Story originally appeared on Diamond Resorts.
There’s never been a better time to visit the vast plains, rising red-rock columns and purple mountain majesties that make up America’s national parks, forests and monuments. The American West holds a variety of stunning landscapes, leaving many visitors speechless with awe.
If you’ve never ventured to one of these vast swaths of natural splendor, there are some important things to know before you go. Preparation is key when visiting these national treasures, as once you arrive, you may find yourself many miles from the nearest convenience store or gas station.
Here, find seven essential tips for how to plan your trip like a pro. With these helpful hints, you’ll expertly navigate the country’s most beautiful protected lands, including Joshua Tree National Park , Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and more.
1. Visit in shoulder seasons or off-peak hours to avoid crowds.
Its not uncommon for the line of cars at any national parks gate to stretch for miles during high seasons, including spring break, summer vacation and the winter holidays. To that end, avoid wasting time in line and visit the parks, monuments and forests during off-peak weeks.
For example, a whopping 70 percent of visitors come to Zion National Park in southern Utah (a perfect spot between Cedar Breaks Lodge and Spa and Polo Towers in Las Vegas) between April and September. Consider a visit in October. You’ll be dodging a lot fewer selfie sticks at the parks majestic lookouts.
If you do plan a visit for prime time, be sure to research the most popular times of day for entrance. You may be able to skirt the bulk of the crowds if you’re willing to wake up with the sunrise.
2. Plan your visit with the ParkPassport mobile app before you arrive.
The National Park Trust developed the ParkPassport app to help visitors discover new activities within the national park system. The app connects to national, state and local parks, as well as marine-based monuments and sanctuaries. You can collect badges by visiting 61 national parks and upload photos to share with other users. The app also contains more than 600 virtual resources to fill your visit with unforgettable experiences. Some parks also require a reservation, so be sure to check your park of choice before heading out and book ahead if required.
3. Purchase an America the Beautiful Pass to enjoy multiple parks on the same trip.
Several Diamond Resorts properties, including Cedar Breaks Lodge and Spa in Utah, Cancun Resort Las Vegas and Embarc Palm Desert are located centrally to several national parks, forests and monuments. That means you can visit a different gorgeous landmark every day of your trip.
Purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass will be your best bet to save on entrance fees. The annual pass is just $80, so it pays for itself in three visits and covers everyone in one car at more than 2,000 recreation sites across the U.S.
4. Plan where you’ll park in advance.
At the more crowded national parks and monuments including Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado (a ten-minute drive from The Historic Crags Lodge ) and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas once you park your car, you won’t want to move it. That means picking a spot in the right parking lot is crucial for making the most of your time.
Pick a parking lot that’s close to the points of interest you’re most looking forward to visiting. Some parks have convenient shuttle services between landmarks, so take advantage of those when possible. Check for off-times when shuttles aren’t running so you’re prepared.
5. Consider a guided tour instead of going it alone.
National parks make education a priority with a myriad of placards, trail markers and museums along the way, but hiring a tour guide can make your visit much more engaging, enriching and tailored to you. Guides generally live in the park, forest or monument and know all the ins and outs, juicy details and tall tales that you can relay to friends and family when you get back.
The ranger tours at Saguaro National Park, just 13.6 miles from Varsity Clubs of American Tucson, are excellent. Tour companies usually post up outside the park entrance, so research which one you’re interested in ahead of time and book in advance for best availability. Tour guides may also be able to provide gear like bikes or camping equipment.
6. Have a mission in mind.
The country’s national parks, forests and monuments are vast and sprawling, comprising millions of acres and an incredible number of landmarks and historical markers. Once you’ve decided where you’ll visit, pick a few must-do or must-see spots.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of vistas, hiking trails, natural wonders and other items to check off your list. After all, it’s impossible to see everything in one trip. Choose two or three sites depending on how long you have to stay, and stick to those. For example, at Cibola National Forest near Santa Fe, you could visit the Sandia Peak Tramway and the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History for a full day of exploring, then return to Villas de Santa Fe to relax sore muscles in the hot tub.
7. Enjoy Diamond Resorts with spacious rooms and amazing amenities.
After full days of adventuring, you’ll want to return to a comfortable, spacious home base with amenities that will restore your vigor for the fun that follows. Luckily, Diamond Resorts properties are located within a quick drive to a number of amazing national parks, forests and monuments, making your trip there and back smooth and efficient.
For example, Palm Canyon Resort in Palm Springs, California, is less than an hour from Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest. Polo Towers Villas in Las Vegas sits between Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Diamond Resorts makes it easy to see America’s most amazing landscapes, then return to a comfortable place to hang your hiking gear.