national park

This year, the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of encouraging adventure and preserving the great outdoors, making it the perfect time to get out and explore your natural surroundings. The untouched wonder—not to mention the clear skies and sunny days of summer—provides travelers with a beautiful backdrop for the all-American family road trip.

And while grand adventure awaits, so does the unexpected. Before you lace up your hiking boots and pack up the car, take some time to plan ahead.

Don’t let wildlife wreak havoc.
Spotting wildlife is an exciting part of venturing through a national park. As thrilling as it may be to see a bear or moose, the last thing you’d like to encounter after a long hike is a car that’s been ransacked or damaged by Mother Nature’s hungry creatures. For that reason, it’s a good idea to place food in a bear canister or a sealed plastic bag and then hang it in a tree rather than storing it in your car.

For extra protection when leaving your vehicle unattended, keep it shielded with tarps and bungee cords— at some national parks, vultures love to pick at the rubber around windshields, sunroofs and windshield wipers.

Check your vehicle’s vitals.
When hitting the road, make sure your vehicle is in tip top shape. At the very least, ensure your vehicle’s tires have ample tread and that your tire pressure is at the correct level for your load; that the oil has been changed; and that the spare tire is inflated. If taking to the road in an RV, routine maintenance is necessary to avoid mishaps while embarking across the country, so take the time to conduct a walk-around, pre-departure check. It’s important to know the exact size of your RV so you can quickly determine where you’ll be able to park. You may also need to get familiar with “RV boondocking,” or camping off-the-grid, since many parks won’t have common RV park features like full-hookups. You’ll need to understand how your RV works when it isn’t connected—then practice extreme water conservation and propane use.

It’s also a good time to review your auto insurance policy to make sure you’re protected in case of any unexpected incidents or accidents. An insurance professional like an Erie Insurance agent can review your policy to make sure you have the right coverages.

Look for a sign.
It’s important to obey all traffic signs, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar area. Most national park roads have a speed limit of 45 mph or less. While this may seem slow, keep in mind these limits exist to protect not only you, but also the wildlife that is roaming freely. In addition to potential vehicle damage or possibly harming an unsuspecting victim, speeding can result in a federal ticket or even land you in federal court. Keep an eye out for falling rock or mudslide warning signs, too.

Steer clear of poor weather conditions.
Check the weather conditions of the park you plan to visit this summer in advance. Conveniently, each national park lists road closures due to weather, construction or damage to help you plan ahead and stay safe. And don’t think you’re out of the woods just because it’s summertime. There may not be snow and ice covering the roads, but there could be major flooding or forest fires, among other hazards.

Stow a safety survival kit.

Grab some gear that can keep you safe, hydrated and sane before you hit the road. Emergency items like a flashlight, first-aid kit, batteries, jumper cables, a blanket, water and snacks always come in handy. Also pack extra protection like sunscreen and portable chargers and keep a GPS device like a phone handy for added security.

Once your car is in prime condition and you’ve taken the proper steps to make sure you’re prepared, pack your bags, buckle up and hit the road. You’ll be able to explore the great outdoors worry-free and take in the bountiful sights of our country and its national parks have to offer—from sea to shining sea.