Where can you turn these days for help in planning a national park vacation? In the old days of just a small handful of years ago the answers to your questions were typically found in any number of guidebooks, including, hopefully, some of the ones I wrote.
In these cyberspace days, however, more and more folks are eschewing the hardbound-printed word for the electrons and pixels of web pages. And that's not entirely surprising, as web pages can be updated much, much more quickly than guidebooks, sections of some of which were obsolete by the time the books rolled off the presses.
Of course, today there are so many people offering cyber-content that one can easily become overwhelmed with information, some of which might not be entirely accurate due to loose standards out there.
While it's still nice to carry a hardbound guidebook, since they nicely organize park information on everything from lodges to hikes and dining options, offer the author's personal insights, and can be read while your significant other is behind the wheel or when you're in a lodge that lacks Internet access, the immediacy of the Internet makes it a key resource for researching the National Park System before you head down the road.
With that understood, here are three websites that offer great content for planning a national park visit:The National Park Service (www.nps.gov). Mercifully, this recently redesigned site is cleaner and easier to navigate than the older version. The upper third of the homepage features a rotating series of gorgeous photographs to whet your appetite for exploring the various nooks and crannies of the park system. Alongside this slide show is a box containing "Search" and "Find A Park" functions, while just below this panel you'll find columns containing news items from around the park system, as well as a calendar of events. The bottom third of the page offers multimedia offerings, from videocasts and podcasts to web cams and photo galleries.
The National Park Foundation (www.nationalparks.org). The foundation is the official national non-profit partner of America's National Parks. It raises private funds, makes strategic grants, creates innovative partnerships and increases public awareness about the need and opportunity for park philanthropy. On its website you can download, for free, your own 2009 "Owner's Guide" to the national parks. The colorful guide, which breaks down the park system into regions, is available in a PDF format. It's a great reference guide to the nation's 391 national parks and is complete with maps, insider hints, and great photos of the parks. Inside the website you'll also find insights on every unit of the park system.
National Parks Traveler (www.nationalparkstraveler.com). You didn't think I was going to leave my web-zine off this list, did you? The Traveler reads like a daily newspaper, tracking news about the national parks, offering insights to visiting the parks, and details on lodging, including some of the latest lodging offers. The archives offer thousands of stories on everything from where to find the best sunsets and sunrises in the park system to soft-travel features on the parks. And if you can't find what you're looking for, our editorial team is happy to answer your questions.
Kurt Repanshek is the author of several national park guidebooks, including National Parks With Kids. You can get a daily dose of national park news, trivia, and commentary by visiting www.nationalparkstraveler.com, which tracks "Commentary, News, and Life in America's Parks." Follow National Parks Traveler on Twitter at www.twitter.com/parkstraveler.