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N5DUX's Guide to Parks On The Air

Radios | Keys | Antennas | Bags | Batteries | Misc Odds n Ends | Links

Parks on the Air is a fun, not-a-contest challenge for amateur radio operators to make radio contacts. I've likened POTA to Geocaching. There's no point to it other than personal challenge and enjoyment. It can provide reason for you to get out an explore an area you might not otherwise visit. (again, like Geocaching!)
Every national park, state park, state historic site, national forest, wildlife management area, wildlife refuge, etc. has received a unique identifer from the Parks On The Air project. Radio operators will venture to these "parks" from which to make radio contact. Those who go to the park iare known as activators. After making a minimum of 10 radio contacts, they are said to have "activated" that park.
Those who listen for activators and make radio contact with them are known as hunters.

There are challenges for activators to try to activate as many parks as possible and there are challenges for huntes to work as many activators as possible. There are challenges to talk to all 50 states, to talk to foreign countries (what we call "DX" in ham radio lingo), and even to make as many park-to-park contacts as possible. A Park-to-Park is when an activator in one park makes radio contact with an activator in another park.
With most "parks" not having regular radio equipment at the ready (some do - like museum ships!), the challenge for activators is to operate with portable equipment which usually implies (though not always!) lower power. When I activate, I'm usually transmitting 5W or 10W. At home, I can transmit with up to 600W. The other equipment challenge is the antenna. Most activators are using simple wire antennas which do not offer much in the way of directionality or "gain" in a particular direction.
My KX2 gear bag as of April 2024

The Exchange

The typical POTA exchange goes something like this.
For SSB:
CQ POTA, CQ POTA this is N5DUX. Listening...
listen and call on whatever callsign you can hear
W1AW you are 59 into US 4422
Thank you for the 59. You are 59 into Connecticut. Over
I copy the 59, Connecticut. Thanks and 73. QRZ...

For CW: (it's pretty much the same just abbreviated)
KI6DS 5NN 5NN US 4422 BK

Note the use of BK. This is a CW shortcut, or prosign, meaning "over" or "back to you". Also used here is CQ meaning "seek you" or "calling anyone anywhere", TU for "thank you", and 73 for "best wishes".


Choosing the right radio is part of the challenge of operating POTA (and the fun of amateur radio!). To determine which radio is best for you, you must determine which bands, modes, and power levels you plan to operate. There are some cheaper QRP (5W) radios which can save some $ up front, but might create additional challenges when contacting other stations either as a hunter or activator.
I won't make any promises about the following radios being the best choice for you, but these seem to suit my needs quite well.
My modest setup at a local playground park.
Not a POTA site, but fun nevertheless!


For operating CW (which I'm attempting to do more often than I have done), I use the following iambic paddles. As with any ham, I'm constantly looking at other paddles. I come close to purchaing others by rationalizing my lack of more CW operation is because of the lack of "perfect" paddles. Reason saves me when I realize I think about operating CW more than I actually operate CW. Maybe one day I'll finally pull the trigger on some magnetic-return keys like the Begali Traveler or some other fancy set.
My fishing pole supported EFHW tuned for 20/40m


The following is my current selection of portable, take-to-the-field antennas I've used for POTA operations: I also have a couple fiber glass telescoping fishing poles I got online for cheap. My most often used is a 450 cm pole (pictured). Not pictured (and less used) is a much larger 720 cm fishing pole. My main issue with it at the moment is finding a way to hold it upright in the field.
To hold my smaller poles I use a spiral rod holder I got from Walmart for ~$2. They can also be bought online but are surprisingly going for more than $2.


For keeping all my gear somewhat organized, I use a few different bags that I've collected over the years.


Miscellanea - ...but wait, there's more!

Water, trail mix, insect repellent
A complete field kit usually contains a few additional odds and ends and mine are no different. Included in my kits are the following:


Here's a collection of all external links I've references in the text on this page and other pages here. I'm also including some links for more information that were not referenced in the text.

More pictures

Working some POTA from the rental car. I ran my EFHW out the car window into some trees at this historic home in Kansas, (US-9183) Red Rocks State Historic Site

National World War 1 Museum & Memorial in Kansas City, MO (US-4591)
I was able to activate this location one morning on the tail end of a work trip to the area.

Entry sign to Tallgrass Prairie Preserve National Conservation Area (US-3673)
I activated this park with idyllic solitude while working in nearby Emporia, Kansas.

Looking southeast from my operating position at US-3673, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve National Conservation Area
The weather wasn't the best, but it was a great outing!

Entry sign to US-11268, Neches River National Wildlife Refuge
Hot and muggy, just as East Texas is most of the year!

The nearby W.G.Jones State Forest (US-4422) I can activate easily.
About 1 mi from home.

Love oeprating beachside QRP doing POTA at Galveston Island State Park (US-3013)!

A quick activation of Huntsville State Park in TX (US-3019) was a pleasant weekday activation.

My Elecraft AX1 antenna gets out if I don't have time for a full size antenna setup. This was for the Spring '24 "Support Your Parks" Event at US-4422. A rainstorm was coming, so I didn't have long!

A little picnic table portable near playground (while my son plays)