How do you take yourself from ‘Middle-School-Sleepaway-Camp’ status to ‘Let’s-Go-Sleep-in-the-Woods-for-a-Week’?

You plan a trip to one of the largest National Parks in the US!

Usually I am a spreadsheet-word document-map-it-all-out kinda gal. Except – this time, I felt like I wanted to leave room for some unexpected adventure. It was my birthday and planning for my birthday didn’t seem as fun this year.

At first, the logistics of flying in to a different state and camping frightened me. It was a lot! Do I have to buy all my gear and then fly with it? How much will checking all of it cost? Can you check in a tent? Where do I get supplies? The more I thought about it, the more creative my solutions turned out to be. I prepared my basics, loosely assigned some top sights for each day and just went with the wind.

Below are the top tips I learned from flying in and camping out!

Borrow/Rent Your Gear:

You don’t have to buy everything you need. Borrow or rent your gear close to your destination. I also rented a car at the airport, so having your license is really helpful if you don’t plan on following a tour.

I flew into Salt Lake City and decided to spend one night there. That was the best decision because I was running errands at my base location: picking up my rental gear at a sports equipment store, shopping and preparing food supplies and packing up the car.

The sports equipment store (I went with R.E.I) had either a set rental package or you can rent items a la carte if you brought your own!

This was so simple and I returned everything the day before my flight back home. I loved renting the gear because it helped me think about what I would invest in if I were to purchase my own camping set up. I also really loved not having to fly with all of my gear and paying exorbitant airline baggage fees. Plus living in an apartment in NYC, there’s not much space for storing all of that gear to collect dust.

Bring Layers/Weather-Appropriate Clothing :

When you’re at the whims of Mother Nature and sleeping in a tent, you want to be prepared!

Depending on the climate and season, your gear will vary. Additional layers and insulating pieces will help because you can always remove them if it gets too warm. Don’t forget about the accessories for your extremities (hands, feet, head). They really make a difference when the weather changes.

I went in mid-September and didn’t expect the temperatures to drop as drastically as they did. I experienced torrential downpours, hailstorms, and hot sunny days all within the span of 5 days. I am sooo glad that I brought gloves, insulating base layers, waterproof jacket and a hat. Also have to admit that I bought a fleece blanket from the souvenir shops – double duty, warmth and a souvy!

Invest in a National Park Pass:

This isn’t much of a necessity if you are only planning on entering the park once and camping within. However, if you are planning on staying outside the park and going in multiple days, or visiting multiple parks in one trip, I highly suggest investing in the annual pass. You can have up to two signatures on it (perfect for sharing with another friend) and it’s valid for the entire vehicle to enter as long as the passholder is in it.

Since we were going to both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, the investment paid off for us to enter and exit without paying multiple fees.

Cooking & Food:

The rental kit included a camping stove and I am so glad it did! The fire pit was a good idea (warmth and camping aesthetics!!!) but not practical for cooking when you’re starving and the sun is setting as you’re rushing back to camp.

Pick items that are easy to prep or make on the go. Things like sandwiches, granola, fruits (oranges, bananas, apples) were great when I didn’t feel like pulling out the stove. I had lots of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, soups, eggs, and tacos.

My favorite hacks:

  • Freeze jugs of water to use as a cooling system. Once it melts, use as drinking water!
  • Precooking my bacon. It heated up quickly and didn’t have to worry about disposing grease.
  • Soups, curry and rice. What an easy and satisfyingly warm meal to sit around the campfire with. Clean up was super easy too!

Make sure whatever you pack in, you pack out. There are designated garbage disposal places but if you’re hiking, there are no trash bins out there, so grab an extra plastic bag to store your trash until you can dispose of it properly.

Go Your Own Unique Pace…and Bring a Map!

When you’re in the middle of nature, you tend to wake up with the sun. The day is as fresh as the dew drops on leaves and you’re excited to see what is in store.

Figure out your own schedule and leave room for adventure. How often do you get to just stop and smell the roses (or sage, in this case)? There was VERY LIMITED cell service once in the park – an awesome way to disconnect for a week. I was super lucky to have a satellite GPS in the car navigation but I also brought along a compass and maps of the park. There were multiple times I needed to consult with the map…and had a fun time trying to figure out where the heck I was in the middle of nowhere.

Most days, I enjoyed a morning hike before the crowds woke up and then headed back to the camp site before noon to make brunch. While digesting, I would spend a few hours driving around the park and stopping to take photos without any rush to get to the next spot.

I was happy not to have a strict schedule to adhere to because it led me to the best unplanned shower ever at the Old Faithful Inn for a few dollars! They had amazing smelling soaps and it was just what my spirits needed after two cold nights of wet rain and no showering.

Beware: Wild Animals are…WILD!

This should go without saying that animals in these National Parks are still wild animals. Exercise caution when encountering them and best bet is to observe from a distance. Don’t panic!

We were in bear country and while I didn’t encounter any bears this trip, a fox did run up to my camp site while my back was turned and took my unopened loaf of gluten free bread! (There were lots of turkey-and-cheese rollups consumed after this). Please don’t feed the animals if you can help it. It’s dangerous for them to associate humans with their food source and our food is not healthy for their diets. I now know to exercise more caution around my camp site! While there, park rangers told us stories of bison attacks due to visitors approaching them and attempting to touch them.

Help save their lives and ours, as any animal that injures humans will ultimately pay for our mistakes with their life.

There is a LOT to see, so SEE and do what YOU want

All these guidebooks and suggestions are great but everyone likes different things. Take some time to look at the map of the park and find points of interest that resonate with you. Find your speed and set your travels to fit that. Are you into hiking? Photography? Sitting around a scenic area for hours and finishing that book you’ve been meaning to read?

I knew that I wanted a trip to reconnect with nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The lack of push notifications to my phone…not speaking more than a few sentences each day…That was my pace. So, I skipped most of the popular tourist sites and ended up roaming around the lakes and water areas of the park, sitting and observing the vastness of nature, doing a few simple hikes. Some people spent their days fishing, having picnics, tanning…No one can tell you what is best for you except for…you! Go with no expectations and you’ll have a blast and a few fun stories to tell.

Posted by:Julia Leung

Writer. Traveler. Eternal Student. This space intentionally left blank.

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