Here’s What NOT To Do in US National Parks

by Jon D. B.

Please don’t climb the Grand Teton National Park’s historic Moulton Barn. And definitely don’t try to cook chicken in Yellowstone’s hot springs, either. Don’t be “that guy.”

Visiting some of the U.S.’s cherished and heavily protected National Parks? Good! Let’s continue the trend we Outsiders set in 2020 and continue exploring the great outdoors responsibly. Because the last thing you want is to be featured in “Here’s What NOT To Do in U.S. National Parks – Part II.”

Not a good look. Besides, if you need cheap thrills, there are trampoline parks for that.

Whether you’re the guy that just climbed Grand Teton National Park’s historic Moulton Barn, or one of the Joshua Tree Vandals, or part of the now-infamous “Yellowstone Chicken Chef Gang,” has some strong words for you, pal. We say this with love, of course: knowing that if you’re here reading this, then chances are you’re not one of the above. And if you are, then oh please, do read on.

In all seriousness, we have some of the world’s most brilliant national parks here in the United States. Each is beloved, cherished, and protected for this and many more reasons, too. Below, we’ll touch on several must-abide pro-tips to guide national park-goers to help shed light on what is absolutely inappropriate when visiting said locales. Along with some appropriate humor, too.

First up is (and I can’t believe I’m typing this):

DO NOT: Climb Historic Structures

Oh yes. This happened. And it can’t be the first time it did – just the first time someone was stupid enough to post photographic evidence on social media and then tag the park in said post.

Last week – and we’ll refer to him as “that guy” – decided to climb the “most photographed barn in the world.” The barn is Grand Teton National Park’s Moulton Barn. In addition to being a protected historical landmark, the barn is over 100-years-old, and appropriately fragile. It stands as one of the few remaining early settlement structures in Teton’s Mormon Row. Though it won’t for much longer if, y’know, “that guy” continues to climb it.

“The family had a very strong reaction, very offensive,” Reed Moulton, a member of the Moulton family tells Buckrail in their write-up of the incident. “We have been working hard to stabilize the building over the years. The barn has a hard enough time with the snow load during the winter, and any extra weight could damage it permanently. It has survived over 100 winters in the park and we want it to survive 100 more.”

And since “that guy” was brilliant enough to tag @MormonRow in his seemingly triumphant Instagram photo atop a historic barn, Mormon Row shared the post themselves to let visitors know how unbelievably unacceptable the behavior is. “That guy’s” account is now set to private. We’re sure the photo has been deleted, too.

“We want people to enjoy it, as well as respect it.”

The Moulton Barn is an historic homestead in Grand Teton National Park. It’s one of the most photographed locations in the state of Wyoming. The Tetons are in the background. Old barn, log structure, old fencing, mountains, sky and clouds. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

“The image of an individual atop the historic Moulton Barn is very disrespectful to the iconic cultural resources of Mormon Row and Grand Teton National Park,” adds GTNP Public Affairs Officer, Denise Germann. “And the legacy of that story and structures in the history of Jackson Hole.”

Moulton adds that he hopes the incident will inspire future visitors to instill even greater respect for their historic landmarks.

“I just want to say that we want people to enjoy it, as well as respect it,” he continues. “Not just the barn but all historic buildings and sites in the park. The barn is in very good hands with the park, but we all need to do our part to preserve these historic sites.”

Grand Teton National Park is currently identifying “that guy” to press charges. As will all national parks if you climb historic structures.

DO NOT: Disturb Natural Formations

This one’s a doozy. Back in August of 2020, Yellowstone National Park handed out citations to a gaggle of “those guys” for cooking chickens in park thermal grounds.

To do so, “those guys” thought it would be prudent to place their chickens in a burlap sack, then walk over yards of protected hot springs (somehow without dying), only to place said burlap sack of chicken carcasses into an actual hot spring.

If you’re wondering whether or not the chickens cooked, well, the jury’s out. Specifically for “those guys,” because the leader of the pack (or “Chief That Guy”) was sentenced to two years of probation and over $1k in fines for both “foot travel in a thermal area and violating closures and use limits.”

