National Parks are some of America's most popular destinations, welcoming millions of people every year. In 2018, there were more than 318 million guests at the parks; Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone received 11.4 million visitors, making it the busiest park in the nation. While this means Americans are appreciating the natural wonders available to them, it can also strain the systems in place to protect these wild lands. A stark example occurred during the 2019 partial government shutdown when many National Parks were overwhelmed with sewage and garbage. With most park rangers absent, some guests also broke the rules by littering, vandalizing, and off-trail hiking and driving; vandals even cut down some of Joshua Tree National Park's iconic trees.
In light of these events, many travelers have wondered what steps they can take to avoid harming these beautiful places. Dr. Martha Honey co-founded the Center for Responsible Travel in 2003 to promote travel that "maximizes the benefits to local communities; minimizes negative social and environmental impacts; and helps local people conserve fragile cultures and habitats." AAA spoke with Dr. Honey about how travelers can make sure their visits are beneficial for the National Parks and their caretakers as well as themselves.