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Oh National Parks, how I love/hate thee!

OK, I may be asking to be pelted with rotten Mountain House meals for the following confession, but here goes...

We live in the Midwest, and when it gets REALLY hot, say around July/August, my sons and I head West for our annual long, summer  hike, somewhere around 50 to 100 miles. Year last we went to Rock Mountain National Park (RMNP). The wilderness, the wildlife, etc., was wonderful. The Park, with its rangers and stacks of rules, well, not so wonderful.

Thus, I confess to you, my REI family, that I have an unresolved love/hate relationship with backpacking in National Parks (NPs). While they are stunningly beautiful (some of the best land in our nation), they are also heavily regulated, requiring that you walk here and not there, sleep there and not here, and so on. If I want to be told that I must pay for where I can and cannot walk/stand/sleep, I’ll stay at a hotel. Having to reserve camping sites, carry a BearVault, and get checked two or three times for each by a ranger just rubs me the wrong way.

And I get it, NPs have so many people hiking in them that the rangers there are overwhelmed with what might be called the “Idiot Factor,” or IF. The IF is that small percentage of people who, wherever they go, just cannot keep their hands inside the ride, stay away from the lip of the canyon or, in the case of NPs, figure out how to sh*t in the woods and NOT feed the bears. As a result, the IF never fails to scare the jeepers out of the resident authorities, leading to an excess of knee-jerk regulations that must be suffered by the rest of us. The scenario, I imagined, has unfolded something like this in RMNP:

“What this!” Some people cannot figure out how to dig a hole and bury their crap? Well, we’ll just have to require that everyone pack out their toilet paper AND, coming soon, all human waste!”

“Whoa, hold on, hold on!” “Some hikers just gave their dinner to a bear!? Pass the regulations, and quick! Two to three pounds of useless, freak’n dead weight in the form of a BearVault must be carried by everyone!”

Concerning the (new-ish) requirement of a BearVault for RMNP, I asked the nice ranger folks why they did not allow hikers to hang their food in bear bags, notably in PCT style. They responded that they tried that, but after some hikers pulled trees down on themselves (yes, I know, loud facepalm “smack!”), it was BearVaults for all.

So, my fellow backpackers et. al., is there anyone out there who, in the words of Peter Frampton, "feels like I do," about navigating the regulations of NPs, or I have simply become an old backpacker who now yells at the world, "hey, get the he** off my lawn!"?

14 Replies

Reserveable NP backcountry sites may seem remote, but they are probably used by someone nearly every single night all season long.  in that way, they really are a lot like hotels and it's probably best to think of them that way.  If everybody dug a hole near the campsite at RMNP every night all summer long you wouldn't want to stay there yourself   I'm not a ranger and personally, I will look the other way if you feed chipmunks, walk off the trail or dig a hole on the sly when you are nowhere near a reserved campsite.  However,  I really, really, really don't want to come to my reserved backcountry campsite and find out that I have to deal with your mess.

A tip for using wag bags is, save up those screw top plastic jars like the ones peanut butter pretzels come in.  Put your used wag bags in the jar. When you get home you can just put the whole thing in the trash. It is not nearly as bad as you think.  

I was in Rocky Mountain National Park just last week. We were lucky enough to get sites for four nights, but one of the sites did indeed have people there the day before and the day after. And this wasn't even on a weekend! And most sites in the park were similarly booked.

When we were packing up to leave, my son did his usual look-see for anything we might be leaving, and found of all things a feminine hygiene product tucked behind a log a few feet from the tent pad. We sure didn't put it there! Fortunately most people seem to mostly pick up after themselves, but if even a small percentage don't, things can get ugly quick.

There are places in the backcountry that see few people. Parts of the Wind River Range in Wyoming come to mind. Those places tend to be more difficult to get to and/or have less to offer than the more popular places, but if you want solitude and are willing to work for it, you can find it.


Yep - Nice, meaning not nice. 


Here is a pertinent article - some familiar propositions...

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I think many of us think there is a hierarchy of grandeur - National parks are highest, followed by National Monuments, and then by State Parks, rec areas, etc....

This ain't necessarily so.....  NM's are created by presidential decree, NP's by legislation and there are numerous cases of NPs than were first NMs - like Grand Canyon, and most Alaskan areas.  And many state parks are right up there - like Custer State Park in South Dakota which contains the Needles 9world class rock climbing!! and sweeping views.  The SP is nestled in between  Mt. Rushmore and Wind Cave NP.

Wind Cave NP is close to Jewel Cave NM, but is actually smaller and less lavishly decorated.  Both are enormous cave systems, still under active exploration.  Someday we may find they are connected - what then??

So ramp up your sense of adventure and check out some of the less well known highlights.  You may well be surprised and delighted.

For me, Canyon de Chelly NM has qualities and aspects which surpass Grand Canyon -  sheer sandstone walls with scenic vistas and chucky jamb full of delightful archaeology. It is close by Monument Valley Tribal park (Dine or Navajo) which is also gorgeous and full of delights.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.