Reader Participation Day: What Would You Like To See On National Park Websites?

What information do you think should be on the homepage of every national park website?

Some of the first websites folks head to to research national park matters are, of course, those run by the National Park Service. What suggestions would you make to the agency to improve its sites?

Is there any specific information you think should be on the homepage of each park's site?

The look and feel of each website is the same, well almost the same. Some are missing information that I'd like to see on every website, preferably in a clear accessible corner, not three levels deep.

For instance:

* When did the unit become part of the NPS system? Some parks proudly proclaim it - the Smokies 1934. For others, it's very difficult even when talking to rangers and volunteers at the site. There's always an official day, even if the unit had a convoluted history.

* Who is the current superintendent of the park? I like to put a face and a name to the park.

* Where is the park located? Just an idea of the state (s) and which corner. This might not be important for large, iconic parks, but for small units it would be helpful to see quickly if your road trip passes close to the park.

What suggestions would you pass on to the Park Service's webmeisters?

Comments

For lodging, we always look for the 360-degree photos. These are a great way to tell if we can fit our family of five in one room or two. Plus, it gives us an idea of the relative upkeep of the room since these types of photos are fairly new, thus preventing the lodge from showing grand-opening pictures from 30-years ago.

I would appreciate access to better maps of the park units. The maps available are difficult to find, lack detail and could be much improved. perhaps tie it to Google Maps or another package for use in trip planning.... examples I've recently searched and found lacking include Arches, Colorado National Monument, Natural Bridges and Rocky Mountain.... thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Downloadable .gpx files of trails and features.

I would also like help in trip planning - like what other parks are close to THIS park. Most of my trips start out with a flight to a given area and I like to spend at least a week in an area visiting various park units and sometimes find it takes more 'clicks' than it should to determine which other units are close-by and would be appropriate to visit on the same trip. ANOTHER thing that I'd like to see is: If you have 4 hours, do this ...., If you have 1 day, do this ......, etc. I generally have more than 4 hours but I like to see the progression of recommendations from a 4 hour stay to a multiple day stay. I completely get that this is not necessarily appropriate for the smaller parks but not even every larger park has this on the website.

I would really like to see at least an outline of the state with the park starred. Also, we have not been to a park that had public transit in operation and would like to better understand how that operates, like how often it runs, (every 15, or 30 minutes, etc.)and if there is room for daypacks, etc. I personally would like quieter areas not listed, suggesting to ask a ranger or the visitor center, so not everybody goes to a quieter place. I also like the idea of area "attractions" so I will not miss something nearby that I would of enjoyed. I realize that the "star roads" i.e. "Going to the Sun", has information about road constuction, and sometimes others are called white knuckle driving, but as I have never encountered such roads, I would really like to be able to better understand what I am getting into, when it says "no guards rails", for me, that sounds pretty intimadating.
Thanks for giving us this space to say our opinions!

I'm with Mike G. Better maps would be appreciated.

+1 for making .gpx files available.
Also I would like to see Recreation.gov update ALL of the NPS campgrounds with photos of each site.

Definitely agree on the maps issue. The maps app was changed last year [I think] ... and it is really bad now!

The NPS websites are invaluable to planning our hiking vacations. I rely on them so much, and everything on the sites is really appreciated. More photos maybe? Allow travelers to upload 1 or 2? I'm a photo-phreak!

Legible maps when downloaded for .pdf files; when a whole park is crowded on one page it is very difficult to read. Also, lots and lots of webcams!

Lodging, camping and better map access.

A list of all "units" for multi-unit parks (such as Jean Lafitte).

As a pertinent aside, the NPS website is frustratingly difficult to use and too often down for maintenance. I've been trying for two days to get information on a particular unit but the webpage has been down for updating all that time. And the links to testimony regarding legislation don't work half the time either. So raspberries all around.

A list of all units of multi-unit sites.

