The 10 Best National Parks

National Park Safety Checklist

Practical advice for keeping your family safe at national parks.

By: Evita N. Torre

Winter, spring, summer, or fall -- celebrate any season with a family trip to a national park! A few important tips will ensure your vacation's safety and success.

  1. Plan ahead. Research the park with maps and guides. Upon arrival, ask local rangers about additional safety concerns, such as high water, lightning, rapid temperature changes, and any wildlife that may be roaming the area.
  2. Leave pets at home. Even if the park allows pets, your best bet is to keep them at a kennel or with a friend. An accidental unleashing can result in tragedy.
  3. Be prepared. You may be forced to spend the night unexpectedly, so pack wisely. Bring a map, compass, knife, flashlight, fire starter with matches, and first-aid kit. Most important, pack lots of extra food and water.
  4. Carry a cell phone. It's good to have a cell phone for an emergency. In case your phone won't get service in a remote area, bring quarters for a payphone and know where emergency call stations are located.
  5. Dress smart. Wear comfortable sneakers or hiking boots, a wide-brimmed hat, and easy-to-remove layers. Apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 15.
  6. Scare away the bugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta suggest applying an insect repellent with no more than 10% DEET on children. Apply to your own hands and then put it on your child, keeping it away from his eyes and mouth. Avoid using the repellent on infants, and make sure to wash treated skin after going inside.
  7. Remain on the road. When driving to a trail or campsite, stay on park roads and pull off only at designated areas.
  8. Time your hike right. Start early and take it slow. Leave yourself enough time to get back to your car or campsite well before dusk.
  9. Stay together. Once you choose your trail, stay on it as a group. Keep children surrounded with one adult in front and another behind. Using a children's harness is a surefire way of keeping a toddler close. Never lose sight of one another.
  10. Don't disturb the wildlife. For your safety, do not touch any plants, trees, or flowers in the area. Some may be poisonous. While the animals may look friendly, don't bother them -- they may bite!
  11. Choose a safe site. When setting up camp, select a site designated by signs or by the local rangers. Check for and clear away sharp objects like glass and pointy rocks. When choosing a campsite, remember: The flatter the surface of the land, the less likely your tent will slide or fall over.
  12. Light your fire. Choose a cleared area away from branches, leaves, or tents. At all times, supervise the fire and keep water and a shovel nearby. To put the fire out, slowly pour water over the flames and use a shovel to stir the wet ashes.
  13. Don't tempt the animals. Store your food and fragrant products in sealed containers. Hang them from a tree at least 10 feet high. If animals can smell your food, they'll try to find it.

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