15 Tips for Exploring National Parks Alone

Credit: Jake Melara

While exploring cities is always fun, there is something about walking through National Parks and nature that makes you introspective. Traveling through nature solo can be even more impactful, but you should always be safe while doing so. Check out our top fifteen tips for hiking or walking solo through parks. 

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#1 Research Ahead of Time

Knowledge is power, and this couldn’t be more true when hiking alone. Research the national park you’re visiting, the trails you want to take, and how safe these trails are. There is nothing worse than getting to the hiking trail and seeing it’s closed or unsafe to walk on. And if you want to be extra cautious, bring a map with you and draw out all the trails you want to take. 

#2 Test Equipment

It’s getting dark and you grab your flashlight – but it doesn’t work. Now you’re in the dark alone. This is exactly why testing your equipment is so important. Make sure all devices have charged batteries, that your water bottle doesn’t leak, and your backpack can hold all the essentials. It will not only make you feel more comfortable traveling alone, but will also prove vital if you ever need those items. 

#3 Be Over-Prepared

Similar to the last tip, you should be fully prepared to be in the wilderness longer than you expected. Bring an extra pair of dry socks, water bottles, or energy bars, so if you do get stuck or wet you can still be comfortable and energized. Of course, you don’t want to bring so much you can barely carry the gear, but having a couple extra things will not hurt – especially if you get hurt. 

Also Read: 20 Affordable Countries for Solo Travelers

#4 Check Weather

Unfortunately every day is not sunny, and you need to be prepared for stormy weather. Always check the weather in the days leading up to the hike, and even the morning of. Storms can pop up out of nowhere, and you want to make sure that your journey is sunny and warm. This may mean changing the day of your hike, but this is better than trying to get over rocks and slipping on the trail when everything is wet. 

#5 Know about Wildlife

Humans aren’t the only animals that frequent national parks, and sometimes they are pretty dangerous. The last thing you want to do while hiking alone is coming up on a momma bear and her cubs. The best thing to do is research what types of animals are local to that park, and how to prevent any interaction with them going badly. 

#6 Pick a Well-traveled, Well-marked Trail

Credit: Tim Mossholder

Similar to the research tip, you should try to pick a well-known trail especially if it is your first time hiking solo. Most of the trails marked out in national parks are well traveled, but there are the occasional off-the-beaten-path trails that might be more suited to hiking experts.  

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#7 Go off-season

This is totally personal preference, but if you don’t like a lot of hikers on the same trail as you, try heading out into the wilderness during “off-season” months to get a more solo experience. This can also come with some dangers, as more wildlife may come closer to the path with less human traffic, but you would have to figure out what suited you.  

#8 Trusted Contacts

Credit: Brett Jordan

Before you go anywhere or do anything, let a couple of trusted people know where you are going and when you plan to go hiking. That way, if you’re not responding or back in a place that has cell phone service by a certain time, they can alert authorities or try to get a hold of you to make sure nothing happened on the hike. 

There are also apps you can install on your phone for tracking or alerting trusted contacts if you don’t check in at a certain time, or do not make it to a specified trail marker. One such app is called Hiker Alert, and will notify loved ones if you don’t check in at a certain time.

#9 Start Small

If this is your first time hiking solo, make sure you pace yourself and start with shorter trails. Some more famous trails can take up to eight hours to complete, and may become quite steep in some areas. Starting small will allow you to not only get comfortable traveling alone, but keep your body happy as well. It will lessen the chances of pulling a muscle, or exhausting yourself trying to get up a hard patch. There is no shame in starting small. 

Read More: Meandering In: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

#10 Be Prepared to Feel a Little Weird

Credit: Iliya Jokic

This tip is kind-of funny, but it makes sense when you think about it. If this is your first time hiking alone through a national park, you might feel weird without someone familiar walking next to you. This feeling often goes away quickly so you can enjoy the nature around you. Also, you might meet some other solo hikers that want to talk and can fill the gap of having someone else with you. National parks are a great equalizer in that aspect, because only people that love nature and want to explore it will be there. 

#11 Start Early

Waking up early to hit the trails might not sound fun at first, but you will be avoiding those bigger crowds of people that only increases as the day goes on. Also, depending on where the national park is that you are visiting, it may be the coolest in the morning and get increasingly hot and unbearable the later you wait. You should always wait for the sun to completely rise though, so your hiking trail is completely visible the whole time. 

#12 Don’t Wear Headphones

national park
Credit: Lee Campbell

You might want to listen to music while walking alone, but the option is to avoid them. With music in your ears, there’s no way to hear if someone is coming up behind you, an animal is rustling the bushes ten feet away, or a storm is rumbling in the distance. If you absolutely have to listen to music, use only one earbud and have the sound on low. Then you can hear if anything is coming, and be prepared for it. 

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#13 Trust Instincts

Gut feelings are usually our best allies when alone. You should always be paying attention to how you feel when hiking through the national parks, and if there is something off about someone in the distance or the trail you’ve chosen, then turn back. There is nothing wrong with trusting your instincts, because they are there to protect you. 

#14 Pay Attention

Similar to your instincts, you should be paying attention to your surroundings at all times. Of course, take moments to enjoy the views, but be scanning for wildlife, rocks that might trip you, or people that look a little sketchy. 

#15 Know Yourself

This is the most important step, because it will dictate everything that you do. Knowing yourself is not only about physical limits but mental ones as well. Choosing the right national park, getting the right gear, and choosing the best trails are all about making sure you feel comfortable every step of the way. 

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Exploring nature alone is a big step, and can be very rewarding if you do it right. National parks are a great place to start, especially since they are so populated and have established trails. So, take a few of our tips and go out and explore the world with newfound confidence.