Most of the time, we are thrilled about free days at the national parks. August 25 is the National Park Service’s (NPS) 105th birthday and a free day. That means all the parks, including ones that generally have an entrance fee, are free to the public. Anyone who reads our blog knows we write about the parks a lot. We think it’s incredible that there is so much land set aside for the public to enjoy. And we encourage people to get out and enjoy them as much as possible.
But, right now, the parks are overcrowded. Some are requiring reservations, which can be made at Recreation.gov. Not all national parks are crowded, but it’s essential to do research before you go. Masks are also required at all national park facilities inside and in crowded outdoor areas. And facilities like bathrooms may or may not be closed depending on each park’s rules. It all makes this year’s open days a little less exciting. Of course, we want to get outside, and of course, we care about public health. We want to be respectful of our parks and the Park Rangers. But, it makes some people on our team less enthusiastic about visiting the parks than they usually are.
Added to all this is an alarming quote. “We can accidentally love our parks to death,” said Sen. Angus King of Maine, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks. “It’s great to see so many Americans are taking advantage of these parks. That is, after all, why we protect these lands in the first place. However, at the same time, we must recognize that overcrowding at the parks itself can degrade the natural resources and wildlife that these units are designed to protect.”
All of this makes us a little hesitant to visit this year. There are less-visited national parks that are wonderful and less crowded. But state and local parks are also fantastic and usually less crowded. They might not be the “once in a lifetime” trips to Arcadia, Yosemite and Glacier National Park. But, they’re more likely to be quiet, you don’t have to travel as far, you don’t need a reservation and you can have a day on your own terms. Of course, their bathrooms might be closed too, but at least you’re closer to home.
It really all depends on what you’re looking for. We always appreciate the free days for the fact that some parks can be pretty costly to enter. But, our team has been mostly taking a year off from the national parks and sticking to local haunts. If you want to venture out to one of the expensive ones, this coming Wednesday is your day to go! But, for us, we’ll stick to Balboa Park, which has excellent trails, gardens, barbecue areas and is right in our city!
Banner: Yosemite. Image: Mick Haupt via Unsplash