How Not To Be A Jerry In The National Parks This Summer

The dos and don'ts of visiting our national parks.

In the skiing world, a Jerry is someone who demonstrates, usually in obvious ways, a lack of knowledge and common sense. They are funny (sometimes) on Instagram, but let's be honest, they aren't that fun IRL.

Jerry's aren't relegated to the ski slope, either. We've met one or two out on the trail, making such bonehead moves that it stretches our power of imagination to work out how they have survived in the world this long.

Worried that you might be a Jerry? We've got your back. Here's how to keep yourself alive — and decidedly unJerrylike — in national parks this summer.

Don't Pet the Animals

Photo by Meredith Baird // Photograph the National Bison Range

Or feed the animals. Or put an animal in your car. Or put your children on top of an animal to take a picture. 

You may laugh, but these things have happened and continue to happen in national parks. Interacting with wild creatures in this way not only puts you in danger, but it endangers the animal, too. In the case of a baby bison in Yellowstone that two tourists put in their car "because it looked cold," the bison had to be euthanized when its herd subsequently rejected it.

Do keep a distance of 25 yards away from all wildlife, and 100 yards away from large wildlife like bears and wolves. Let the wild animals stay wild...for your sake, and for theirs.

Do Stay on the Trail

Photo by Jon King // Hike Mt. Ida

Visitation at national parks in on the rise and all those people want to check out the sights and hit the trail. We want everyone to get outside, too, but we also want the places they visit to remain relatively unscathed in the process.

The best way to do this is by staying on the trail. National parks, in particular, have dedicated trail systems, and you should keep your feet on those well-made trails and paths. It helps to decrease impacts and keep the area as nice for the next person as it was for you.

In the few national parks where off-trail hiking is allowed, be sure to know and follow the Leave No Trace principles for backcountry travel.

Don't Assume You're Safe

Photo by Nick Lake // Summit Mount Ellinor

Visiting a national park is an adventure, and like any outdoor adventure, there are some inherent risks. Too many people fall into the trap of thinking that national parks have had all their dangers removed. Apart from not being true, what would be the fun in that?

A Jerry-move would be to assume that you can turn off your judgment muscles when you enter through the national park fee gate. Not so. That waterfall that looks slippery around the base? It is. The knife-edge ridge traverse that is bolted with chain fences? There's no net to catch you if you fall. And let's not even go into taking selfies at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Keep your senses alert and your wits about you, even in national parks. We want you to come out alive, Jerry or not.

Do Talk to a Ranger

Photo by Noah Couser // Hike to Sperry Glacier Basin, Glacier NP

Think of the park ranger as your best bud when you're in a national park. You'll probably only see them once, at the information booth in the visitor's center, but talk to them and listen to what they have to say.

Tell them how much time you have, what you want to see, and what you're willing to do to see it (are you keen on hiking? for what distance?). They'll guide you to the best places, and also give you any warnings about the day ahead, like that grizzly bear that was spotted on the trail yesterday.

Grizzly bears think Jerry's are super tasty. Just saying.

This summer, enjoy our national parks. They are there for the adventure, for the beauty, and for the experience of visiting some of the most amazing places in the United States. So go, and have fun, but stay safe.

We'll see you out there.

Cover photo by Daniel Brittain // Explore Midway Geyser Basin

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Sara SheehyAdmin

Writer | Nomad