With social distancing easy to achieve and plenty of clean, fresh air to go around, America’s National Parks have seen increased popularity among leisure travelers in the last year. However, as with most aspects of life, COVID-19 has caused changes to park operations that might catch even seasoned national park stamp collectors by surprise. Use this collection of tips and cautions to guide your 2021 national park travel plans.
ARE NATIONAL PARKS OPEN?
Generally, yes. The National Park Service (NPS) reports that “most of the 423 units of the National Park System are available to visitors.” These units include the 63 commonly known National Parks plus National Preserves, scenic trails and monuments operated by the NPS.
While the National Parks themselves are open, decisions regarding these other sites and facilities within the National Parks are being made at the city level based on local coronavirus conditions. Therefore, as the date of your vacation approaches, it's essential to check for new information frequently and locally.
Additionally, the NPS may be imposing capacity restrictions on certain areas so popular park features and overlooks do not get overcrowded. These restrictions may result in unannounced closures of parking areas and trailheads. Some individual parks publish a phone number on their website that you can call for current closure information.
ARE ALL NATIONAL PARK FACILITIES OPEN?
Even though the park itself may be open, specific programs such as ranger-guided tours, may be canceled. Additionally, some campgrounds may be closed. The opening hours of museums and visitor centers within the park may also be shortened. Capacity constraints on campgrounds and indoor spaces that are open, such as historic homes, museums, and visitor centers, may cause limited reservation availability or admittance delays.
WHAT HAS CHANGED ABOUT VISITING NATIONAL PARKS?
Some trails have been made one-way only to limit the number of encounters you have with others. For example, loop trails may allow hiking in only a clockwise direction. Other portions of trails may be closed entirely.
As with most places across the country, face masks must be worn in all NPS buildings, including visitor centers and museums. Masks are also required inside the parks when social distancing is not possible, such as on narrow or busy trails and overlooks.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING NATIONAL PARKS DURING THE PANDEMIC AS I PLAN AND EXECUTE MY VACATION?
If visiting a national park outside of your home state, you should check to see if there are any quarantine or Covid-19 testing requirements for out-of-state visitors. States' rules on required or recommended quarantine or testing requirements for visitors have been quickly changing based on the number of active coronavirus cases.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?
For general information, visit the special COVID-19 response page created by the NPS. Take these temporary adjustments into consideration as you plan your national park vacations, but note that they may change on a park-by-park basis as the Coronavirus situation evolves. For the most up-to-date information, find the page of the specific park you plan to visit. Once on the park's dedicated page, scroll through the Alerts in Effect listed at the top of the page.