National Park Rules – Things You Should Never Do!

What’s happening to our National Parks is unbelievable! And it’s caused by careless park visitors! It’s all because visitors are not following the simple National Park rules. And it deeply affects the wildlife, environment, staff and other visitors who are visiting our parks. In fact, violating these do’s and don’ts is actually what’s causing National Park Rangers to close trails, campgrounds and points of access!

So, let’s see how we all can become better stewards of our National Parks and Monuments by following these simple National Park rules. Let’s learn and share how we all can help protect our visitation privileges.

Things you should never do in National Parks - Always On Liberty

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Things You Should NEVER  DO in a National Park

National Park Rules & Federal Regulations

Things You Should Never Do in National Parks - National Park Rules - Always On Liberty

 

Never speed in National Parks

Speed Limit Sign at White Sands National Park - Always On Liberty

This is not only a pet peeve of most visitors who are enjoying their visit but it’s a moving violation to speed in a National Park.

In fact, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves when a driver tailgates my vehicle trying to make me drive over the speed limit.

There are a lot of visitors traversing the roads, walkways and trails. Equally, wildlife is at risk of being injured or killed by speeding motorists.

So, please take your time and enjoy the National Parks at the prescribed speed limits. They are not suggestions. Those speed limit signs are federal law.

If speed zones are violated, you will be fined, possibly taken to the pokey and/or banned from our National Parks.

And be it known, this also includes bicycle riders as they must abide by traffic laws as well.

But, the great news is a lot of National Parks now offer alternate methods of transportation. They are implementing the use of buses and trolleys to help alleviate congestion on the roadways and improve the safety of all roadway users.

But also, to enhance your National Park experience and fully enjoy the scenery!

To find out which parks offer shuttle services, you can visit your each park’s website at nps.gov. Or, you can call your park to learn if these methods are available.

Never drink and drive in any National Park

Drink and Drive - Sober Driving Laws - Always On Liberty

While you may be tempted to go check out some wildlife at sunset after having a few beers, don’t do it!

There is no plausible reason for anyone to drink and get behind the wheel. Especially in our National Parks. Alcohol affects your brain function, reasoning skills, and coordination. All of which are essential to safely operate a vehicle. 

If you’ve had a few drinks, act maturely and designate a sober driver in your group before hitting the road.

Also, make note that consuming and/or carrying an open, alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle is illegal in National Parks.

Never get out of your vehicle in the presence of wildlife

National Park Rules - stay in vehicle when wildlife is present - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

It seems every week now, we’re hearing or reading about wildlife antagonists in National Parks. In fact, we’ve seen a couple of close calls ourselves. Ignorant visitors exit their cars to get that infamous Instagram shot.

So, enjoy watching wildlife from you car windows. You are better protected should a wild animal get a little more wild.

Otherwise you may be looking at a maximum fine of $5000 per federal offense as well as being booted out of that particular National Park.

Never block walkways or park illegally in National Parks

Illegal Parking Blocking Walkway at Devils Tower National Monument - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

It’s hard not to notice many visitors parking illegally or haphazardly in National Parks. As in the photo above taken at Devil’s Tower, 

In fact, we are noticing that many drivers are blocking accessible walkways, taking two or more spaces, disobeying no parking signs and even illegally parking in handicap parking spaces.

This makes it incredibly dangerous for other visitors, especially those who need accessibility.

Also, if you are bringing your RV to park inside a National Park, make certain you park your camper in designated RV parking spaces only. Do not think you can just take up a few empty spaces to park your motorhome or camper.

And since we’re on that topic, if you’re driving a regular vehicle, do not park in the RV parking area. Those parking spaces are for buses and RVs only.

Otherwise, violators will get a ticket and a hefty fine.

Never start a fire in a National Park

Starting a fire - Always On Liberty

According to federal data cited by the National Park Service, humans cause about 85% of all wildfires yearly in the United States.

Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson.

We, as national park visitors, all can do better!

First, under no circumstances should any of us light a match, flick a lighter or start a fire during a fire ban.

However, even if there is no fire restrictions in place, it’s important to always follow and practice campfire safety.

