Our National Park Essentials: An Illustrated Guide

Our National Park Essentials: An Illustrated Guide

In Partnership with La Mesa RV

By Hailey Hirst

We love traveling with an inquisitive spirit, an intention to learn and deeply experience a place. And national parks encompass some of the world’s most remarkable places.

Whether its the impossibly tall cliff faces of Yosemite, the unlikely architecture of ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, or the harsh beauty of the desert in Southwest parks like Arches —each park has a unique character, landscape, and history.

No matter if you’re visiting one national park on a whim, or stringing many together on a road trip, being equipped with certain things can help enhance the experience.

These are our favorite essentials for national park exploration:

Illustration by Hailey Hirst

To make the most of your national park visit, bring along these essentials to learn, experience, capture and create.


  • National Park Passport — Not only does this little book help you find NPS sites and areas while you’re traveling, the Passport program takes you inside the Visitor Center to collect your stamp, where you can also ask questions and learn about the area you’re about to explore.
  • An inquisitive spirit — What can you learn about this place? What is the history of the land? Its people? What is special about the geography? The plants? The wildlife? Get maps from the visitor center, talk to the park ranger on duty, ask for tips, read the displays, watch the videos, and explore the park with all this in mind. Set yourself up for discovery with a mindset of curiosity.
  • Recommendations from friends — You may not have been here before, but you might know someone who has. Find out your friends’ favorite hiking trails, where they camped, what they loved, and what they wished they’d spent more time doing.
  • Respect for the landscape — Maybe you’re already familiar with Leave No Trace principles, or maybe you’re just learning. Exploring with respect benefits plants and wildlife, and helps preserve these often unique (and fragile) environments for future visitors.



  • National Park Pass — Your ticket in the door. Whether you’re paying to enter for one day, or investing in an annual pass, the cost of your ticket in helps the parks maintain amenities and funds programs like artist residencies and workshops. It’s worth it. (This week we’re giving away two NPS Passes with La Mesa RV! Enter on Instagram before April 13!)
  • Hiking shoes — Because do you really experience the park if you just drive through it? Don your hiking boots and hit the trail to see the park’s depths and details up close. Be sure to practice LNT principles and stay on the trail!
  • Refillable water bottle — You’ll find water stations or drinking fountains to fill your bottle inside the park, so bring a bottle to stay hydrated without having to buy plastic drink bottles. Carrying water is especially important in the harsh environments of the desert parks like Death Valley, Canyonlands, White Sands, and Joshua Tree.
  • Backpack — To carry your day hiking essentials, and also to carry out as much as possible, bring a backpack with extra room to pick up litter you find while you’re out there. Remember to pack your first aid kit and light layers!
  • Snacks — Stay fueled while you explore with energy-dense and easily-digestible trail snacks. We love jerky and trail mix, and bars are good too. Pack enough to share and you might make a friend out there.
  • Insect repellant — Bugs can ruin an outdoor adventure in no time, so bringing along insect repellant allows you to experience the park without the distraction and discomfort of itchy bug bites or stings.
  • Sunglasses — Protect your eyes from the sun while you take in all that natural beauty. Wear sunscreen too, and also consider bringing a hat along for some added sun protection.
  • Binoculars — For a better view of birds, distant rock faces, hieroglyphs, and more, bring binoculars so you can see up close without leaving the trail or overlook.



  • Camera — What do you notice through your lens? Photographs can serve as a souvenir and a creative practice while exploring a national park.
  • Journal — Do you take field notes? Write poetry? Does a walk outside open your mind to ideas? Bring a notebook or journal to record those thoughts and reflections.
  • Audio recorder, instrument, box of paints, etc. — Whatever your artistic medium is, there might be a way to bring it with you. Tap into your park experience for inspiration, and get creative in your medium of choice.


We’re excited to partner with La Mesa RV to give away two National Park passes in honor of National Parks Week, which is right around the corner! To win two US National Park passes, follow these instructions on Instagram before April 13.

Editor’s note: Although the creation of this piece was sponsored by La Mesa RV, the thoughts and opinions are all our own.

Banner image by Gale Straub

What do you bring with you on your national park visits?


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