National park driving tips: Get the most out of your national park driving tour

In each destination you travel to, there seems to be a unique, sometimes unspoken, set of driving rules for that destination. The same goes for tourists who are driving in national parks. Overall, national parks are protected by governments worldwide to preserve wildlife and beautiful scenic vistas. Yet, when visiting these beautiful destinations there is a proper driving etiquette to abide by in national parks. Here is how to fully enjoy your national park driving tour while staying safe with these national park driving tips. 

Only honk in emergencies

This isn’t an obvious rule of thumb to most travelers. National parks are meant to be quiet and scenic, car honks disturb that serenity and the experience for other travelers.

There are only a few select times that it’s OK and necessary to honk your car honk. The first of which is during an emergency. If a car swerves unexpectedly into your lane, feel free to give them a cautionary honk. 

Another instance where your car honk is essential is if you encounter dangerous wildlife. In Rocky Mountain National Park, park rangers advise campers and visitors to set off their car alarms and honk their vehicles if they come in contact with a black bear. Black bears are attracted to food and may harm individuals who are nearby their food source. Park rangers advise hikers to keep at least 120 feet in between them and black bears

Obey the speed limit

When it comes to cruising in a national park, slow and steady is the pace of the race. In most national parks the speed limit is between 40 to 30 mph. Depending on the terrain of the national park, the speed limit may even be as low as 15 mph. I’ve encountered this numerous times in national parks with mountain ranges. 

Park rangers are able to give out speeding tickets and other fines to drivers who are breaking the law. If a park ranger has flashing lights on, slow down and try to pass them safely if you have clear visibility. 

If you are a slower driver, do not impede the flow of traffic. There are numerous pull-offs that slower traffic should use to let faster traffic pass. 

If you end up stuck behind a slower vehicle, exercise some patience. There are so many beautiful sites to see in a national park, so use this to your advantage. Truly soak in all the sights you can view through your windshield. If all else fails, pull over at the next scenic overlook or hiking trailhead and attempt to stretch your legs. 

Do not stop in the middle of a national park road

National parks are immensely beautiful. There are so many scenic stops and wildlife sightings that happen inside these parks. Yet, drivers should not stop and impede traffic. Stopping in the middle of the road is highly discouraged. If you want to snap a fabulous landscape photo, pull over on one of the many designated turnoffs designed for this precise reason. 

One of my biggest pet peeves about exploring Iceland’s national parks was the lack of turnoffs each park had. I constantly wanted to pull over to take pictures of the diverse, beautiful vistas, but I was never able to find a way to safely do so. Since I was traveling solo, I just had to enjoy the scenic view while driving until I was able to safely pull over to take some photos. 

As always, be patient with other drivers. If other drivers are stopped on the road, check your surroundings. If they are obeying the rules, there is usually a reason they are stopped. The number one reason drivers are stalled is due to wildlife, so take extra precautions while you are driving. 

Do not pass on a national park road

Throughout most national park roads, there are numerous signs that say “Do not pass.” In mountainous national parks, this is very important due to the windy, hairpins turns. Not only are they hard to navigate but are incredibly dangerous to attempt passing on. Do not do it. 

If drivers are pulled over on the side of the road, give them room while you are passing them. Also, pay attention to larger vehicles such as RVs and campers. They may jut out into the road so use caution when passing them on the side of the road. 

If you see any cars broken down or see any vehicles that seem to be having car trouble, call the National Park Service or pull into the nearest Visitors Center and let them know. Broken down vehicles can cause road blockages, which are very dangerous on mountain roads. 

Watch out for wildlife on your national park driving tour

This may seem like an obvious precaution, but wildlife roams freely in national parks. Since they are protected, there sometimes are larger populations of wildlife around. There are usually many wildlife crossing signs scattered through each park. 

