If you’re hoping to visit a specific national park this summer, don’t expect to just show up. Some of the most popular parks are requiring reservations as they continue to be a destination of choice for many Americans after more than a year of social distancing and isolation.
“We’re expecting this to be a busy summer season and busy 2021 as more Americans are out and about and ready to travel, ” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief spokesperson for the National Park Service. “A lot of the most famous destination national parks, the lodging, the campgrounds in and around those parks are already fully booked or nearly fully booked through Labor Day, so we want to make sure people are planning ahead before jumping in the car for a weekend road trip.”
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‘Plan like a park ranger’ for national park trip
A new park service campaign called “Plan Like a Park Ranger” aims to help visitors avoid unwelcome surprises and make the most of their trips with insider tips from park rangers themselves.
They include broad tips like “be patient with each other and with us.”
“Just like across the country, the hospitality industry and other businesses are still recovering; you may find some reduced or limited services in and around national parks,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “It’s best to check park websites before visiting because, as we all know, COVID can be dynamic and so operations may evolve or change, depending on current COVID impacts in some communities.”
The vast majority of America’s 423 national park sites are open, but some sites like historic homes with tight interiors still may be closed.
Other COVID-19 mitigation efforts include requiring visitors who are not fully vaccinated to wear face masks inside park buildings and crowded outdoor spaces. Prior to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifting indoor and outdoor mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people, all national park visitors were required to wear masks by an executive order from President Joe Biden. Masks are still required for everyone on public transportation.
Another tip, “leave only footprints,” echoes the longstanding “leave no trace” principle of preserving parks for future generations. Cape Cod National Seashore reported an uptick in rule violations, which included vandalism and littering, early on in the pandemic.
“What you bring into the park, take out with you,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “As we see more people visiting national parks, we do see increasing pressures on some of the systems that support visits that people might not think about.”
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Are reservations required at national parks?
Tips for specific parks are available through the park service’s “Plan Like a Park Ranger” webpage. Visitors can find more information on individual parks and which of the most popular parks require reservations for entry through the park service Plan Your Visit webpage.
“As you’re looking and if you find that reservations are booked where you thought you might go, we have some great other parks to check out,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “If you’re looking for big, beautiful mountains and you can’t snag a reservation for Grand Teton, you might consider checking out North Cascades in Washington. Or if you were really hoping for that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Yellowstone, you might make it a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Lassen Volcanic in California, which is another park with thermal features and just really cool and unexpected landscapes.”
If your heart is set on a specific park, you may want to consider visiting at a later date.
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