Why You Should Fill Up Your Car With Gas Before Entering A National Park

So you're ready to add a few U.S. national parks to your bucket list. That's great! But just how ready is your car? In the same way that you might pack a big thermos before you go hiking, it's a good idea to fill up your car with gas before you drive into a national park. The reason for this is simple: not every national park has gas stations in it, and those that do are likely to charge more for fuel than you would pay on the outside.

Think of your car as you would your body, only in this case, it'll be guzzling gas instead of water or sports drinks. As you get deeper into a national park and commune more with Mother Nature, there isn't going to be a gas station with a corporate logo on every corner. To keep you and your vehicle from sputtering out or needing to double back for gas, a professional adventure guide at Insider recommends researching the national park you'll be visiting beforehand.

This is important not only for knowing your fuel options, but because online reservations are necessary to enter some parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The last thing you want to do is show up at the park and not be able to get in, or not be able to get around once inside because you're suddenly out of gas.

Stations are few and far between

The availability of fuel inside U.S. national parks varies depending on the location. Some places, such as California's Joshua Tree National Park (which is bigger than Rhode Island), have no gas stations inside them. It goes without saying that you'll want to have a full tank of gas before you venture in. Rocky Mountain National Park advises that there are about 50 miles without gas stations between its eastern and western access points (Estes Park and Grand Lake), and motorists should plan accordingly.

Other national parks may have one or more gas stations within their boundaries, but they may be so far apart that you'll risk running out of gas in between. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon, for instance, only holds one station: the Desert View Gas Station. The name should be a hint to the kind of sparse surroundings you'll find yourself in there. As the National Park Service indicates, you'd have to drive 30 miles in either direction and exit Grand Canyon to reach the next closest station from Desert View.

The hotter it gets, the more air conditioning (and by extension, gas) you're likely to use in your car, too. In the wrong park, you could be in real trouble if you run out of gas in the summer months when heat warnings are in effect. They don't call it Death Valley for nothing.

When all else fails, go electric

The U.S.' first national park, Yellowstone, has seven different gas stations, some of them historic 90-year-old log structures. While seven might sound like a lot for one park, keep in mind that Yellowstone is spread out over 2.2 million acres, across three states. With only two gas stations, Death Valley likewise covers 3,000 square miles in two states, and it's officially the hottest place on Earth. You'll want gas in your tank so you can crank up that A/C as you near the appropriately named Furnace Creek, which holds the 134-degree Fahrenheit record (and which hit 128 degrees again in July 2023).

Extreme weather impacts other places across America, not just national parks, but since the very purpose of the parks is to protect the scenic beauty and natural resources of those places, they have a vested interest in counteracting pollution. One way for visitors to help reduce emissions, if they're willing and able, would be to consider renting or buying an electric car. With over 140 charging stations located in and around its parks, the National Park Service has a nationwide map you can consult for where to take your electric vehicle.

If nothing else, a rental, electric or otherwise, can keep you from putting too many miles on your own car. Whatever you do, just make sure you're prepared to potentially go a long time without refueling or recharging your car when you enter a national park.