As I travel across the U.S. and Canada in my Jeep, with my cool REI tent and tubs of gear, I visit tons of parks—city, county, state and national. Rules are similar in many parks, but you can’t be sure until you see it in writing.
These days, that means not only reading signs, flyers and brochures, and talking with park personnel, but also checking online. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, as it might have been before the web.
In my home state of Nebraska, for example, I can use my phone to access park rules and other useful information from OutdoorNebraska.org, the official site of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. I found official state park regulations on the Secretary of State’s website.
When is it Okay to Break Park Rules?
In my mind, some rules you just don’t break, but some can be bent for good reasons. As a visitor, how do you decide when to “be bad”? Begin by understanding why park rules exist.
Christy Rasmussen of Nebraska Game and Parks explained that park rules “help balance opportunity and stewardship.” We need to protect natural resources from people who might harm them, but we also want people to safely enjoy the resources.
In Nebraska parks, Christy said, two rules are written in stone: 1) get an entry permit, and 2) get hunting, fishing and trapping permits. Illegal park entry is the most frequent citation.
Of course, park professionals can’t really talk about rules that CAN be broken, but I have ideas about that based on my own experience.
In the Canadian Rockies, I found myself stuck between far-flung locations breaking rules about sleeping in my truck—or entering campgrounds late at night, exhausted, without paying. But I’m a rule follower at heart, so I always put a note on the dash—and then paid in the morning. I’ve never thrown garbage out a window or built an illegal fire, but I admit to walking off-path to see a spectacular waterfall. (I usually don’t do such things, because I understand the harm if everyone did it.)
Natural disasters and personal accidents might warrant bending certain rules. I’ll bet park personnel have seen some pretty crazy rule breaking. But let’s just say we’re not going to do it. We’ll do our research so we’re not ignorant, then we’ll do our part to preserve our beautiful parks.
Kindra Foster is an award-winning senior writer/editor who has worked many years with a broad array of businesses. She’s also an "every-person's" travel writer, usually traversing the U.S. and Canada solo, camping in the back of a Jeep, collecting memories of America's beautiful and interesting places, and introducing readers to the hardworking people of this land.