If you do spot wildlife on the road or nearby, flick on your car’s hazards and slow down. Most national parks frown upon guests stopping on the road. Your hazards are a heads up to the drivers that they should slow down and pay attention to their surroundings. Wait patiently for the animals to cross the road and then continue on your way.  

It should also be evident, but also do not approach wildlife. Visitors unintentionally cause more harm when they try to nurse “abandoned” animals. In Yellowstone, there are numerous rangers stationed around the park to ensure that visitors do not get too close to wildlife for everyone’s safety. 

Don’t tailgate 

Same as driving every day, leave some space between yourself and other vehicles. Though the speed limit is significantly slower in national parks, it’s still not a good idea to tailgate other vehicles. Drivers should leave more space between themselves and larger vehicles such as RVs and campers. Again, mountain driving also requires drivers to leave more space between vehicles in case they need to brake quickly.

Scenic roads like Going-to-the-Sun Road are usually packed with tourists, pay attention to the cars around you. The driver will not be able to easily see some of the sweeping vistas while driving, so make sure to take turns driving, or utilize the numerous pull-offs in the park to really take in the beautiful views. 

Share the road 

National parks attract visitors with varying degrees of appreciation for the outdoors. It’s not uncommon in national parks to see bikers and hikers on the side of the road. A general rule of thumb is to leave at least three feet of space alongside bikers on the road. Like passing a vehicle, only do this when there is plenty of room to space safely. I encountered numerous bikers in Rocky Mountain National Park and in Grand Teton National Park

Drive sober

With marijuana becoming legal in many US states, many individuals smoke before embarking on an adventure in the great outdoors. Smoking marijuana is still illegal in national parks. National parks fall under federal legislation. If marijuana becomes legal nationwide, this law may change. 

Alcohol is permitted in national parks as long as it’s consumed by individuals older than 21 years old. 

Due to both of these substances, it’s important for drivers to ensure that they are sober when driving through national parks. If you suspect other drivers being under the influence, reach out to a park ranger. Report all unsafe driving to park rangers and other park personnel. 

National park driving tips overview 

Driving in a national park all boils down to using your common sense. Obey the speed limits and give yourself enough time to react to other drivers and hazards on the road. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and other obstacles while cruising on the scenic highways. Most importantly, enjoy the nature that surrounds you; this is what makes national parks an ideal vacation getaway. 

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

8 thoughts on “National park driving tips: Get the most out of your national park driving tour

  1. Thank you for sharing these rules and reminders in driving in a national park. I remember one time I was so annoyed because one car kept on honking since he was asking his companions to hurry up. Anyway, sharing this post to help spread this reminder.

  2. I always feel that rules need to be repeatedly told till they become a habit. So, I really feel posts like this one are so relevant. In India, people on the roads need to be more patient. And among the worst is honking.

  3. This is such an informative and a much needed post. It is time people are mindful of the surroundings and know where to stop and when to do so. Along with Honking a lot of vehicles also play loud music which is an absolute no no here.

  4. You’ve listed some really good tips, some though which are obvious, need reinforcing. I just saw a video of a little girl that got stampeded at by a bison and couldn’t believe how it happened. Driving slowly, but not too slow, is a very good point. It also means you get to enjoy the landscape even more.

  5. Very useful tips while driving in a national park. Watching out for wild life is very necessary so that they are also not harmed and we too. Sometimes the beauty of the park is very enchanting and with that we lose control over speed, either we are too fast or too slow. We should try to maintain that speed and be sober to other vehicles. Tail gating is really big no.

  6. These are absolutely useful tips. Many disobey the rules and end up in great problems. One should always follow it specifically when you are inside a national park. Thanks for this helpful post

  7. This is a very important article on knowing how to drive safely and consciously in national parks. It’s really important to understand not to drive fast, and not to enter “Do Not Pass”, not to tailgate, watch out for wildlife and other cars also, and more. I can relate to you while even I was in Iceland, I couldn’t stop by at many places I wanted to take pictures at because it’s just not allowed to do so unless there was a camera sign there.

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