How to find your own space in America's premier national parks

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1997

The Magnificent Seven
How to find your own space in America's premier national parks
by Ron C. Judd

Our Favorite Parks

Make Family Vacation Shots a Snap
By Bob Krist

Gear: Optics
By Douglas Gantenbein

Sometime this summer, while sweltering in a traffic jam somewhere between hell and Mammoth Hot Springs, you will pull off the road, draw in a deep breath of pure, unspoiled Winnebago effluvium, and conclude that your parents had it easy. Of course they would be loath to admit this, prone as they are to lapsing into tales of depression (economic and marriage-related), wars (cold and hot), and general malaise. But you know it's true. Bob Dole never had to reserve a campsite. Saving the world from tyranny was one thing. Getting a spot with hookups at Old Faithful is quite another.

Unfortunately, when it comes to planning the Great National Park Campout of the 1990s, most modern parents fall victim to mental timewarp: They pack up the kids and pull out of the driveway, clicking off mental Vue-Master memories of the same trip, 1960s-style. Critical error: Abort, abort, abort! Consider the differences: Back then, all you had to do was show up and remember the bug spray. Duplicating the same, warm-memory trip today requires near Desert Storm-like strategy, equipment, and bravado. Not that you can't still trek into Yellowstone in August and have an unforgettable antelope encounter. Or drive through Glacier in July and come grill-to-snout with a moose. Or ride a mule into the Grand Canyon in June and return with major enlightenment and only minor bowleggedness. Grasping all these outdoor golden rings is exactly like it was when you were a kid--except that 4,000 times as many people are trying to do the very same thing at the very same time.

Do not let this dissuade you. The national park vacation of yesterday can still be had today; it just requires a bit more creativity--and sound advice. The following crowd-avoidance tips from seasoned national-parkers should help you with the advice part. But the leadership part is up to you. Just as it was in the sixties, the successful national-parkathon of the nineties is all in the hands of the folks in the front seat. No pressure or anything, but you're it.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Got Wanderlust?

Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.

Thank you!