When I first thought of creating a national parks packing list, I immediately realized that, while there are some things that you need no matter which park you go to, there are also lots of things that change depending on which park you go to, how you get there, where you stay and when you go.
This is why, rather than attempting to create one universal list, which would ultimately be totally useless, I have listed those things you’ll need no matter what, but have also created separate packing lists for different activities and types of parks/ vacations.
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Read and download the packing lists you need for the parks you visit. Each packing list has a detailed list, with opportunities to buy any items you don’t have, but also a free downloadable checklist if you just want to make sure you have everything you need quickly and easily.
Jump to a specific packing list
- Winter Trips
- Tent Camping
- Cabin Trips
- Day Hikes
- Winter Hikes
- Road Trips
- Beach Camping
- Packing List for Yellowstone National Park
National Parks Packing List (all parks)
For Planning Your National Parks Trip
There are several books you can choose from when deciding which parks to visit and then when you start planning your trip. You won’t necessarily need all of them, but these are my top picks.
1. National Geographic Complete National Parks of the United States
This is a really great book with an overview of the national parks. It includes filled with photos, maps, historical, practical information and activities for each park.
2. National Geographic Atlas of the National Parks
A close up look at each of the US national parks with photos, information and maps.
3. Lonely Planet USA’s National Parks
This is a great guide book with essential practical information about each national park including how ot get there, what to do, where to stay and where to eat.
4. US National Park Scratch-Off Map
This is a great way to help plan your trip and to keep memories of your trip afterwards. Scratch off each of the parks you go to.
5. Guide books
Once you’ve chosen which parks you’ll go to, in addition to using this website, you can pick up guide books for each park for even more information.
National Parks Basics
6. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass 2023 – 2024
If you plan to visit more than a couple of national parks in the coming year, then you should get the America The Beautiful Annual Pass.
It’s good for a whole year, and gives you entry to over 2,000 sites, including all National Parks. You can also visit sites run by the Fish and Wildlife or Forest Services or the Bureaus of Land Management and Reclamation or Army Corps of Engineers. One vehicle or up to four people are included.
7. National Park Passport Stamp Book and Journal
This is the perfect souvenir of your national parks’ trips. When you visit each national park, you can get a stamp unique to that park in this book. There is also space to journal about each park. It is the perfect way to keep your memories together.
Essentials you’ll need on every national park trip
While I have created packing lists by trip type/ need, there are some things you will need for every national park’s vacation, no matter which park it is.
For getting out and about
I consider a good pair of binoculars essential in the national parks. You will want to see wildlife, birds and natural formations up close, so it is worth investing in a pair of binoculars.
I think try are so important that I created several detailed guides to buying binoculars, with what to look for as reviews and recommendations.
- Best Binoculars for the Money
- Best Binoculars under $300
- Best Binoculars under $200
- Best Binoculars under $100
Do just want the best binoculars for the money? >> GET THE VORTEX OPTICS DIAMONDBACK 10X42 ROOF PRISM BINOCULARS HERE
9. A hiking daypack
You need a comfortable pack with adjustable hip and shoulder straps, storage for a water bottle and trekking poles, and a rain cover. My top pick is the Osprey 24-liter packs for men and women.
10. Refillable Water Bottle
This is essential for every trip to the outdoors. I like the Hydroflask because it is durable, has a loop to carry it easily, and it comes in multiple sizes and colors.
11. Healthy snacks
Snacks are essential – for the road and for hiking trails. See a selection of trail mix and other healthy snacks here.
Whether you are returning from a late hike, walking around a campsite, or looking for something in a hidden corner of your, a headlamp is an essential item.
13. Reef-friendly sunscreen
If you are snorkeling or diving, you should definitely make sure your sunscreen is reef-friendly, but I think it’s a good idea to wear it anyway. You never know when you’ll put an arm with sunscreen on it in a lake or river and this way you can be sure your sunscreen won’t cause any harm.
