10 Rudest Things You Can Do in a National Park

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Many of the parks managed by the National Park Service have experienced record-breaking attendance numbers in recent years. Many first-time guests to the parks aren’t familiar with some national park rules. We’ve seen our fair share of rude behavior at parks all across the country.

So today, we want to share with you 10 of the most disrespectful things you can do in a national park and why you should avoid them. Let’s get started. 

What Is a National Park?

The government creates various national parks when it wants to preserve a natural environment. A national park can provide public recreation or enjoyment and protect an area of historical significance or scientific interest. 

While parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Great Smoky Mountains National Park are very popular, hundreds of units in the national park system don’t have the designation of “national park.”

The National Park Service has 19 unit designations. However, the designation of “national park” remains reserved for extraordinary units that stand out from the rest. No matter the title, all of the units managed by the National Park Service demand our respect.

Learn More: If you want to further your education about the different designations within our parks, read our article on Decoding the National Park System.

A picture of hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park

Are National Parks Protected by Law?

Yes, the National Parks are federal lands managed by the National Park Service. Because they are federal property, guests can find themselves in trouble if they misbehave or disrespect the park or the animals.

Even simply taking or removing rocks, plants, or fossils from a park can get you in trouble, according to NPS code 2.1 and the Preservation of Natural, Cultural, and Archeological Resources.

As a general rule, you should leave everything where you found it when in a national park. If you see something that may interest park rangers or the staff, take note of the location and immediately report it.

10 Rudest Things You Can Do in a National Park

Visiting the national parks is supposed to be an exciting adventure. However, having a bad attitude or rude behavior can cause any trip to go south. So make sure you follow the national park rules and avoid these disrespectful behaviors.

1. Leave a Mess

National parks may be federal lands, but tax dollars pay for them. That means they’re your lands, our lands, and every other taxpayer’s lands. You probably wouldn’t throw trash on the ground of your property, and the national parks should be no different.

Whether on a picnic, fishing, or camping, clean up after yourself. Park rangers have busy jobs. They have much better things to do than clean up a mess that you should have taken care of in the first place.

2. Feed Wildlife

The park’s goal is to protect the natural environment for the national park’s wildlife. However, when guests feed squirrels and other animals, it does the opposite. Animals become dependent on humans for food and lose their instincts.

While you may not mind sharing your food with an animal, future guests may follow national park rules and not offer their food to them. If an animal becomes aggressive, it could result in issues for the visitors and the creature. When animals become aggressive towards humans, they either get relocated or put down.

Some guests even forget to secure their food and accidentally feed the wildlife. It is your responsibility to store your food when leaving your campsite. A camper at Grand Teton National park received a $5,800 fine because their messy campsite attracted a bear.

A sign that says "a fed bear is a dead bear. Do not feed wildlife."

3. Venture Off Trails

The National Park Service creates trails for guests to hike and even mountain bike. However, these trails protect the fragile ecosystems found in the park. When guests hop off the path to explore, they can damage or kill plants and animals.

Leave no trace practices include picking up your trash and staying on the trails. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of the lecture from an angry park ranger because you couldn’t resist the urge to explore off the trail.

Additionally, you can get lost or find yourself in a dangerous situation in an unknown and unmarked area.

4. Vandalize Rocks and Trees

National parks, like any other place, have rules against vandalism. Don’t do it no matter how much you love your significant other or how badly you want to leave a message for future guests. Putting your initials or the date you met the love of your life is rude and highly illegal.

Don’t believe us? Just ask the guest that carved his and his wife’s initials into Corona Arch in Utah. After posting the picture to social media, authorities could easily identify him and charge him with a misdemeanor for defacing a natural feature. 

He pled guilty and received a $1,000 fine, $858.32 restitution to the Bureau of Land Management and a $30 processing fee. The graffitist was also prohibited from entering or using public lands for 18 months.

NPS and other governing agencies take the destruction of federal property very seriously. Out of love for the parks and your bank account, we encourage you to take a selfie with your loved one and post some words of endearment on social media instead of vandalizing federal property.

A couple pushing their hands against a rock that they carves their initials into. This is breaking national park rules and can even be fined for.

5. Smoke on Trails

If you choose to smoke, there’s a time and a place for it. Many national parks have rules that prohibit smoking unless in a closed vehicle or designated areas. Smoking on trails can frustrate other hikers and be dangerous.

