Dueling Plans: Preparing for our National Parks and PCT Adventures

Sandy details our planning process, as we prepare for both our National Parks and PCT journeys.

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

If you have been following us for any length of time, you know that we are planners. We like to know where we are going, and what we will be doing for each day of a journey. Our upcoming United States National Parks (TTP NPS) adventure is no different. But what made things more challenging this time was that we need to concurrently sort out the logistics for this trip as well as our return to the Pacific Crest Trail.

After we completed a little over 1,800 miles of the PCT last year, it became a priority for us to finish the trail. We have about 7 1/2 weeks of hiking left in California and Washington to complete the 2,650-mile distance, and we felt it was not realistic to do it all in one season. So we decided to hike the 3 weeks in California this year and the 4 1/2 weeks in Washington at another time. The optimal time to do both these hikes is in August – when most of the snow will have melted and the river flows will have subsided.

National Park Journey Planning

In the past, Darren and I had talked journeying to our country’s national parks, highlighting the significance of each place. At the end of last year, we discussed it again and felt that 2017 was a good year for that travel. Having already visited than half of the 59 total national parks, we prioritized those we had not been to on this trip. If everything goes to plan, we will have visited all 47 national parks in the lower 48 states by the time we return home.

Using the filters of unvisited national parks and hiking opportunities, I built a spreadsheet with sections for each park. I gathered information about treks in each location and was even able to download gpx tracks for many of the hikes that we plan to take. We can load the gpx files into our phones to guide us as we walk. In all, we plan to hike about 300 miles in the 27 parks that we visit.

Planned Hiking Miles by National Park – Click to Expand

To keep to a reasonable budget, we are camping in our modified Toyota 4Runner. From my research, I determined how much time to spend at each national park and what camping opportunities were available. We also plan to do some overnight backpacking for about 15 nights. Since most national park campgrounds don’t have showers or laundry, we booked some hotels, at 7 to 10 day intervals, to have some occasional creature comforts. We are also staying with some family and close friends along the way.

Visits to our national parks have grown from 62 million in 2007 to over 82 million in 2016, an increase of about 33%. I discovered this for myself when I began making reservations at national park campgrounds. Even in early January of this year, some places were already full for the dates we had in mind, necessitating changes to our schedule. Fortunately, with a few tweaks we still worked in most everything we had planned. We now have reserved every night that we could book, as there are a few campgrounds that don’t take reservations.

Visitors in 2007 and 2016 (Parks we are visiting in yellow) – Click to Expand

In our planning we also had to take weather into account. Summer has peak crowds at most parks; the heat also makes it is a bad time to visit parks in the Southern U.S. So we decided to leave as soon as daylight savings began (to get the later sunsets) and go south first. We still expect to have cold temperatures in Utah and Colorado at the end of March, but will be out of the South by the first part of May. Leaving in mid-March also means that we will be home at the end of July, avoiding most of the summer crowds and giving us time to backpack in the Sierra Nevada in the optimal August timeframe.

Pacific Crest Trail Preparation Revisited

Because we plan to backpack during our national parks journey, we needed the same gear that we would use on the PCT. One thing we learned from our Pacific Crest Trail adventure last year was that our total weight really mattered. So we bought new backpacks, sleeping bags, headlamps, changed our water filtering and cooking strategies to lighten our load, and pared down the amount of clothing we both planned to bring. Darren’s base pack weight (total not including food, water or fuel) went down 25%, from 23 to 17 pounds. We are hoping to feel the difference when we backpack during TTP NPS, as well as hit the PCT trail.

We will need to resupply four times during our PCT hike and some boxes must be sent ahead as soon as we arrive home at the end of July. This meant that we have had to plan (and buy) items for both journeys at the same time. We now have PCT food and supplies for those resupply boxes sitting in our closet, ready to go to the post office as soon as we get home. Planning for both trips has definitely added some complexity. Several times when Darren and I have discussed the need for an item we have had to double-check which trip we are talking about. It has been confusing at times!


With less than a week to go before we begin our national park odyssey, things are coming together and the list of things to do is getting smaller. We did have one more issue to address: with the near-record snow in the Sierras this winter, we needed to push our PCT start date as late as we could. So we will be home for about two weeks and then begin hiking the PCT on August 11. We have a family wedding the second weekend in September, so we will still have time to travel there at the conclusion of our hike.

During our national parks journey, be sure to follow our progress with the interactive map below. We will be updating our location as we travel from park to park. You can also click on any of the national park markers to learn more about a given place that we will be visiting. As always, we will be using Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to communicate. We always love hearing from folks to please send any questions or comments that you may have!

Our Planned Route – Click to Interact with the Map and Read our Posts

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2 thoughts on “Dueling Plans: Preparing for our National Parks and PCT Adventures

  1. Terry

    Have a safe trip you two! I’ll look forward to your posts along the way.

    • Sandy Post author

      Thanks Terry! Always great to hear from you!

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