Planning Ahead

Rocky Mtn NP

If I want to return to Rocky Mountain National Park this year (and I do), I need to start putting the trip together now.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were headed back from an early morning at Harriman State Park and decided, literally within a few minutes, to spend a couple of nights in Gardiner, Montana so we could visit Lamar Valley. By noon, we had our reservations and were on our way, stopping only once for gas in Livingston. Just before Christmas is a great time to go as the Park was nearly empty and every hotel had rooms on the cheap. However, we have found this to be a rare diamond when it comes to visiting national parks.

So, my New Year’s Day resolution is to focus over the next several weeks, before life gets in the way of my good intentions, to be more thoughtful and plan this years’ outdoor activities well in advance.

My thinking on this goes beyond having family, church and community commitments as well as trivial pursuits expand to fill any time that I create without a specific plan. Outdoor recreation, especially camping in national parks, has become competitive. I hate to admit it, but because of the competition, having fun outside often requires much more advance (sometimes really advance) planning than it once did. It is not all bad to have a year’s worth of adventures mapped out in strategic ways, but it is a change from being able to just go on a moment’s notice.

Here is an example of what I mean. Let’s say I want to go to Great Smoky National Park in Tennessee during the third week in May. I want to camp at Cade’s Cove Campground. A quick look at those dates on shows that almost 50 percent of the available sites are already reserved and the year is one day old. By March, they will all be reserved and I will be out of luck. This is true with many campgrounds, including backcountry units, in national parks and the more popular national forest and state park campgrounds.

Lotteries are another form of reservation. While the campground reservations are first come first served, lotteries are an attempt to make obtaining highly desired permits accessible to any applicant. Names are randomly drawn for the limited permits available. However, lotteries have deadlines and if you miss the deadline for application, you are out of luck for the year. For example, if floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is on your list, you have until the end of January to apply for a permit. By Valentine’s Day, you will likely know if you won the lottery and will have the coveted permit.

On the other hand, if you want to visit the Coyote Buttes (North), an amazing part of the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona, you are too late for this year (2023). The lottery closed last night (December 31) while we were partying and winners will be posted today. Planning. It’s all about planning in advance.

Little details, ones you might not think about if you have never been exposed to them, may ensnare you as well.  For instance, Glacier National Park will continue to implement a vehicle reservation system, separate from a park pass, in the summer of 2023, and it must be acquired in advance. If you don’t have one, you don’t go into the park. It is frustrating to get to the gate early in the morning anticipating a sunrise in the park only to find that you can’t get in because you missed a step in the process. 

This all means that planning, early planning, is often critical to just being able to visit a select location. is the go-to site for all outdoor recreation at the federal level. According to their website, “We're here to help you dream up your next trip, figure out the details, and reserve experiences at over 4,200 facilities and 113,000 individual sites across the country.” You can obtain permits, enter lotteries, reserve campsites and even get help in planning your trip, with dozens of suggestions for places to see and stay at along your route.

Just remember that is for federal sites only. If you want to reserve, say, a state park campsite or a yurt at Harriman State Park, you will likely go through

New Year’s Day is not too soon to start planning your year of outdoor adventures. Get your permits purchased and your campsites reserved now while availability is still good and you can select what best fits your needs and style. It is the new way.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho