Welcome back for the third installation of the Fishing Ethics Series brought to you by Fat Tire… This time around we are focusing on ethically Navigating National Parks.

Whether it’s the towering peaks of Grand Teton National Park (NP), the wild salmon runs of Katmai NP, or the teeming biodiversity of Everglades NP, these places are some of the most special places on Earth. Since National Parks are the most popular of our nation’s public lands, they are also the form of public land that needs the most responsible visitors in order to maintain their value for years to come.

Next time you visit one of the 400+ national parks in the US make sure to take some of these tips with you. Our Nation’s public lands need responsible recreators like yourself!

The Basics

Have a Plan

Planning for your National Park adventure is key to a safe and enjoyable trip. Make sure to visit the park’s website on nps.gov before you go to check current park conditions, facility operations, and weather. You can also check the park’s social media for the latest park information.

Two people hiking in the alpine

Reservation System

As National Parks become more popular places for people to visit, more parks will continue to require reservations in order to access the park. Make sure that you plan ahead and reserve everything you need to. Sometimes there are reservations to get into the park, additional reservations to access popular subsections of the park, and other reservations for camping and backpacking sites. Many times, the reservations are set to occur in waves depending on the reservation (e.g., 6 months out, 2 months out, 4 days out, and the night of).

Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry - Recreation.gov

Visit the NPS Visitor’s Center

When entering National Parks it’s always a good idea to stop at one of the visitor’s centers. Visitor’s centers are literally created to help people like me and you make the most of our time in the park. Whether you need to ask a Park Ranger a question, obtain a backing permit, or buy a stuffed moose in the gift shop, the visitor’s center should be your go-to spot. It’s also a great place for quick pitstops if you need to fill up on water or access wifi.

National Park Visitor's Center Sign

Play It Safe and Know Your Limits

Whatever recreational activity you choose to take part in, it’s always important to reduce the chance of needing to be rescued. By playing it safe and mitigating risk, you’re helping to ensure that first responders and park employees have adequate resources. Rescues in national parks add pressure to local healthcare systems and emergency resources. Know your limits and play it safe.

Two people hiking over a bridge

Don’t Get Too Close to Wildlife

National Parks are known for having incredible biodiversity and some of the most well-known megafauna species including bison, grizzlies, wolves, elk, and many others. While these animals are beautiful, it is important to keep your distance when appreciating them. Check out the NPS infographic below on distance recommendations for different wildlife species.

Above all else… please, please do NOT feed the wildlife. It can have serious repercussions for you, but more likely; the animal.

Hikers taking a picture of an elk

Courtesy of the NPS
Wildlife, NPS, Fishing Etiquette, National Parks

Bring a SAT Phone

Satellite devices are a great tool to have if you plan on traveling into the backcountry. When you’re miles from cell service these devices allow you to contact others and emergency services if needed. But remember, take the time to familiarize yourself with these devices before you hit the backcountry. These tools are only useful if you’re prepared to use them. The Garmin InReach Mini is a great option.

Person with a SAT phone

Leave it as You Found it

National Parks are filled with beautiful natural and cultural resources. It is important that these resources stay where they are in an effort to preserve the nature of these places. Whether it’s an elk antler laying on the ground, or an old historic relic, please leave these resources in their place.

Vandalized aspens
Not only is the image above an example of defacement, and a crime: but it’s downright disrespectful and harmful to the tree and the greater ecosystem. If you really want to memorialize you and your significant other’s trip, take a picture… it’ll last longer.

Limit Your Impact

Whether you’re thinking about carving your initials into an aspen tree, or cutting off trail on a popular hike, remember that you don’t want to do anything that will leave a negative impact on the landscape.

Sign that reads shortcutting causes severe erosion please stay on trail

Pack It Out

When you’re ready to leave a park, make sure to pack out your garbage. We all know not litter items like bottles and cans, but even something as small as your fishing leader and tippet pieces are important to keep track of. Fluorocarbon line can take up to 4,000 years to decompose in nature. Remember, pack it in, pack it out.

Person holding a fly fishing leader

Build an Inclusive Outdoors

National parks belong to all of us. Be an active part in making the outdoors safe and welcoming for everyone.

The health and safety of ourselves and others rely on all of us being welcoming and supportive. No matter where you’re exploring, we share in the responsibility to make sure everyone is able to experience parks safely. Visit Recreate Responsibly to learn more about how we can build a more equitable outdoors.

People on a hiking trail

Keep Your Distance From Other Visitors

Once you get to the park, make sure to give others plenty of room so we can all enjoy the park to its fullest potential. National Parks can get crowded, but it’s common courtesy to give people as much space as you can.

Two people walking next to a river

Content Collection

When you’re out there collecting pictures and videos of your experience, make sure to show responsible recreation in action, and behind the scenes. Don’t lower your standards to get that “gramable” pic.

When it comes to drones, they CANNOT be used in National Parks or Wilderness areas (which can be administered by a variety of federal agencies such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management).

For commercial photography, check the regulations of the park you’re visiting, as they may vary.

Two cutthroat trout

Drinking in National Parks

Exactly where you can drink alcohol in a national park will vary depending on which particular park you’re visiting. In most parks, you’re safe to drink legally at campgrounds and in public-use areas. With that being said, it’s always a good idea to double-check that there aren’t any specific rules against it.

Also, it’s always best to avoid bringing in glass bottles… Stick to cans!

Person opening a fat tire beer
It’s never a bad time to enjoy a cold Fat Tire, but make sure you’re being just as, if not more, respectful and conscientious than you would be anywhere else. Also, always remember to pack out your cans!