Despite the unbelievably high traces of toxic elements within Yellowstone’s hot springs making anything put within them inedible, trampling through the protected land surrounding them does irreparable damage to these ancient, natural formations.

Even worse is the Seattle TV show host (before “those guys”) that tried to show that natural heat can cook a chicken… by digging a hole into protected land near a Yellowstone geyser. National park officials “fined his show $150 and put him on probation for two years for disturbing mineral deposits in a national park and stepping off trails.” How’d this guy get a show teaching other people about science? That’s the real question here.

Regardless, and in short: national parks are made national parks in order to protect and preserve their natural standing. Whether that’s geological formations, forests, lakes, or manmade structures, not destroying them allows for future generations to enjoy them all the same. This includes anything and everything from knocking over longstanding boulders, carving your name into trees, littering, and building dams in streams, all the way to – you guessed it – digging chicken-cooking holes.

DO NOT: Interact With or Engage Wildlife

For this next segment, allow for a little less humor, please, because this advice can prove life-or-death. Real fast.

Take, for instance, an intense clip focusing on Yellowstone Bison from the Outsider archives. Within, tourists witness an aggressive bison stampede after coming far too close in the famous national park.

Bison (or buffalo for those playing the home game) are fluffy and beautiful, sure – and some tourists will never learn, yes. But Bison are enormous, incredibly powerful wild animals. They aren’t tame – especially in Yellowstone National Park where they roam free.

In said encounter, one Yellowstone tourist (definitely not “that guy”) saw a group of tourists “nearing the bison.” This was, of course, after the herd already seemed upset by something. We’re guessing the tourists.

“The people saw them and started walking closer and closer toward the bison,” the bystander adds. “[The bison] kept getting more agitated by the minute. They walked farther down. Out of my sight, but I could still hear them grunting and blowing.”

Stewart then pulls out her phone to record. But she notes her video wasn’t even able to capture the sheer amount of… non-intelligent individuals… who were approaching the herd.

“You only see about four-to-six people on the video, but there were more in the same spot the bison come running from,” she recalls. “The fishermen grabbed their stuff and ran, and then you see the bison running…”

Don’t Worry, No One Was Trampled. This Time.

A native bison herd stampedes through Yellowstone National Park. (Photo credit: George Silk, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The rest of the story, as you can imagine, revolves around these “fishermen” running for their lives. While no one was trampled, thankfully, they’re lucky they weren’t. Large megafauna, such as bison, elk, and especially bears, kill people in U.S. National Parks every single year. And nearly every single time, it is a result of visitors getting far too close to very wild, very un-tame animals.

As a result, in 2014, “a formal regulation had to be declared by the U.S. Forest Service stating that it was an official violation to take selfies with bears,” Zion National Park notes on their website. “What this means is that there were enough people needlessly endangering their lives by approaching wild bears and attempting to take photos with them that officials had to actually spend time and resources to make this action formally prohibited. Ugh. Your number of Instagram followers isn’t worth it, folks. It just isn’t.”

Well said, Zion! Well said. Every single U.S. National Park has guidelines and regulations in place to keep you safe around native species – big and small. From keeping a several-hundred-foot distance from elk, bison, bears, and the like at all times, to definitely not handling snakes. At all. Ever: each of these rules is in place to keep you safe and breathing.

One Last National Park DO NOT: Don’t Take Anything!

“With the exception of some parks that allow you to keep fish you catch or try some of the native berries, for example, do not ever take things you find,” Zion National Park continues. “It’s not allowed and can subject you to fines.”

“Treat a national park the way you would treat a museum. Don’t carve things, mark things, take things, move things, etc,” Zion’s officials ask.

Excellent advice to end an excellent list, don’t you think?

From all of us here at Outsider, we wish you a very fruitful – and safe – year of exploring our beautiful U.S. National Parks in 2021. And remember: Please don’t be “that guy.”

[Sourced: Zion National Park, Buckrail, Outsider]