Many national parks experience dry seasons and get minimal rain for most of the year. In these locations, even the smallest of sparks can be incredibly dangerous. Tossing a cigarette onto the ground can start a deadly wildfire.

Tossing a cigarette butt onto the ground can also harm the animals in the area. Not only can it potentially destroy their home, but a curious animal could find it and eat it. This can cause health complications and be very harmful to animals, especially birds.

Did You Know: With all of this bad behavior happening in our parks, have you ever wondered Can A National Park Ranger Arrest You? Learn more here!

6. Approach Wildlife

Some people get caught up in the moment when they spot wildlife while visiting national parks. Whether it’s the massive bison that roam the plains in North and South Dakota or the bears that call many national parks home, these wild animals can be incredibly dangerous. This important national park rule keeps you and the animals safe.

A guest at Custer State Park learned this lesson in the fall of 2020 when she approached a bison. The bison was not in the mood to have its picture taken by a tourist and sprung into action. Its horn caught on the woman’s jeans and swung her around until her pants ripped off, and the bison took off with them. 

Not only did she face the embarrassment of having to go pantsless in public, but also the legal implications of approaching wildlife. Do yourself and the animals a favor and keep your distance whenever possible.

Pro Tip: You have to visit these National Parks at least once! Just no touching the wildlife.

A sign showing a bison and words that say the national park rule "danger do not approach wildlife"

7. Remove Items from the Park

Another national park rule is not to take items from the park. If you want to take home a souvenir to remember your trip, visit one of the visitor centers. Taking rocks and other items from the parks is rude and illegal. However, even if you don’t get caught, karma often catches up to you.

Guests to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will often grab a lava rock or two to take home with them. However, Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, doesn’t appreciate people taking lava rocks from her islands. 

She curses thieves that steal her rocks to take home with them. Officials at the national park in Hawaii often receive packages from all over the world returning stones taken from the island. Many even include an apology note to Pele.

So unless you want to end up with a curse, don’t remove rocks or other items from the park.

8. Ignore Signs

Park officials place signs for a reason, and you should follow them. Whether it’s a no-parking sign or one closing a section of the park, it’s there for a reason. When you ignore signs, you put yourself and park rangers in danger. When you get stuck in an area, park rangers have to rescue you, which is also dangerous for them.

Don’t be the guest that thinks the various signage around the park is just a recommendation. You may capture an epic picture by disobeying a sign but with a huge risk. No matter how much you disagree with a national park rule, follow the instructions on the signage.

A group following the rules and path of a national park.

9. Make Lots of Noise

National parks aren’t amusement parks, and despite being outside, you should still use your inside voice when around others. Making lots of noise takes away from the natural feel of the parks. It’ll likely be loud enough if you visit during peak seasons. So make sure you refrain from making lots of noise and keep conversations to a normal talking level.

Hiking and making noise will limit your ability to see wildlife. Humans don’t like lots of noise, and wildlife will scurry away before you get anywhere close to it. Part of the thrill of hiking in nature is the opportunity to spot animals. So keep the noise down to ensure everyone, even the strangers around you, has a great time visiting the park.

10. Building Rock Cairns

In some locations, rock cairns are trail markers for hikers. However, thanks to social media, parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park are constantly battling guests stacking rocks on top of each other for no other purpose besides taking pictures of them for social media. 

Aspiring social media influencers don’t realize that it messes with the fragile soil and vegetation in the streams and rivers by creating the cairns. As the cairns fall over, they can dam up the waters and cause drainage issues for the body of water. The park’s goal is to protect the lands as much as possible, and cairns do the opposite.

Tons of rock cairns built in an area. To follow national park rules, these shouldn't be built by guests.

Enjoy Yourself While Following National Park Rules

If you’re planning to visit any national parks soon, have a great time. Take advantage of every second to make memories with your family. John Muir, a famous naturist, said, “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”

If you do those three things, you’ll avoid being rude and have a safe and enjoyable trip. If you follow the national park rules you can stay safe and help create an enjoyable experience for other guests, rangers, and wildlife.

What rude behaviors have you witnessed while at national parks?

  1. Wow! You hit the nail right on the head with these. We have traveled to lots of national parks, and the crowds just seem to be getting bigger and bigger. Especially during the peak times. We try to visit the parks early or late, and while that doesn’t ALWAYS happen fro us, it is a great strategy to avoid some of the noisy adventure seekers.

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