Thursday, September 21, 2023


Don’t make these mistakes at National Parks

By Liz Wilcox
With the explosion of RVing over the last decade, National Parks have never been more popular. In 2016, a record 330 million visits were recorded, and that same number was recorded in 2017. With all these people getting back to nature, the National Parks are bound to see a few mistakes here and there.

Here are some definite DO-NOTS when you’re entering our National Park System.

Don’t walk off the trail
Even slightly, walking off the trail is a major no-no in the National Parks. Just one or two people walking a few feet from the existing trail can create a new parallel trail. This can cause confusion among hikers, and damage to the protected land.

According to one park ranger, “Once that happens, it is extremely difficult to try and hide/repair the useless new trails. I’ve personally had to repair a section of trail that had somehow turned into 4 trails.”

Don’t just hang your food from a tree to deter bears
Bears are actually pretty good at climbing trees. Some bears have even been known to train their cubs to shimmy along small branches and cut the hanging food free.

Get a bear can and put your food in it. While it’s a rigid container, if you’re going to be out hiking all day, or spending the night in the National Park, it’s worth the precaution and expense. You can just leave the container anywhere. If a bear does find it, it will not be able to get in and will eventually give up.

When visiting, you should check with the National Park on its policy on storing food. Some parks require use of a bear can during certain activities.

Don’t fill your canteen/water pouch with lake/stream water
Yeah, the water is probably cleaner than your local swimming hole, but don’t do this – unless you like to leak from both ends.

If you’re going on a long hike and can’t carry as much water as you’ll need, check out these LifeStraw bottles. The straw in them is a hollow fiber membrane water filter that removes bacteria and protozoa from lakes and streams to ensure safe, clean drinking water. Pretty cool, huh?

Don’t take pictures with animals, or near the edge of a cliff
According to, more than 250 people have died from taking selfies in the last 8 years.

Great Smoky Mountains NP (click image to enlarge)

While it’s tempting to see wildlife and want to get closer to take a picture, just don’t. I recently was at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there were dozens of people causing a traffic jam because a black bear was close to the road eating. People were getting out of their cars and slowly creeping into the greenery to take pictures. What in the world? This bear is eating! Less than 100 feet from you! Get back in your car, ya crazy! Remember, you are in their territory. You are not in a zoo. I repeat, you are not in a zoo.

Earlier in 2019, 4 deaths were reported in a 4-week period at the Grand Canyon – one from someone going off the trail (see advice above!) and another from someone trying to take a photo.

National Parks are a place where you should be 100% aware of your surroundings and focused on what you are doing. Unless your primary focus is to take pictures (talking to you, experienced landscape photographers), it’s not worth the risk of death to “get just this one pic.”

Enjoy the park while you’re in it and leave your cell phone in your pocket.

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of your visit to the National Parks? Click here for more common mistakes and how to avoid them!

Don’t miss The Virtual Campground website for RVing tips, tricks, interviews, humor and more.



    • It was written for the age group that’s doing all of that stuff – adult ages but not always adult behaviors, unfortunately. —Diane at

  1. Yes, the people standing on the edge of the Canyon leaning out with one hand holding to a partner and one foot on the ground with remaining limbs over the edge puts me over the edge!!! Or going off the trail to get to that furthest rock. I was there in the off season, but there were so many doing this it really started to effect me and I couldn’t enjoy the walk. That book mentioned told of one story of a man wanting to back off the trail towards the canyon and hide so when his 15yr. old daughter walked by he would jump out and surprise her with a Happy Birthday. He backed to far or slipped on the gravelly rocks and over he went. Or the 16 yr. old gleefully running down the trail. Couldn’t stop himself and off he went. At Yellowstone, I saw a mom holding a toddler in one arm and a huge camera in the other crouching down 100′ from a buffalo…. This stupidity takes the joy out of visiting for me. I would like to “lighten up” because it really is disturbing to me.

  2. There is a great book called “Over The Edge” which documents all the deaths that have happened at the Grand Canyon NP (up until it was printed, of course). From plane crashes, to hikers dying of thirst, to people falling off the edge of the canyon, to rafting trips, and any other mishaps. It’s unbelievable how some folks got killed!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.