National Park Planning – Fodor’s Guide

The US National Park Service is celebrating it’s centennial with the Find Your Park campaign. But with so many parks to visit, how do you narrow down the choices?

For last spring’s migration north from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, we used Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West. This is a great guide for road tripping through the parks. Once you reach a park, the National Park Service materials will fill in the rest for enjoying casual vacations.

Fodor's Guide Sig


How to Use the Guide

Reasons to Go

Park overview

The first 90 pages are devoted to planning in general – things like packing lists, history of the parks, and general logistical items. Really helpful are the pages sorting the parks into various categories such as good for hiking, desert solitude, and family fun. They’ve also provided sample itineraries for multi-park vacation planning.

Each park is covered within roughly 30 pages providing an overview of the park and the highlights such as trails or hikes. Nearby outfitters and tour operators are listed for relevant activities.

If you were planning a deep dive into a particular park, a single park book might be better. The historic background would be longer and more detailed listings in each category could optimize your park visit. For us, seeing the highlights with one or two long hikes was the right balance for us.



Trail Listings in Fodors

Hike descriptions set the scene

Hiking Info

We found the hiking guidelines to be very accurate – easy and moderate hikes are well within our capabilities. We took on some hikes rated difficult knowing that we could retreat if they proved to be too much. We stayed away if key warnings were found such as drop-offs or the dreaded ” Not for those afraid of heights.” We can manage long trails with climbs but I’m not a fan of vertical exposure.


NPS descriptions are short and to the point

Starting with the hikes listed and after conferring with the rangers (the NPS ratings are slightly different with strenuous vs difficult) we would have our days roughed out.


Joel Pano Glacier

The perfect hike on a perfect day in Glacier Park!


Other Key Info

Within the parks, the most popular trails and attractions are easy to access and usually have the best facilities.  Don’t immediately exclude them from your list to see – the NPS has chosen these highlights usually for very good reasons. Just try to see them at off-peak times for quieter enjoyment.

The hotel options listed in Fodor’s tend toward the pricier side but within the parks that is just the nature of limited options. Camping info is also included. The guide helped us choose the best places to save money to balance the splurge of the guided tour package we enjoyed in Yellowstone. See my post on Yellowstone here.


For our road trip, the longest we spent in one park was the week in Yellowstone. Used with the park service materials, this guide was ample for all the parks we visited. A bargain at $25!


How about you, where will you Find Your Park?