national parks packing essentialsYou’ve every reason for wanting to visit any one of America’s National Parks on a road trip. From the awe-inspiring landscapes of Yosemite to the purism that Glacier National Park bring, and so, so much more, these locations are diverse and all have their own undeniable highlights for people to experience.

If you are staying in the National Parks, you’ll want to be prepared. This is where our guide on 20 national parks packing essentials comes in to help you enjoy your stay without any worry that you’re unprepared or left wanting. This means you can enjoy your stay to the fullest!

Here goes…

What to Pack for National Parks Road Trip

1) Tent

Starting off with the easy one for what to pack for a national parks road trip; a tent. You’ll want to ensure that your tent is a high-quality version and has a good rain fly that can be removed when the weather becomes fairer because we’re guessing that you will be wanting to bask in those enticing clear, starry night skies that will pleasantly soothe you to sleep.

A top tent tip is to buy a bigger version. For example, if you’re going as a four, take a six-man tent with you. You’ll appreciate the additional space when storing all of your belongings, and will be sleeping in less-compact conditions, too. what’s more, you won’t notice the weight difference while you’re walking either.

2) Sleeping bag

national parks road trip sleeping bag

It’s advisable to do some background research on the average night-time temperatures you can expect to experience in the location you are staying and take a sleeping bag that will suit the conditions.

You don’t want to be shivering on your mattress all night, but you also do not want to be unable to sleep because you’re overheating in your Arctic-ready sleeping bag either!

3) Fire-starting apparatus

usa national parks road trip

Fires are very handy for a broad range of reasons when camping, so you will need to be able to get one going in every type of weather circumstance.

If you head to a location where wet weather is renowned, then sourcing dry kindling that will enable your campfire to get going will become tricky. As such, you should pack a fire starter so that you can sit and indulge in the warmth of a campfire at night. You can use it to cook on too if you want to.

4) LED lantern

road trip usa national parks what to pack

While you are observing in amazement at the dark night sky, making everlasting memories, it’s important for you to be able to see what you are doing once the sun goes down. Therefore, you will want a handy LED lantern.

The classic kerosene lanterns are okay, but it’s not quite as effective as the LED versions. What’s more, kerosene is risky is you take it inside the tent due to the fire risk. The modern LED battery lanterns are energy efficient, you can use solar options too, and they will undoubtedly provide you with plenty of night-time lighting on a single battery charge for your entire trip.

5) Maps

national parks packing essentials

Can you think of anything worse than arriving at the beginning of a day’s hike only to realize that the complimentary maps that can often be left at the trailhead by the National Park Service have all been taken?

You should be looking to get to the trailhead the day before you set off on your walk so that you can acquire a map.

6) Download the best apps for your trip

usa national parks packing essentials

Alternatively, you can plan even further ahead and download some app that will assist you on your exploration of the national parks.

Some of the highly-recommended apps recommended are:

  • Gaia GPS: Ideal for planning and navigating your backwoods hikes, and also features National Geographic’s authoritative maps of the National Parks.
  • Strava: Great for tracking your runs and hikes.
  • Weather Channel: Perfect to have an idea of what the weather might be doing throughout the day.

We’d advise having the classic map as a backup, in case the tech fails on your for some reason; having National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States is a reliable choice.

7) A quality backpack

road trip usa national parks

Most seasoned hikers will know that a quality backpack is a must. It should have the ability to carry plenty of water, snacks, your camera and an extra kit, along with some additional essentials that you like to pack on your treks.

For day hikers, a reasonably small backpack will suffice, but if you’re on an extended hike, however, a larger litre backpack that has the capability to carry your tent, sleeping bag, and the rest of your gear will be essential.

8) Photo equipment

national park road trip essentials

Speaking of camera equipment, if you’re going to capture unforgettable moments then you will need your kit with you, or you won’t be able to look back on what you’ve experienced.

The good thing about today’s smartphones is that the cameras can be really good quality, but if you want to go one step further, then it’s well worth making sure you have your camera with you to really capture the best images you can.

9) Memory cards

what to pack for national parks road trip

If you’re going to be taking all of these pictures, then you will want something to store them on. Don’t get caught out and run out of memory; carry several cards with you, after all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

10) Batteries


The same goes here for batteries as memory cards. Make sure that you have a small selection of different sized batteries, particularly spares for your cameras.

11) Broken-in trainers or hiking boots

national parks road trip essentials

The last thing you want to do is turn up for a holiday adventure around the national park to find that your footwear is causing you to develop blisters and discomfort.

You should be looking to break your boots or trainers in before you go away by walking around the house in them or going for shorter walks near your home, for example.

12) Sunscreen

20 Packing Essentials for America's National Parks

An absolute essential is having sun lotion with you on your trip. Even in overcast conditions, you are at risk of damaging your skin, which can have serious health risks, so be prepared and take sun cream/spray with you.

13) National park passport

road trip in national parks

This handy, functional ‘passport’, provides visitors with color-coded regional maps, need-to-know information about the 400+ parks, and an official NPS interpretive map that you can refer to.

Want to see some of our must-visit stops along your National Parks road trip? See below:

14) Large water bottle

national park usa road trip

Essential to stave off the dangers of becoming dehydrated, a large water bottle, which can be carried in your bag is a must. There’s no feeling quite like quenching your thirst during a long hike!

15) Pick the correct clothes

what to pack for national parks road trip

When it comes to clothing, opt for quick-dry, lightweight clothes. Consider long-sleeve shirts to help beat the heat.

Trousers with a zip-off option at the bottom will protect your legs when needed and can convert to shorts if needed.

Layers are important, so think about wearing lighter layers instead of one thick one as you can always remove them and put them back on depending on the conditions.

16) Pack for rain

Being prepared is, without a doubt, paramount to ensure you get the most from your trip. This includes making sure you have the right clothes with you in the eventuality that it rains.

17) Carry cash

pack extra cash for road trip

The majority of parks come with an entrance fee as standard, so you will need money to cover this. You may want also want to purchase a souvenir or two for family and friends or pick up some essential supplies.

So, with that said, don’t forget to carry some money with you on your trip.

18) First Aid Kit

first aid kit

Always remember to pack a basic first aid kit. This is a staple for your trip and you definitely should not set off without on with you. Packing standard dressing items such as bandages, antibacterial ointments, and gauze, along with standard platers and blister plasters are things that are good to bear in mind.

19) A bear bag (if necessary)

If you’re in bear country, a bear bag is essential. There are two types of bear bags. The first is similar to a bear canister which is made from Kevlar and wire mesh with a metal insert to prevent crushing, while a bear bag is similar to this and does the same job; protect your food on backpacking trips and prevent bears from becoming accustomed to eating human food.

20) A water filter

national park road trip essentials water bottle

A water filter will come in useful if you are hiking and camping in the backcountry. A water filter turns water that can potentially contain dirt, minerals, chemicals, and other impurities that make it smell and taste bad into safe drinking water.

Remember, some of the contaminants we’ve mentioned can endanger your health, so make sure you use the filter unless you have enough bottled water with you as part of your national park road trip essentials.

Are you thinking about taking a road trip to the USA National Parks? Tell us what you’re most excited to visit in the comments below!