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Visitors are Flocking to US National Parks

With national parks 'already bustling,' some are shutting their gates to deal with a surge of visitors.

national parks

Yosemite National Park in California and several others are experiencing overcrowding this summer.

(Photo: Getty Images)

“Revenge travel” indeed. As tourists venture out after a punishing year of pandemic-related restrictions, U.S. national parks are feeling the effects, dealing with swarming crowds and a record number of visitors.  

To curb overcrowding and waiting times, Yosemite National Park in California, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Glacier National Park in Montana have instituted reservation systems. Some parks, like Acadia National Park in Maine, had reservation systems in place before the pandemic.  

“This season, national parks are already bustling,” the National Park Service said in a statement. “Like lots of places you go this year, we may not yet be able to offer the past level of service as we emerge from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.” 

 

In Utah’s Arches National Park, rangers have had to close the gates before 9 a.m. due to overcrowding, according to the Wall Street Journal. About 194,000 visitors flocked to Arches National Park in April, an increase of 15% from April 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal. The park was closed in April 2020 because of the pandemic. 

National parks have been growing in popularity. A record-breaking 330,971,689 people visited national parks in 2016, according to the National Park Service. The number of visitors dipped to 237,064,332 in 2020, perhaps because of the pandemic.  

If you plan on traveling to a national park this year, the National Park Service has put together a list of tips on how to best enjoy your visit.  

Are you traveling to a national park this year? If so, let us know which one in the comments below! And make sure to check out our guide to 102 National Park Attractions. 

Comments
  • Sean C.

    Just got back from visiting 5 National Parks in Utah. We recommend getting to the parks by 7 am (visitor centers won’t be open yet, but you can still enjoy the park). Going a little earlier to Bryce might work better, as we came close to not finding parking at the first viewpoint. Zion was crazy. The most people that they have ever had. 7 am wasn’t even close to being early enough (no parking and the park shuttle had a 1.5-2 hr waiting line). Other people who got there at 5 am said the wait was 1 hr even at that time. We drove the scenic drive then got back to the visitor center and found the shuttle line a bit shorter. Someone was leaving, so we got a parking spot. The shuttle line went faster (still about an hour wait). Took the Riverwalk hike to the entrance of the Narrows. Nice little jaunt into the park. Getting back on the shuttle was another 45 minutes. More planning needed for that park right now.

    Reply
  • Stephen m.

    Going to Glacier National Park from September 7 to September 11
    Any suggestions.

    Reply
    • Make reservations for any activity you are considering now. We just got back & bike rentals, rafting trips, horseback riding etc were all booked through July in a 30 mile radius around the West Glacier entrance.

      Reply
    • Kristin W.

      Glacier is requiring a reservation for the “Going to the Sun Road”. Information is available on NPS.gov. tickets are available at http://www.recreation.gov.
      “Day-use visitors who arrive by private vehicle or motorcycle must have an Entry Reservation Ticket AND a current park pass when entering the park through the West and St. Mary’s Entrances or via the Camas Road, between 6am and 5pm from May 28 to September 6, 2021.”

      Reply
  • Kathleen W.

    I am visiting the Grand Canyon with my children and grandchildren.

    Reply
  • Carl R.

    This trip to the Grand Canyon was planned and booked prior to the pandemic and was twice postponed. We finally made it and visited the canyon yesterday. There was no traffic approaching the gate and only a handful of vehicles at the gate when we got there. We were quite surprised! And inside the park we found the same thing. A very small crowd which made the visit much more enjoyable. The day was beautiful and aside from a little haze of smoke from (sadly) a nearby forest fire, the views of the canyon were spectacular!

    Reply
  • George W.

    We may be going to The Great smokies the week of Sept 12th. With school back in session I would think that this would not be a problem.

    Reply
  • Joe W.

    Going to Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon end of August. Will the lines be less later in the Summer ?

    Reply
  • Elizabeth

    At Acadia National Park in Maine right now (June 28). Weather cloudy and very windy at the top of Cadillac Mountain but otherwise beautiful! Trails are open, as well as gift shops.

    Reply
    • Dana L.

      Hi Elizabeth!
      I’m so jealous! Hope you’re having a wonderful time.
      Thanks for reading!
      -Dana L.

      Reply
    • Marcia G.

      Visiting Zion and Bryce in October. Hoping fewer crowds. Any suggestions?

      Reply
  • Neal R.

    I am taking the National park tour at the end of September with AAA. Are you going to guarentee that we can get into the parks since we are on your tour?

    Reply
    • Dana L.

      Hi there!
      Thanks for reading! I’ve forwarded your message to our Travel team, and a Travel advisor should be reaching out to you shortly.
      -Dana L.

      Reply
  • Rich A.

    We are planning on going to Acadia National Park in Maine at the end of July. We go almost every year but we are thinking about changing our plans because of potential crowds and unsure of restrictions. Do you have to wear a mask in the park or anywhere else? Are they running transportation into the park from Bar Harbor? My wife and I are both just retired and wondering if it would be better to go in the fall.

    Reply
    • Dana L.

      Hi Rich!
      You can find national park mask requirements here, and the Acadia National Park site is full of resources about parking, reservations and avoiding crowded times. Please feel free to reach out to a Travel advisor if you have any further questions.
      Thanks for reading!
      -Dana L.

      Reply
  • Melinda G.

    For Zion, is riding bikes a good way to avoid lines since you can ride right in to the park without waiting for a shuttle?

    Reply
    • Adam R.

      Yes. Rent an ebike from Zion Guru (Rad) or Zion Outfitters (iZip) and you can avoid the shuttles entirely and it’s also a much nicer way to enjoy and take in the scenic highway.

      Reply
  • Karen N.

    Hoh Valley in Olympic NP (see NY Times) with handicap trails, was like Middle Earth and Bali. Each Olympic entrance had major thrills. Walked snow in July at Mt Rainier. See the lesser knowns this year!

    Reply

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