National parks are on the rise. That can ruin your next trip

Tourists flock to the Midway Geyser Basin on July 14, 2021 in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Yellowstone is one of the many national parks that see a record number of visitors this summer.

Natalie Behring | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Mount Cadillac in Maine’s Acadia National Park is one of the first places in the country to see the sunrise.

During the middle of the year, visitors to the 1,530-foot peak – the highest 25 miles off the entire East Coast of the United States – are the first in town to see the light of day, watching as the sun’s rays illuminate the flat Frenchman Bay and its many islands in bright blue and purple.

That’s right, if they can find parking.

Until recently, it was not uncommon to see 500 cars compete in 150 parking spaces, according to park superintendent Kevin Schneider.

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Greg Iacurci

Park officials have implemented a reservation system this year to cut congestion. Reservations cost $ 6 per vehicle and must be purchased online in advance.

Elsewhere – Yosemite, Glacier, Haleakalā and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and also the Munir National of Muir Woods – also use advance reservations to access all the park or popular attractions. Zion National Park in Utah is pisendu same year next for his Angels Landing tour, which sometimes sees visitors wait hours to get to the head of the trail.

Other high-traffic parks are likely to take similar measures in the coming years if visitor trends continue, according to officials and travel experts.

Sunset from Taft Point in Yosemite National Park, California.

Greg Iacurci

Travelers may have difficulty requesting one of the limited places ahead of time, or are departed if they do not know the requirement prior to arrival.

“They’ve traveled thousands of miles, they’ve made tens of thousands of dollars in hotel reservations and airline tickets and rental cars, only to see their vacations ruined because they can’t get that $ 2 ticket to see the National Park. Glacier, ”Kevin Gartland, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Whitefish, Montana, said in a recent Senate feel on the overpopulation of the park.

Break records

Canary Spring in Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

Greg Iacurci

“Yellowstone’s visit increases have accelerated rapidly over the past 12 months and we continue to be on pace to set record numbers for 2021,” he said. according to for Superintendent Cam Sholly.

Near Grand Teton National Park he had his the busiest ever June, with a 20% increase in visitors over 2019. Visits to Zion will grow by 18% in 2021 to July compared to 2019, according to the federal government. data. Similarly in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the busiest in the system, where tourism will grow by more than 7% this year against 2019.

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These record numbers in some parks reflect a long-term trend. Visits to Glacier and Yellowstone, for example, have doubled since 1980. Visits to the national park have been about 20% greater in 2019 than in 2013.

There is a “tension and a paradox” in this dynamic, according to Senator Angus King, I-Maine, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on National Parks.

The Cathedral Group in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Greg Iacurci

On the one hand, it is good that Americans visit public lands in record numbers. But the population has led to more litigation, vandalism and traffic – highlighting the park’s natural resources and wildlife and negatively influencing visitors ’experiences.

“We can accidentally love our parks until death,” King said in a July Senate hearing.

National Park Reserves

Reservations are among the many methods parks use to deal with congestion. Its details and restrictions vary from place to place.

For example, Glacier, in northwestern Montana, uses only vehicles reservation for its Going-the-Sun road, a scenic road that runs through the center of the park and is one of its main attractions. Tickets cover entry for seven days from the date a visitor selects. (They cost $ 2 more than the typical park entrance pass.)

Visitors will walk around the Logan Pass Visitor Center in Glacier National Park on July 26, 2018 in West Glacier, Montana.

George Frey | Getty Images News | Getty Images

As with other parks, locations are limited and can sell quickly. About 75% of bookings become available up to 60 days in advance, and the remaining 25% only two days in advance.

In contrast, the Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado adopts a timed entry reservation. Visitors must enter the park within their chosen two-hour time window.

In Yosemite, $ 2 reservation to enter the park are valid for three consecutive days. However, the system may not be permanent – park officials said he said this year the “temporary” system, which went into effect in May, would help manage visitor levels to reduce the health risks associated with Covid-19.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.

Greg Iacurci

Some travel experts expect the parks to keep the systems in operation even when the pandemic is no longer a threat.

“It was only a matter of time,” according to Kasey Morrissey, president of Austin Adventures, a Billings, Montana-based company that leads national park tours. “It’s not like Covid was going to be the only factor that brought this about.

“The parks are getting very, very busy.”

Not all parks

It is unlikely that all – or even most – of the parks will adopt such systems, however.

For one, not everyone has seen an increase in traffic. Half of all recreation visits are in the top 23 most visited parks, with “significant congestion” concentrated in the early 12s to 15s, according to Michael Reynolds, regional director at the National Park Service.

While parks like Glacier, Zion and Yosemite have limited parking in canyons or relatively small valleys, those with different geographies and road systems may be able to better absorb higher traffic, Morrissey said.

And parks are exploring options beyond ticketed entrances to cut congestion.

For example, Yellowstone, which does not require a reservation, is exploring the feasibility of a shuttle system between Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin. He launched one pilot program this summer it uses free automatic shuttles to help transport people around its Canyon Village area. Visitors can book a larger number of campsites six months in advance instead of arriving.

Great Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Greg Iacurci

According to park spokeswoman Linda Veress, timed reservations are not a policy to be expected soon in Yellowstone.

“But it’s good in the realm of possibility in the future,” he said.


While it may be “overwhelming” for future tourists who can’t secure a reservation, the systems improve experiences for those able to get, Morrissey said.

And there are creative alternatives, he said.

For example, visitors to Acadia can take a walk, bike or taxi to the top of Mount Cadillac without permission. Glacier and Rocky Mountain parks waive the requirement for tourists who have a “service reservation” such as overnight accommodation or a walk in the park. (The waiver only applies to that day, however).

Lake Superior Cathedral in Yosemite National Park.

Greg Iacurci

Motorists can also drive to parks before or after their entry cabs are busy for the day. (At Glacier, it would be before 6 o’clock or after 5 hours after noon, for example).

“There are certain ways around if you can be a little smart,” Morrissey said.

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