Ironically, after venting about the difficulty of using the NPS website--often down for maintenance, bad links, removed pages--the Traveler website wouldn't let me post (the captcha is too difficult in event the moderators haven't been told this enough.

1. Photos. Most parks now have the "Photos and Multimedia" link on the left, but they do not all use this...

2. Webcams! Glacier NP has a whole page of these.

3. Jobs. The park could easily at a minimum, explain that park jobs are listed on usajobs.gov and provide a link. Or even better, they could actually list current positions w/such links.

4. Links to their Facebook pages (for the few parks that maintain FB pages) - and for those who don't have FB pages, they should add them!

5. Trivia! Park trivia would be fabulous, and then we could download it and take it on our road trip to the park to learn more about it...

I'd like for all the Parks to consistently show statistics, such as park acreage and average visitation as well as number of miles of park roadways and hiking trails.

Oh, and the range in altitude for each unit would be nice, minimum elevation from sea level to highest elevation.

In other words, all this geographical & tourist info that can be researched online to be in one concise place at nps.gov for every unit. That would be awesome.

Have something like Google Maps where you can pick a spot and see the view from there, and take a virtual tour. Mainly, though, I'd like up-to-date weather, such as Accuweather or Weather.com provides.

Anonymous at 12:18 -- beside the captcha box are three red symbols. Click the top one and the captcha image changes. Sometimes you have to click two or three times, but if you're patient one will finally pop up that even my old eyes can read.

(I just had to do it this time. One click.)

Lots of good comments here. As webmaster for my park (which will remain nameless) I would like to make everyone happy. Sadly, there are things I can't change. One of the biggest is the structure or heirarchy. It's pretty much set in stone, the maps will always be three clicks away.

Also, to my knowledge, very few, if any, parks have full time Web people. The website is one of many duties I have, and I can't devote my full attention to it as well as supervise eight rangers, three visitor centers, the parkwide volunteer program, reply to every e-mail that comes in from the website, respond to emergencies, and a lot of other things. I'm not making excuses, just pointing out that where big companies might have fulltime Web staffs, we get it done with park rangers who have a lot of other duties on their plates, and who often don't have any specialized training in web development.

I do plan to keep watching this discussion and implementing what good ideas I can. We are here to serve you. Thank you all for your continuing support of the National Parks.

Thanks for all suggestions and comments. They show that we really do use the park website and scour them thoroughly.

Some (most??) of the information requested is available from the park's cooperative partners, like the Great Smoky Mountains Association or the Yosemite Association. They publish maps and books in great detail.

Danny
www.hikertohiker.com

Because our trips usually include our children, I would appreciate up-to-date information on Junior Ranger programs. Sometimes these are sites are good, sometimes they don't even mention whether they have a junior ranger program or not.

Ranger Bill -- thank you for all your work. Despite its overwhelming nature, you and others like you continue to provide yeoman service for all of us.

And Danny, yes, but obtaining maps from those organizations is difficult and takes weeks some times.

Anonymous,

Difficult to obtain maps? Today's on-line options make it fairly easy, though I'll agree it's certainly not like the instant gratification you get from going to a website and downloading the map in question.

For what it's worth, Traveler readers can get a 10 percent discount on purchases from Eastern National, a cooperating association that offers a slew of trail maps, from those covering Apostle Islands and New River Gorge to Buffalo National River and Mammoth Cave. The discount code is "NPT2011."

Yes, it takes a little advance planning, but that's what the winter and early spring months are for;-)

As another ranger who had web duties (amongst many other projects) thanks for all the good comments about the NPS webpages. For those folks suggesting Google maps, there are some issues about using them which hopefully will get straightened out. I know I'll try and use some of your great ideas to improve my own park's webpage.

A one-click link to all electronic documents that are online pertaining to that particular park. While this information is available on the NPS History E-Library, having an icon that one can click on that would automatically do a search of all pertinent documents for this park would be quite handy for research purposes.