9 Tips for Traveling with Oxygen to America’s National Parks
Explore the great outdoors – experience nature – spend quality time with friends and family – these things and more are what you can expect when visiting one of America’s 59 national parks. From archeology, history and wildlife, to swimming, hiking and fishing, national parks provide a convenient, affordable vacation option your whole family can enjoy. But can you visit a national park while using oxygen therapy? Of course you can! Thanks to the Inogen One G4, traveling with oxygen to visit one of the USA’s greatest treasures has never been easier. Before you embark upon your journey, be sure to plan ahead by considering the following travel tips:
- Plan a pre-trip physical – If you have a pre-existing medical condition and use supplemental oxygen, you should get your doctor’s approval before traveling, especially to a national park that sits at a higher elevation. Remember, as the altitude increases and the air gets thinner, your oxygen needs may increase. Don’t forget to ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to travel to a higher altitude and what your flow rate should be as you ascend.
- Pay attention to altitude – Some parks have points that reach as high as 13,000 feet above sea level. At these altitudes, the air you breathe becomes thin and dry and contains less oxygen. This can affect pre-existing medical conditions and exacerbate breathing problems. It may also increase your supplemental oxygen needs. Be sure to discuss your oxygen requirements at higher altitudes during your pre-trip physical as we mentioned above.
- Pick the right season – When to visit one of the national parks depends upon what you enjoy doing most and how the season affects your breathing. For example, if you appreciate snow covered landscapes, frosty trees and cold-weather recreation, winters in some of the parks have a magic all their own. But if cold weather exacerbates your breathing problems, perhaps planning a visit during the warmer spring or summer months is more suitable.
- Dress in layers – In the summer, you’ll want to start with a wind and waterproof jacket, followed by a layer of fleece, a dry shirt, a pair of shorts and a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Don’t forget a pair of waterproof, broken-in hiking boots. The same approach applies if you’re visiting during winter, only more so. For example, you may want to bundle up with a pair of warm, insulated boots, a wool or polypropylene pullover, a winter parka with a hood, sunglasses AND ski goggles, wool hat, neck gator, insulated mittens and gloves, face mask, scarf or bandana, insulated wind and waterproof pants, thermal long underwear and wool socks.
- Ask about special offers and seasonal packages – Some parks offer lodging specials, advanced purchase rates, member programs, AAA and senior discounts. Be sure to inquire about specials in advance so you can plan your trip accordingly.
- Prepare for inclement weather – Mountain weather is precarious and unpredictable. What may start off as a bright sunny day can turn into a wet and windy adventure in a matter of minutes. Be prepared for these changes by packing the following essentials: raingear, map and compass, flashlight or headlamp, sunglasses and sunscreen, matches or other fire starter, candles, extra food and water, extra layers of clothing, pocketknife, and a first aid
- Don’t forget extra batteries – This is one of the most important things you can do when traveling with oxygen. Keeping one on the charger at all times will ensure you never run out of oxygen so you can relax and enjoy your trip along with everyone else.
- Check-in at the visitor’s station – Before entering the park, plan to stop by the visitor’s center. Here you can pick up maps and visitor’s guides as well as speak to the ranger about any questions you may have concerning the park. Many parks even offer ranger-led educational programs and activities in which you can participate.
- Recognize early warning signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS) – Acute mountain sickness, or AMS, doesn’t only affect rock climbers and mountaineers. Every year, rangers treat countless visitors for headache, nausea, dizziness and a number of other symptoms associated with this condition. Many of these people are just regular folks simply trying to enjoy an easy hike or leisurely drive through the park. Because AMS can be deadly in its advanced stages – especially in people with pre-existing medical conditions – it’s important to recognize early symptoms of AMS. These include mild headache, increased breathing, rapid pulse, nausea, loss of appetite, lack of energy and general malaise. If you start to feel these symptoms it’s important that you avoid going any higher than you already are. Remember: the best treatment for symptoms of AMS is to descend to a lower elevation.
