5 Things You Should Never Do in a National Park

Sep 29, 2019

From hiking and backpacking to photography, stargazing, and more, there is an endless number of things to do in our country’s national parks. But what about the things tourists do that they shouldn’t?

While they may be slices of unspoiled wilderness, national parks aren’t lawless lands. Instead, they have a list of laws and rules designed to protect them for future generations. Keep reading to learn 5 things you should never do in a national park.

1. Leave Your Trace

Leaving your mark behind on the national parks you visit is a big no-no. In fact, most of the ways you’d leave that mark are actually illegal.

There are so many ways that tourists visiting national parks leave a trace. They vandalize cliffs and boulders, leaving behind their names carved in the rocks. Some fail to pack out trash, leaving behind plastic and food scraps that are dangerous to animals. They pick wildflowers or cut down trees for firewood.

But while these actions are obviously destructive, some are far less so. For instance, stacking a few rocks in what is called a Cairn may seem like a peaceful way to get a cool photo. However, it disturbs the habitat of small rodents and reptiles and may dislodge plant life or cause erosion.

2. Hike Unprepared

Angels Landing is rated a “strenuous” trail, thanks to its steep climb, narrow and dangerous path, and length. Yet, despite this, it remains one of the most popular trails in the fourth most visited national park in the country.

Unless you’re an experienced hiker or in great shape, Zion’s Angels Landing isn’t the trail for you. Even if you are able to make it to the top, you’re putting yourself at risk of a variety of injuries. And given the trail’s remoteness and how busy it gets, it could take a long time for help to get to you.

Hiking trails that you aren’t properly prepared for is incredibly irresponsible. If you do want to hike a trail like Angels Landing, you should begin preparing at least a few weeks ahead of your trip with regular exercise and perhaps some training hikes. Being prepared also means packing the right gear. You’ll need plenty of water, proper hiking shoes, protective clothing, and emergency supplies like a first aid kit to stay safe and comfortable on the trail.

3. Leave the Trail or Roadway

In the coming weeks, ATVs and other off-road vehicles will be making their way into Utah’s Mighty 5, including Zion National Park. But it’s not their entrance that’s off-limits; new changes in the laws will allow them to drive on main roads and backroads throughout the state, even in the national parks, where they were previously prohibited. What is prohibited is what park officials fear will happen once these vehicles are allowed through the front gate.

Off-roading is never allowed anywhere in Zion, regardless of the type of vehicle. In the same way, leaving marked hiking trails is also off-limits. Both actions are incredibly destructive to the plant and animal life that call the park home. Even straying just a few feet from a marked road or trail can kill vital plants and disturb the home of creatures you may not even be able to see.

4. Feed the Wildlife

A few months ago, two tourists in two separate instances made headlines after they and the groups they were with got too close to bison in Yellowstone National Park. The two tourists both wound up injured, though luckily neither suffered serious injury. But the incidents only further highlighted the dangers of getting too close to wildlife, and just how often tourists break that rule.

Feeding, approaching, and of course, touching wildlife in any national park is illegal, not to mention dangerous. Even seemingly gentle animals, like bison, deer, or rock squirrels, will bite, scratch or charge. Plus, feeding and approaching wildlife can harm their ability to fend for themselves, leading to dependence on humans, lacking nutrition, and death.

5. Disrupt Other Guests

Our country’s national parks belong to the people. Which means that everyone is entitled to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the parks.

Shouting, playing loud music, taking up too much of the trail with a large group, or engaging in other behaviors that might disrupt other visitors is all prohibited. Noise should always be kept to a reasonable level, and groups on hiking trails should be limited to 6 people or less.

Staying Safe and Legal in National Parks

Staying safe and legal in national parks often goes hand-in-hand. Follow these 5 rules and you can enjoy a fun trip to any park without putting nature or your fellow tourists at risk.