If you see others being malicious or careless with fire or ignoring fire bans set in place by the National Park Service, report them to the nearest Ranger station.

Taking a photo or video is helpful as well as reporting the exact location and description of the fire bugs.

All of that said, campgrounds within the National Parks may permit campfires.

Be responsible with the size of your campfire. Don’t burn household and picnic trash. And douse it completely when you leave your campsite and turn in for the night. NEVER leave a campfire unattended.

✰ READ MORE   Fun Campfire Alternatives During Burn Bans While Camping in National Parks

Never transport firewood from  outside of the parks

Speaking of campfires, this National Park rule is one most don’t think about. And while it seems like a broad statement, it’s really intended to for those transporting firewood from far distances and across state lines (from home?)

Anytime you bring firewood that’s foreign to the National Park habitats, you’re essentially bringing in diseases and damaging insects.

Most National Parks that allow campfires typically sell firewood at the Ranger Stations or concessions inside the park. Help support the parks by purchasing your campfire wood there.

Never veer off the trails

Stay on the Trail Sign at Saguaro National Park - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Veering off the trail is one of the biggest no-no’s in National Parks.

It’s a safety issue for visitors and National Park staff alike. Some of the terrain off trail is challenging and opens up potential for injury and wildlife attack.

But also, leaving the trail greatly impacts the environment and wildlife. Stepping on delicate and endangered plant life.

And let’s not forget that leaving the trail may put you face to face or toe to toe with wildlife you’d rather not meet.

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Never feed, antagonize or molest wildlife

Do Not Feed Prairie Dogs Sign at Devils Tower National Monument - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

While those little prarie dogs look cute and all, do not feed the animals in National Parks and public lands! In fact, never purposely OR unintentionally feed or leave food where any wildlife may consume it.

Human food is not healthy for wild animals. They do not need food from humans to survive. Wild animals have specialized diets. There is high potential of wildlife suffering malnourishment or even die if they are fed or consume the wrong foods.

Just as important, wildlife cannot distinguish food from wrappers or foil and can get sick eating these items. And let’s not forget that wild animals will get comfortable around humans and rely on them for food. Feeding wildlife raises great possibilities of wildlife attacks because of it.

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Never desecrate or destroy our National Parks

Rock Carving Graffiti at Red Rock National Conservation Area - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

Another National Park rule breaker is desecration of our National Parks. Sadly, we’ve seen it all; from spray paint graffiti, tree carving, rock etching, scraping petroglyphs and needless rock stacking.

All of those are against federal law. When caught, perpetrators will be fined, jailed and/or given the boot to never step foot in a National Park again.

Think you won’t get caught? Think again! More than 189 million acres of public lands are preserved, managed, and protected by Department of Interior.

Believe it or not, there are undercover National Park Rangers and plain clothes federal law enforcement officers hiking the same trails as you just waiting to catch perps in progress. You would never know should you pass one on the hiking trail or in the backcountry.

Never steal, pick up or take anything from National Parks

Woman Picking Flowers along road - Always On Liberty

While it may be tempting to take home a piece of petrified rock or pick a bouquet of wildflowers, don’t do it. Not only does it leave less for other visitors to enjoy but it upsets the balance of the natural environment.

It’s against federal law to displace and remove natural elements from our National Parks. This includes picking flowers, picking up rocks, making cairns, etc.

So, the only thing you should be taking from our National Parks is photographs.

And if you want something to remember your visit to any National Park, you can purchase souvenirs at the National Park stores. 

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Never fly a drone in any National Park

No Drone Sign - Always On Liberty

According to the National Park Service (NPS), unmanned aircraft and drone operations are strictly prohibited in all 423 parks under NPS administration, including national trails, rivers, monuments, and historic parks.

That said, there are certain circumstances when and where drones may be permitted to be flown. 

In a Discovery of Tech article, Drone Laws National Parks – Rules and How to Register (March 2023),

To fly a drone in these areas, a special use permit is required, but it is only granted for specific activities such as research or search and rescue missions.

However, it’s worth noting that some National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, excluding designated wilderness areas, may allow drone flights.”

