Do I need a reservation for national parks?
Several national parks in the United States are adopting or continuing their ticketing system this year. Here’s what you need to know before planning your trips to America’s Best Idea.
It seems like everyone has decided to make their summer vacation a trip to a national park. Domestic travel has flourished over the past few years as travelers balk at the idea of going overseas, meaning many of these sites have seen visitation skyrocket in 2020 and 2021. With numbers which are only expected to increase this year, the national park system has created new ways to manage visitors and prevent these natural areas from being overwhelmed.
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“The reservation system aims to improve the visitor experience, from parking availability, to reducing wait times and, most importantly, preserving our natural environments and habitats,” says Scott Gediman, manager public affairs for Yosemite.
Although the reservation requirements were touted as a step in the right direction, it frustrated several tourists who may not have been aware of the recent changes or how buying tickets could limit the window in which they can visit certain parks. If you’re planning a trip to any of the US national parks this year, here’s a list of which ones will require reservations and some tips and alternatives if you can’t get a ticket in time.
All reservations are made on the récréatif.gov website. You can see which parks require reservations and how many tickets are available. Each park has a different system, which means travelers will need to research several months in advance to make sure they have what they need before visiting.
Keep in mind that this list is only for entry into these specific national parks. Others require additional tickets for specific campsites and activities, such as Everglades National Park. Remember to do your research before booking flights, hotels or car rentals to ensure you get the experience you want at your chosen park.
Acadia National Park
Acadia has a timed entry system to drive on its Cadillac Summit Road for $6, which is in effect from May 25 through October 22. tickets will be released at this time. You can also get tickets a day before your scheduled entry at 6 p.m., but keep in mind that there are a small number available.
Arches National Park
Arches is also introducing a timed entry system for those visiting from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 3 to October 3. You will want to check the Recreation.gov website on the first day of the month, three months before your visit. A lottery with a small number of tickets is available the day before entry at 6 p.m.
Glacier National Park
To drive Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun route, you’ll need a $2 ticket from May 27 through September 11. However, you are allowed to enter without a ticket before 6 a.m. or after 4 p.m. You can buy your tickets online. on the Recreation.gov website on a rolling basis from March 2 through 120 days prior to entry. The same process is required for the North Fork area of the park.
Haleakala National Park
Reservations are required for cars wishing to see the sunrise from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Tickets can be reserved on the Recreation.gov website.
Rocky Mountain National Park
From May 27 through October 10, Rocky Mountain will offer two ticketing options: one with access to the Bear Lake hiking area from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. and one without access from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A first set of passes will be released on May 2 for dates May 28 through June 30. For the following months, tickets will be available on the first of each month. Twenty-five percent of tickets will be released the day before entry at 5 p.m. on the Recreation.gov website.
Shenandoah National Park
Those wishing to hike Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah will need $1 tickets from March 1 through November 30. You can purchase tickets 30 days in advance on the Recreation.gov website.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite has experimented with ticketing systems in the past due to the popularity of its coveted Half Dome hike. However, this year you will need a reservation to enter the park. For $2 on the Recreation.gov website, you can get a three-day pass that allows you access to the park on consecutive days from the day you make your reservation. Further tickets will be released on May 13 and will be available seven days in advance of scheduled online entry.
INSIDER TIPIf you arrive by bike or on foot, you do not need a reservation.
Zion National Park
Hikers will need a reservation to take Angel’s Landing. The system will be conducted by an online lottery system. It costs $6 to apply and a small number will be assigned the day before the visit. The lottery will open on April 1, July 1 and October 1 and will run until February 2023.
Tips for making reservations
Although each park handles visits this year differently, there are a few methods to keep you from going crazy when booking reservations this year. If you’re planning to visit multiple national parks this year, or want to make sure you don’t miss out on purchasing a ticket to the park of your choice, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Have save options and be flexible on the days you plan to enter paid areas of the parks.
- Read each reservation system carefully and do not assume that parks have the same systems. Go to each park’s website and do your research several months before the scheduled dates.
- Download the government app. It allows you to keep all your tickets in one place, and you can log in and make reservations easily with an account already created.
- Plan to be on the government app or website as close to the ticket release date and time as possible. They go fast and you will increase your chances of getting them when you jump on them.
Facing the crowds
The parks will inevitably welcome more visitors this year, which means that visitors themselves will likely face more traffic on the roads and at the trailheads. Knowing the rules of hiking, like leaving animals alone, being prepared, and helping others if needed, can help make the experience better for everyone involved. Remember that the outdoors does not discriminate and we are all its custodians.
Patience will also be required, and extra people will mean you may not be able to see or do everything you would like due to limited parking or overcrowding. It is important to be flexible and to remember that our national parks were built over a hundred years ago, in some cases for another era.
Leave no trace
Excessive visitor numbers mean outdoor newbies who might be unaware of Leave No Trace and its principles. The main idea around these ideals is that humans keep nature as we found it. If this is your first time visiting national parks or hearing about Leave No Trace for the first time, be sure to check out their website to learn more about how you can visit the parks in a way responsible and get involved in the protection of these and other natural spaces.
If all of this feels overwhelming, know that there are other options for you to get out. There are more than 113,000 federally owned sites, such as recreation areas and national forests, where you can enjoy nature without the crowds. The best news? Your National Parks Pass will grant you free access to all National Forests and Recreation Areas. While these places may not have the cachet of their well-known national park counterparts, they can be just as beautiful and offer that connection to nature that we all crave in 2022.