Winter is my favorite time to start adventure planning for my family’s summer vacation. When I’m cooped up indoors on those bad weather days, I grab my hiking guides, trip planners, maps, guidebooks and laptop and begin dreaming of what we want to do in the summer. I make lists, research everything, sketch out a calendar and start making reservations for the warmer months ahead. This exercise boosts my morale considerably this time of year, but it also gives us a “bucket list” of trails or places we want to see for those days we don’t know what we want to do and ensures we grab those favorite campsites we really want.
The internet has made this process so simple. But with the wealth of information out there, where do you start? Below are some of my favorite websites for adventure planning.
Photo by Vong Hamilton at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
1. RECREATION.GOV – On this website, you can book campsites, cabins and lookouts, groups campsites, tours, picnic shelters and wilderness permits on federal lands administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, USDA Forest Service and many others. The Explore Trip Ideas tool offers trip inspiration, and the Build A Trip feature allows you to plan and save your itinerary.
2. RESERVEAMERICA.COM – This website overlaps federal areas with RECREATION.GOV, but in addition offers reservations at many state park campgrounds and private camping facilities. Hunting and fishing licenses for some states and Canadian provinces can also be purchased online here, too.
3. NPS.GOV – If you’ll be visiting or hiking in a national park, start here. This site helps you find a park to visit, linking you directly to the individual park website. You will also find a nationwide calendar of events, details on entrance passes available and a list of the fee free days nationwide. When you land on a park’s official website, head for the Plan Your Visit section. There you find the park map, campground information, trail guides, weather, lodging and everything you need to know before you go.
4. TRAILS.COM – Looking for new trails to explore this year? Check out this website. Search for hikes by state and filter them by distance, difficulty or other factors. You can also find places for other outdoor recreation like birdwatching, bicycling, OHV riding, hunting, canoeing and much more.
5. GOOGLE EARTH – This free interactive map can be useful in many ways – get a bird’s-eye view of a campground, or zoom in close to find urban trails and parks. In some areas you can even get a street view of a specific location.
6. LOCAL WEBSITES – Don’t overlook the wealth of information that can be found on more “local” websites. The best trail database in my area is on our town’s tourism site. The Washington Trail Alliance (wta.org) is an excellent trail resource in my state as well – your state may have something similar.
Summer’s coming! Happy trip planning!
What are some special ways you plan for outdoor adventures for your family? Share in the comments below.