The 10 Essentials of Navigating National Parks:

One quick way to assure yourself that you’re ready to explore in the great outdoors is to make sure you have “the 10 essentials.” This list changes depending on who you ask, but these are the 10 that the NPS recommends:

  1. Navigation (Map, compass, and GPS system) – Navigation systems are used when planning your route before your trip, and when you need help orienting yourself in your surroundings during your activity. Know how to use a map as well as your compass or GPS unit before going out.
  2. Sun protection (Sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat) – Sun protection is necessary to protect your skin and eyes against harsh UV rays that are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer. Consider using sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats. Sun-protection clothing such as pants and long sleeve shirts can also help minimize your exposure to the sun.
  3. Insulation (Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear) – Nature is unpredictable, so it’s important to be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions. Pack an extra layer of clothing that would keep you comfy in the most extreme conditions you could encounter.
  4. Illumination (Flashlight, lanterns, and headlamp) – Whether or not you think you’re going to need it, it’s always a good idea to carry some form of light. Headlamps are the preferred light source because they are hands-free. Be sure to pack extra batteries.
  5. First Aid – First aid kits may not seem completely necessary until that moment where a small mishap makes you wish you had it with you.
  6. Fire (Lighter or Matches) – As much as you would like to believe in your ability to create a fire with two sticks, having a lighter or matches is important.
  7. Repair kit and tools (Knife, etc.) – Some people like to bring the whole tool box with them, but others just bring along a knife. Make sure you’ve got what you need.
  8. Shelter (Tent/Bivy/Emergency Shelter)- Carrying a tent with you may not always be the most realistic option. In many situations, an emergency blanket will suffice in case you need to spend an unexpected night in the sticks.
  9. Nutrition (SNACKS) – On top of whatever snacks you’re bringing for the outing it’s important to have a stash of high-calorie snacks at the ready in case your adventure extends for longer than expected.
  10. Hydration (filter/purifier, water container) – There’s three things you need when it comes to water: 1) drinkable water on you, 2) a container to store extra water, and 3) a filter/purifier to collect more water.

Are Pets Allowed?

Pets are allowed in some developed areas, on many trails and campgrounds, and in some lodging facilities depending on the park you’re visiting. Each park is different, so it is worth doing some research before you bring your pet on the trip. Oh and remember, even though some wildlife isn’t afraid of interacting with humans, don’t treat them like your pet.


Fishing in National Parks

Visit a local fly shop

If there are fishing opportunities in the park you’re visiting, chances are there’s a fly shop in town. Make sure to stop by on your way through town to talk to a guide, buy some flies, and get the lay of the land. This is probably the best thing you can do to help maximize your time on the water and to support the local fishery.

Small dry fly in someone's hand

Buy a Fishing License

This goes without saying. You always need a fishing license before you fish in any location (even if you’re just fishing a single day, or a couple of hours). Remember, the money you spend on a license goes straight into the funding necessary to manage and maintain the fisheries that you are interested in. If that’s not enough of a reason for you to buy a license, it’s worth noting that since National Parks are so heavily visited, these lands also have some of the highest levels of enforcement (i.e., there’s a good chance a ranger is going to ask to see a license).

Person holding a cutthroat trout

Research Harvest Regulations Ahead of Your Visit

Depending on where you’re traveling, fishing regulations will vary widely. Even within National Parks, there may be some localized areas where harvesting regulations are different than the rest of the park. Remember it is a privilege to harvest a fish. If you’re planning to keep a fish, it should be a calculated effort where you know the exact species, size, and the number of fish that you’re allowed to collect.

Cutthroat trout upside down


Reservation Vs. First Come First Serve

Reservation campgrounds require that you reserve the campsite days, weeks, or even months in advance. Similar to making reservations for park entrances, reservations are usually set to occur in waves depending on the reservation (e.g., 6 months out, 2 months out, 4 days out, and the night of). Most National Parks utilize a reservation system for camping because they are in such high demand, but there are some situations where campsites are first come first serve.

When claiming a first come first serve site it’s always a good idea to pitch the tent and/or open up a couple of chairs to signal that the site is taken.

Fat tire beer and a sandwich in the alpine

Backcountry Camping Regulations

Not all National Parks offer backcountry camping opportunities, and the ones that do, often vary in their regulations. For example, some parks require applying for permits months in advance, while others simply require a permit the day of. Wherever you’re going, make sure to do your research ahead of time.

Two people hiking

Bear Safe

If your campsite is equipped with a permanent food locker, use it. Also, make sure to show your gratitude by not leaving trash, or anything, inside when you leave. Keep it clean! It also never hurts to keep a can of Bear spray around just in case.

Food storage locker rules

Be respectful of your neighbors

Unless you are backpacking in the backcountry, a lot of National Park camping occurs in fairly crowded areas. Make sure to give people their space. The best rule when camping in tight quarters is to follow the golden rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated.

beer brats over the fire

Fire management

Before you start a fire it’s always best to check if there is a fire ban in your area. As you’re handling the fire you should always consider Smoky Bear’s classic saying, “only you can prevent wildfires.”  Make sure that fire is completely out before you hit the hay or leave your site.

Person putting out a fire with water

Poop with a plan

Many National Park campsites have bathrooms within walking distance of your campsite, so make sure to use them. In the case that you’re away from a designated bathroom and you must poop in the woods, it’s good to have a plan. A part of any proper 10 essentials bag is everything you need to poop in the woods responsibly: a trowel, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. For more information on this, check out this great video from REI.

Shovel and a roll of toilet paper in the woods
This shovel can be broken down into 4 pieces and stored in almost any pack or bag.

That is all for National Park Ethics! Stay tuned for the next installation of the Fishing Ethics Series brought to you by Fat Tire. Next time we’ll be hitting the water in search of a meal… a responsibly harvested meal.

Two people cheersing beers

Cover art: Sam Hawkins

Fishing Ethics: Float Fishing

Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water


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