The Top Five National Parks in America
To follow is some general information about the top five most-visited national parks in America:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Divided almost evenly between North Carolina and Tennessee and covering a vast 522,427 acres, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited park receiving more than 11.3 million visits last year. The park holds two important designations as both an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Elevations in this park range from approximately 875 feet to 6,643 feet. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 11 picnic areas, 10 developed campgrounds, more than 100 backcountry campsites, 850 miles of backcountry trails, 238 miles of paved road, 146 miles of unpaved road and 730 miles of fish-bearing streams. Lodging inside the park is limited to Le Conte Lodge, an area that can only be reached on foot with hiking routes to reach the lodge varying between 5 and 8 miles. Advanced reservations are required and can be made by calling 865-429-5704 or by emailing email@example.com. Primary roads to this park are open year-round but some may close temporarily due to extreme weather. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the only parks that doesn’t charge an entrance fee. For more information about visiting this park, download Smokies Trip Planner.
- Grand Canyon National Park – Decorated with unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms, the Grand Canyon that bisects the National Park in Arizona is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and one mile deep. Although the North Rim of the park is only open from May 15th to October 15th annually, the South Rim of the park is open all year-round. Lodging, campgrounds, shops, grocery stores and restaurants abound in both locations. Elevations are 7000 feet on the South Rim and 8000 feet on the North Rim. Summer temperatures range between the 70s and 80s, however temperatures within the Grand Canyon itself can reach over 100 degrees. During the winter, be prepared for cold, rain, wind and snow. Entrance fees for this park range from $15 for individuals on foot to $30 per vehicle and all its passengers.
- Yosemite National Park – Best known for its amazingly tall waterfalls, this 1200-square mile national park in California also boasts deep valleys, high cliffs, grand meadows, ancient giant Sequoias, a vast wilderness area and much more. Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although reservations are not required to enter the park, they are strongly recommended for lodging, camping and backpacking. Elevations range from 2000 feet to 13,000 feet above sea level. Rainy season is between October and May and most of the park is blanketed in snow from November through May. Entrance fees range from $15 for an individual on foot, bicycle, or horseback, $30 for a non-commercial vehicle, RV or van with 15 or fewer seats to $300 for commercial tour bus with 26 or more seats. When planning a hike, be sure you’re prepared with appropriate footwear and clothing for a variety of weather conditions. It’s also recommended that you bring plenty of food and water, a head lamp or flashlight with extra batteries and a good map and compass. Make sure someone knows when you’re heading into the park and when you plan to return so that they can notify park rangers if you fail to do so.
- Rocky Mountain National Park – A hiker’s paradise, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is open year-round for hikers to enjoy its more than 300 miles of hiking trails. Although there is no lodging inside the park, there are hundreds of lodging choices in nearby communities. Camping reservations inside the park and lodging reservations in nearby communities are highly recommended. This is a high elevation park with Trail Ridge Road cresting over 12,000 feet. Visitors are encouraged to take time to acclimate before doing any strenuous activity. Expect cold weather, deep snow at higher elevations and seasonal closures of some facilities and roads from December through March. April through May, the weather is unpredictable with a mixture of warm sunny days, cool days, heavy snow and rain. During fall, expect blue skies and crisp air. Entrance fees for this park range from $15 to $30.
- Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone is the first national park ever to be established covering nearly 3,500 square miles of wilderness in Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho. This national park marks the home of Old Faithful, a cone geyser that frequently erupts to the delight of many of the park’s visitors. In Yellowstone, you can explore mountains, forests and lakes and watch nature flourish like nowhere else on earth. If you’re wondering when to visit, know there’s something fun to do every month of the year. Because it can snow during any time of year, it’s recommended that you bring a wide range of clothing options, including a warm jacket and rain gear, even in the summer. Elevations in this park range from 5,282 at its lowest point to nearly 11,500 feet at its highest. There are nine lodges within the park with over 2,000 rooms, however only two lodges remain open during winter. Early reservations are recommended. Entrance fees range from $15 for an individual, 7-day pass to $50 for private, non-commercial vehicles. For your convenience, Yellowstone offers two free apps that you can download to help you plan your trip.
For more information about the national park system or to find a national park nearest you, visit the National Park Service.