking trousers
I recommend bringing these instead of trousers and shorts separately as it will save on space in your suitcase. They are also very comfortable when doing long hikes and dry quickly if they get wet.
I’ve ummed and ahhhed about whether this is an essential however 9/10 I have used swimwear on a national park visit. Whether it is staying in a hotel in Moab with a swimming pool (we did the same in Rapid City) or spending time on the Colorado River or going swimming in the boiling river at Yellowstone I have found it very useful to have swimwear with me on my national park trips.
- Hiking Socks
I don’t know about you but I hate blisters and also hate having wet feet so I recommend packing more socks than you actually require for days you are there.
- Sun Hat/ Baseball Cap
Footwear packing list for national parks
One of the main reasons we love national parks is because we love hiking. One of the questions I get about national parks is do I always need Hiking Boots at National Parks. The truth is this really depends on the level of hiking you are planning of doing. If you are are planning to head to a primitive trail and do longer national park day hikes or multi day hikes then of course you will need hiking boots however if all you are planning to do is stick to boardwalk trails or just drive the loop road then chances are you will not require hiking boots – NOTE – if you are heading there in winter or autumn etc it is more likely that even on boardwalks you will need hiking boots because of slippery surfaces.
If you decide not to take hiking boots then you will 100% need shoes with a good sole and I always have a pair of trainers with me also.
The next one is perhaps the only optional item in this list but I have used these at a couple of national parks including Yellowstone and they are
- Water Shoes (optional)
If there is any chance you are spending time on water in any national park or going swimming I find water shoes are very helpful.
What to pack for national park trip with kids
As a family travel blogger I go to National Parks with kids. So what do you need to pack for national park trip with kids? The truth is clothing wise there is nothing different really from adults. If you are travelling to national parks with toddlers or babies you might want to consider that they need an extra layer.
Other than that there are a couple of things that we have found handy for kids in national parks.
- Backpack reins
I know that these can be divisive amongst parents and not everyone likes to use them but if you want to do some more serious hikes with kids, or are visiting Yellowstone’s Geysers you might want to take these with you as an added safety precaution.
- baby carrier or
If you do decide to go for the traditional baby carrier then check out the best carriers for hot weather if you are going to a national park in summer.
- Hiking Toddler Back Pack
If you are travelling to National Parks with toddlers then I would definitely go for a study toddler hiking back pack for added support for your back.
I usually take trainers and hiking boots for my daughter when we visited national parks. Definitely be sure you have shoes with a good sole. And if you are using a toddler back pack I would recommend getting shoes that can’t be kicked off during your hike otherwise you might have to go searching for a lost shoe on your walk!
What to bring to National Parks (non clothing)
Now we are going to consider what to bring to National Parks that aren’t clothes that are essential for every park you go to.
- Reusable water bottle
When seeing such amazing natural experiences, it always reminds me how important it is to try and reduce plastic when we travel. Be sure to have a large enough bottle with you and make sure you refill at the visitors centre.
- Coffee Thermos and Mugs
My number one tip for visiting national parks is to get ip and into the parks early to see the sunrise. Therefore an essential to me is having a coffee thermos and mugs. I always fill up a coffee thermos before we go into a national park to help with the early start!
- Cool Box
The facilities in National Parks varies from park to park. And depending on your itinerary will depend on if you will be near amenities. I therefore always carry a cool box with food and drinks – including plenty of water. Note: If you are in a park with bears be sure you have bear proof food containers.
- Back Pack
- Quick Dry Towel
It’s amazing how often these come in handy no matter what pack you go to!
- Camera, lens and spare batteries
Trust me, your camera will be out all the time whatever national park you visit. Be sure you have a good camera and appropriate lens with you and of course some back up batteries.
I love spotting wildlife in national parks and binoculars are an essential for wildlife and bird watchers.
- Sun Cream
Even in winter sun cream is an essential.
- Phone and spare battery pack
- Insect Repellant
- Medical Kit
- Lip Balm with sun protection
- National park maps
- Hand Sanitiser
- Travel Journal
And of course if you are planning to visit more than one national park in year be sure to consider buying a national park annual pass and be sure to pack this with you!
So there you have it. This is what we consider to be the Ultimate US National Park Packing List. Of course there will be extra things you need for some parks (i.e. bear bells is one thing that springs to mind for hiking in Yellowstone for instance). So we also have some more specific packing lists below.
- Yellowstone Packing List
- Badlands Packing List
- Moab Packing List for Canyonlands and Arches National Park
As we visit more national parks this list will be updated.
What are your essentials for visiting national parks?