There is no doubt that our nation’s national parks continue to be hugely popular, welcoming avid travelers in search of wide open spaces and stunning scenery, whether it’s mountains, forests, canyons, coasts or other terrain.
However, last summer many of the more popular parks had requirements or restrictions that made impromptu trips more difficult.
To ensure visitors get the best possible experience — and to help with social distancing and prevent overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic — some parks have asked guests to make advance reservations to enter. the park or walk the trails in demand. Even in parks where reservations are not strictly required, they have been recommended to avoid long waits at the entrance.
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Now, as the fall travel season begins and summer crowds dwindle, some national parks plan to relax or eliminate these reservation requirements altogether. Others are still maintaining reservation requirements for the time being.
Because the rules continue to change with the season and popularity of each park, before booking that hotel or vacation rental near a national park, be sure to check the park’s latest booking rules. You’ll want to determine the degree of planning needed to ensure that your visit to one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the country goes smoothly.
Here’s what you need to know about some national park favorites right now:
Yosemite National Park
Starting September 30, Yosemite National Park will no longer require advance reservations to enter the park during peak hours, which is 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you plan to visit the park before September 30, you should still make advance reservations through Recreation.gov. These reservations are required even if you simply plan to drive through the park without stopping. However, those with reservations to stay at campgrounds or other accommodations in the park will not need to make additional reservations for park entry.
Those with wilderness permits (such as for hiking, night climbing, or other wilderness stays) or permits to hike up to Half Dome are also exempt from the current reservation rule during peak hours. point.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park no longer requires reservations for visitors to take the popular Going-to-the-Sun route from the park’s West Entrance, St. Mary’s Entrance, and new Camas Entrance. The summer reservation ticketing system, which ended on September 11, was intended to help manage traffic in the park during the busy summer season.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park in Utah continues to require visitors to reserve a pass through its timed-entry ticketing system until October 3. manage traffic and crowds. Timed tickets go on sale three months in advance and can be purchased at Recreation.gov.
There is also a limited number of tickets available one day before entry. However, these tickets usually sell out quickly, so if you’re planning a September trip to Arches and haven’t made a reservation yet, be sure to grab one of these tickets as soon as it’s released.
Related: Explore Utah’s National Parks with TPG’s Guide to the “Mighty Five”
Zion National Park
Zion National Park in Utah continues to use a lottery process to manage visitor access to its iconic Angels Landing hiking trail. Zion has stopped using ticketed reservations for the park shuttle service, and there are no reservation requirements to enter the park.
The park requires permits for activities such as canyoning, hiking, and camping, all in an effort to avoid overcrowding both for conservation reasons and to ensure a better visitor experience.
Related: This Hotel Near Zion National Park May Be The Best SpringHill Suites On Earth
Shenandoah National Park
If you want to spend the night under the stars at Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, you may need to plan ahead.
Securing space in any of the park’s campgrounds requires advance reservations, and the system opens six months in advance. Weekends and holiday slots fill up quickly, so we recommend reserving your spot as soon as possible. Midweek fall bookings always seem to be widely available, so there’s no need to scrap your fall foliage travel plan if you have some date flexibility.
Shenandoah continues to require advance purchase of day tickets to hike the Old Rag Mountain area through Nov. 30. Tickets are released at 10:30 a.m. days and again five days before the day of the hike (on Recreation.gov).
Related: The 20 National Parks Every Traveler Should See At Least Once
Rocky Mountain National Park
In 2020, the 415 square mile Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado introduced a temporary timed entry system; this system will remain in effect this fall until October 10th. Visitors can make reservations for either the Bear Lake Road corridor of the park or for the rest of the park (excluding the Bear Lake Road corridor).
The reservation requirement is in effect from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the corridor and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the rest of the park. You do not need a permit if you already have a reservation for a service such as camping in the park, horseback riding, or a shopping tour.
Acadia National Park
While travelers don’t have to worry about timed entry slots to enter Acadia National Park in Maine, reservations are required through Oct. 22 to travel to the top of Cadillac Mountain for its inspiring coastal views. Watching the sunrise from the mountain is legendary. Vehicle reservations are available up to 90 days in advance, with most being released by 10 a.m. (EDT) two days in advance.
Watching the sun rise over Maui’s highest peak in Haleakala National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To make sure you don’t miss a thing of this breathtaking spectacle, book your vehicle entry pass as soon as possible, as reservations are compulsory for all vehicles entering the park between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., whatever the season.
Book online 60 days in advance. Additional slots are also released 48 hours in advance. For those who just can’t get enough of the volcanic landscape, the park also has three historic wilderness cabins.
Related: TPG’s Favorite National Parks: A Month-by-Month Guide
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Although you can enter the park whenever you want, reservations are still required for all campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The system is open for reservations for most campgrounds up to a year in advance, with the exception of frontcountry campgrounds and horse camps, which are only available until six months in advance. Reservations and permits are also required for all backcountry overnight stays.
The fall travel season is a popular time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with great leaf-viewing opportunities, so getting weekend campground reservations can still be a challenge.
Additional reporting by Bill Fink.