So, before even thinking of flying a drone in a National Park or public lands, it would be prudent of you to make certain you are following laws pertaining to so.

Never play loud music

Woman wearing earbuds outdoors - Always On Liberty

There’s a time and a place for loud music. But our National Parks isn’t one of them. Loud music can negatively impact park wildlife. It’s also disruptive to other hikers, campers, National Park staff and volunteers.

Regardless if you’re on a hiking trail or camping in a National Park, just wear earbuds to listen to your favorite beats and podcasts.

Never use a generator while camping in a National Park

Man starting Generator in a National Park - Always On Liberty

There may be some exceptions to the no generator rule in National Parks.

While some campgrounds may allow it, other National Parks strictly forbid using a generator. The reasoning for selective use may be because of nearby wildlife nesting and habitats. Or, it may disturb residents, businesses and staff quarters nearby.

If a campground in a National Park does permit limited usage, be a respectful camper by using a much quieter inverter generator instead of one of those obnoxiously loud contractor generators.

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Never go hiking without water

Dan at Water Refill Station in a National Park - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

You would never believe me when I tell you how many National Park visitors are hitting the hiking trails without even a bottle of water.

Dehydration sets in quickly, especially when exerting yourself or on hot days.

Our National Parks have been installing clean drinking water refill stations throughout the parks.

So, fill up your hydration pack and clean water bottle before you hit the trail and when you finish to replenish.

It’s also a good idea to add some electrolytes in your water on long hikes and hot days.

Oh, and make certain your children each have their own water bottles so you all can stay hydrated and healthy.

Never hike the backcountry alone and without a backcountry permit

National Park Rules - Solo Hiker in Backcountry Hiking in National Park - Always On Liberty

The backcountry can be unforgiving. From rattlesnakes to challenging terrain, it’s easy to get hurt or lose your bearings. Don’t hike unprepared and without another person knowing your hiking plan.

So, grab your favorite hiking companion and hit the trails together. Should one of you get injured, the other can go for help.

Just make certain you take plenty of water with electrolytes (above), a few Clif Bars and a satellite communicator should you get lost.

Also, wear good hiking shoes, and appropriate clothing in accordance to the weather and climate. We prefer wearing bright colored high UPF wick-away tops. They help to keep us cool yet visible to other hikers.

And another of these National Park rules is to always apply for a backcountry permit for hiking, biking, camping and vehicle pass for off-roading (when permitted).

✰ READ MORE   Hiking Trail Etiquette – How NOT to Piss Off Other Hikers

Never smoke or vape on the trails or backcountry

National Park Rules - lit cigarette butt on sand - Always On Liberty

There’s no better place to kick the habit than in our National Parks.

Because there’s nothing so disgustingly or out of place than seeing a cigarette butt on the ground in a National Park.

Even worse, watching the driver ahead of you flicking a lit cigarette out the the window! Do they not know where they are and how cigarettes affect the environment (lit or not)? Or do they even care?

But, it’s not just the cigarette embers that are the cause of some forest fires. E-cigarettes present a different hazard.

Vape pens are known to explode and cause fires. The main cause of explosion is due to the failure of the lithium-ion batteries.

So, before purchasing vape pens, know the dangers of lithium-ion batteries in e-cigarettes.

Fires caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials are completely preventable. This is why National Parks ban smoking in most parts of the park.

If you absolutely need to smoke your ciggies and vape pens, only smoke them in designated areas only and away from people and wildlife. Never smoke near doorways or where other visitors must walk through.

Never obstruct a trail, walkway or parking areas

National Park Rules - Vehicles Blocking Walkway - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

No visitor should impede passage (safe or otherwise) or space in any National Park.

This applies to motor vehicles, bicycles and ebikes in National Parks on the hiking trails, scenic overlooks, attractions, unrented campsites, parking lots and buildings, etc.

As you see in the photo above, those cars in the forefront are blocking the walkway. This impedes pedestrian traffic. What’s worse is it disallows wheelchair access.

This is also one of the reasons why National Parks ban commercial photography, using tripods and lighting equipment, posing for magazine shoots, etc.