14. Lip protection with sunscreen
Protect your lips from sunburn and the environment from your sun protection with eco-friendly gloss-less lip balm with sunscreen.
15. Polarized sunglasses
Protect your eyes with polarized sunglasses. Check out a range on Amazon here.
16. Insect repellent
I’m a fan of organic insect repellent without DEET and other chemicals that are bad for the environment and bad for your skin.
17. Bags to pack out trash
Packing out trash is one of the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. Simple Ziplock bags and regular kitchen bags are all you need.
18. First aid kit
Keep a small first aid kit in your car, RV or hiking backpack.
19. Trail Maps
I love the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps. They have them for all of the national parks.
20. Waterproof hiking boots or shoes
Hiking shoes or boots are essential. For details on what to look for when buying hiking boots/ shoes and reviews of the top hiking shoes and boots, read my Guide to the Best Hiking Shoes and Boots.
21. Light wool or synthetic socks (spring, summer, fall)
The right socks will definitely make you more comfortable. I like these cushioned merino wool unisex ones.
22. Trekking poles (optional)
Not everyone loves trekking poles, but they can really help steady you and take some pressure of your knees on uneven terrain. Look for hiking poles that are light, foldable, durable and have shock absorbers built in. I like the Foxelli ones with cork handles.
23. Sun hat
Protect yourself from the sun with a sunhat.
24. Rain Jacket
You’ll want a fleece to keep you warm and comfy on chilly mornings or evenings even in summer, or during the day in the cooler months.
26. Wicking and quick-drying base layers
Wicking clothing removes the worst of the moisture from the fabric near your skin, so that you don’t feel so cold and get so wet. This type of clothing is essential when hiking, as it will make you much more comfortable.
27. Wicking, quick-drying and sun protective shirts, pants and shorts
- men’s long-sleeved sun shirt
- women’s long-sleeved sun shirt
- men’s hiking pants
- women’s hiking pants
- men’s hiking shorts
- women’s hiking shorts
For staying charged and connected
28. Cell phone
29. Power Bank
If you plan to use your cell phone – for calls, emails, navigation or just as a phone – you will need to make sure it is charged. Which is easy if you’re staying in a lodge or inn, but is more challenging if you’re camping. One solution is to take a power bank, which you can use to recharge several times.
30. Car charger
Another option is to use a charger that plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car. You can use it when you’re driving or have your car in accessory mode when parked at your campsite.
31. Car Power Inverter
A step up is a power inverter. This changes the 12V power from your car cigarette lighter to 110V power. it comes with outlets, so that you then plug in your laptop or other regular devices and charge them. This is great if you are on a longer trip and have your laptop with you.
32. Hand lotion
33. Toilet paper
Carry it out in a bag if you are somewhere without proper facilities; do not bury it).
34. Hand sanitizer
38. Toothbrush and toothpaste
National Park Photography Gear List
40. Camera equipment
41. Memory Cards
42. Memory Card Case
For winter trips
The vast majority of people travel to US national parks in the summer, but most of the parks are incredible in winter too. It just requires a bit of extra prep and, of course, some extra clothing. If you taking a winter national parks trip, include these items too:
44. Insulated boots
Keep your feet warm with insulated boots. I have written guides with what to look for as well as reviews and recommendations for:
45. Heavy wool socks
46. Warm jacket
A warm jacket is so essential that I have written a whole guide to the best jackets for cold weather.
47. Warm hat
48. Warm gloves
50. Crampons/ microspikes
These are a total game changer if you plan to hike in ice or snow. They fit over your hiking boots and provide sharp spikes to grab into ice and provide the winter hiking traction you need to walk safely on ice and snow.
Packing Lists for Different Types of Activities and Trips
Packing List for Winter Trips
Packing List for Tent Camping Trips
Packing List for Cabin Trips
Packing List for Day Hikes
Packing List for Winter Hikes
Packing List for Road Trips
Beach Camping Packing List
Packing List for Yellowstone National Park
Do you have any other essential items not on this list? Comment below.
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James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.
He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks.
Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.
As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.
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