While it’s looking like most international travel is still not in the cards for the foreseeable future, National Parks are opening back up, and road trips are looking like the way to go this summer. With restrictions in place to ensure social distancing, it’s actually a great time to visit without the crowds you typically see this time of year. There are a few things you should know before you load up the van, though. Here are some tips to help you navigate planning your National Park objectives in the current times.
Things to consider before you go:
- Reservations may be required. Many National Parks are using a reservation system to ensure the number of visitors is limited and you’ll still be able to socially distance.
- Shuttles may not be running. If you were banking on catching a shuttle to get to a trailhead, triple check they’re operating right now.
- You may not be able to camp in the park. The NPS is opening services up in phases. Hiking trails, picnic areas, boat ramps, and boardwalks are among the first areas to open. For many parks, backcountry permits are not being distributed and some campgrounds are not open.
- Bring a mask. You’ll need it for trailheads, ranger stations, gas stations, and anywhere you’re interacting with people. Seriously, don’t forget it.
- Pack it out. Trash pickup is suspended or limited at many parks.
- Know your limits. It’s not a great time to need to be rescued, you’ll be putting search and rescue teams in more danger than they already are. While they’re still operating and ready to help, do what you can to plan objectives you feel confident about and keep an eye on the weather.
TL/DR: Check before you go. NPS.gov is an excellent resource outlining the restrictions at each park. Recreation.gov is your resource to book park reservations for those that require them.
What’s up with some of our favorite parks:
Rocky Mountain National Park: As of now, you need a reservation to enter the park, entrance is capped at 60% of the park’s capacity. Campgrounds are open and operating as usual.
Glacier National Park: All backcountry camping permits must be obtained in person, first come, first serve. No reservations are needed for hiking or park entrance. Boat tour companies and rental boats are not operating this summer, but if you have your own boat, Lake McDonald is open.
Bryce Canyon National Park: Backcountry trails and campsites are closed until July 1. Otherwise, all trails are open, and the parking shuttle is running with limited capacity.
Yosemite National Park: If you’re planning to drive into the park, you need a reservation. You won’t be able to get a reservation in person, so make sure to get one online before you go. If you’re going to enter via shuttle, on bike, or on foot, you do not need a reservation. Some campgrounds are open at limited capacity, and backcountry permits are available with an online reservation.
With a little extra planning, it really is a great time to be at national parks. Lower park capacity means less crowded trails, and more active wildlife. Do your research, be respectful of these new rules, and enjoy.