But this goes a step further. National Park visitors should also know it’s absolutely prohibited to obstruct a trail or walkway.

These National Park rules also includes interfering with horses and bicycles on the trail, making unnecessary noise or gestures while horses or pack animals are passing and preventing wildlife safe passage.

Never take your dog just anywhere in a National Park

No Dogs on Trail Sign - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

National parks are exciting places for pets to visit with their family while on vacation. Sometimes these new places can be so exciting as to be overwhelming for your pet.

Do know, except for Service Dogs, most National Park rules ban all pets on the hiking trails.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) do not fall in the parameters of this law. The act clearly states that animals that simply provide emotional comfort do not qualify as service animals.

Now while some state and local laws have a broader definition, National Parks fall under federal guidelines.

So be sure to check with each National Park to learn if ESAs qualify for public access at the park you wish to visit. Even then, ESAs are banned from the trails just the same as any pet.

Speaking of which, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, there’s actually a federal law prohibiting pets from scaring, chasing, or interacting with wildlife in National Parks.

Which is good reason why it’s so necessary for National Parks to ban pets all together on most hiking trails. But also, it’s to protect your pet and you.

So, dogs and other pets must be confined to their campsite and parking areas on a leash only. Loose dogs, even under trained voice command, are not permitted to walk, wander or run free in the National Parks.

Another rule in National Parks regarding pets is to never leave your pet in the car while you go traipsing off for a hike; especially when it’s hot outside.

Not only could this hurt or even kill your pet but also could land you a hefty fine and get your pet confiscated.

Now, if you’re parking your RV in a designated area within the National Park, be aware some may not allow generator usage to keep your pet cool.

Therefore, it would be prudent to know this before bringing your RV and pet inside the park.

If you are at a campground with your RV, again, make certain pets are permitted to stay in your camper during you absence.

Now, if dogs are permitted in the National Park, learn the B.A.R.K. principles so you and your pet can have a safe and fun visit anytime you go to a national park.

This program is part of the Healthy People Healthy Parks Initiative. B.A.R.K. stands for: Bag your pet’s waste, Always leash your pet, Respect wildlife, Know where you can go.

Many Bark Ranger programs are uniquely designed by each park for visitors and their pets to that park experience.

Some parks have a walk with a ranger program. Or, they may have a pledge you take with your pet. Others are on the honor system that you will simply follow the B.A.R.K. principles above when you visit.

And if your pup is a good boy or good girl, your dog can become a B.A.R.K. Ranger!

✰ READ MORE   Why You Should Always Leash Your Dog in National Parks

Never wash anything near natural water resources

Be aware that one of the rules of National Parks is to never wash anything such as dishes or clothing, bathe or discard food scraps within 200′ of natural water environments.

This also means in undeveloped areas, it’s against federal law to dispose of human body waste within 100′ of a water source, high water mark of a body of water, or a campsite, or within sight of a trail, except as otherwise designated.

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Never Disregard the Leave No Trace Principals in National Parks

Our National Parks are gifts of nature and we all need to appreciate visiting them is a privilege. The leave no trace principals are just that.

Collectively, we all need to follow these simple National Park rules. This means leaving our National Parks as you found them. Take nothing, leave nothing, recreate responsibly and act accordingly. 

In doing so, these National Park rules are put into place to help protect and preserve our National Parks and their natural environments for future generations.

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Final thoughts National Park Rules

Rules Sign at National Park - Always On Liberty
Photo by Always On Liberty©

So, still think these National Park rules are for ‘other people’ than yourself? Well, I guess you could just press your luck by push the envelope.

Or, you can see for yourself which National Park rules and regulations have the force and effect of law, and violations of the same are punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both.

The point of this educational article is to bring awareness to park visitors. We all need to accept and appreciate that we are guests and we need to live by the National Park’s house rules.

If we didn’t have a sense of order and these park regulations, what do you think would really happen if we didn’t have these National Park rules all together?

✰ READ MORE   How to Recreate Responsibly in the Outdoors

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National Park Rules to Follow in National Parks - Always On Liberty


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