National Park Week is April 15 – 23 and that means FREE entry to all 417 National Park Service sites! Since I’ve been to 136 of those parks in the past 11 months as part of a world record road trip to all of them, I put together this list of 5 Must-Haves to help you best experience National Park Week no matter where you #FindYourPark (and with a NPS site in every U.S. state and territory, you don’t have to go far).
1. Passport To Your National Parks®
If you’re going to a National Park Service site, odds are it’s not the first you’ve ever been to. Once people get a taste of these magical landscapes, they often can’t stop visiting.
The Passport To Your National Parks® program is the best way to preserve memories of your visits, offering a way to collect cancellations—or stamps—at nearly every national park through a series of guidebooks.
Some editions, like the Collector’s Edition (seen below) or Explorer’s Edition even include pictures of the park and short, helpful descriptions next to dedicated spots for each cancellation.
Through my partnership with the Passport® program, you can get 20% off your order by using the Discount Code TBC-PASSPORT20 – follow the link on my SHOP page to claim the promo, or read my blog about how I’m using the Passport® book to prove I’ll be the youngest person to experience all 417 sites.
2. DSLR Camera
“Wow, your pictures look amazing!” people often comment about my friends’ Instagram account.
“Yeah, that’s because I take them with a real camera,” he asserts.
If you’re visiting America’s most beautiful places, you’re going to want a real camera. I started my journey thinking an iPhone would do justice, but very quickly learned the quality of a DSLR cannot be beat.
Luckily, the pace of technology means you can now get a high-quality DSLR for under $500. The Nikon d5200 that I use is currently $463.00 on Amazon.com and features a flip-out screen so even if you’re traveling alone, you can take photos and videos while seeing yourself in the frame.
3. Gas Reward Card
Odds are you’re going to be driving somewhere to get to these parks (I’ll be logging around 125,000 miles to get to all 417) so you might as well get paid for going from Point A to Point B.
Before I started this journey, I researched the entire country for the best cash-back credit card for gas, and hands down the highest rated option was the Fort Knox Credit Union Platinum Visa with its 5% cash back on ALL gas purchases ANYWHERE, and 1% back on everything else. Unlike most credit cards that only give you 3-5% back on gas during certain months, or limit the amount you can earn each year, it's unlimited 5% cash back on gas.
That means that from Washington D.C. to Washington state, every time I fill up my tank at $50, I get $2.50 back. That’s the equivalent of taking a gallon of gas from $2.11 to $1.99.
After all this time on the road, I’ve also figured out which travel centers offer the best service. That’s why I have a Pilot Flying J My Rewards card and fill up at Pilot Flying J whenever I can. Not only does the Rewards card/myPilot app get me a 3 cents-per-gallon discount, but their locations in 44 U.S. states have free Wi-Fi both inside AND outside. So whether I’m at the pump or grabbing a bite, I can update my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with national parks pictures even without cell service.
4. Solar Charger
Your best photos will come from your DSLR, but there’s nothing like sending a Snapchat to friends who stayed home, or adding to your Instagram story from an epic location (and the national parks provide many!)
However, with so many parks being far from steady cell service, your battery is likely to drain quickly.
Fortunately, BioLite makes a solar panel that can charge my phone to full with even a fading sunset. And I know some solar chargers have bad reputations, but I’ve used this Solar Panel 5+ from North Dakota to New York and it’s saved my butt during many a long hike.
Complementing the solar panel is the BioLite PowerLight which I’ve used as my rechargeable lantern nearly every night of this trip.
Since you’ll want to avoid carrying these Must-Haves in your hands during a full day in the parks, I recommend a small backpack, something like the Mountainsmith Clear Creek 12 (below), which can easily fit my solar panel, DSLR, snacks, and a 3 Liter Camelbak while still being small enough to barely notice.
* BONUS * National Parks Pass
OK, so you don’t need a Parks Pass to get in during the weekends of National Park Week, BUT, if you want to experience America’s most beautiful places on the other 361 days of the year, you can’t get much better value than an Annual “America The Beautiful” Pass. $80 for a year’s worth of unlimited access to all 417 sites and you can buy one at the gate when you next visit a national park!
Now you’re ready to #FindYourPark - Comment below with where National Park Week 2017 will take you!