There’s some excellent news for people who want to visit the national parks. The reservation system that people have called complicated has ended in most parks. Now that the busy summer season has finished, the parks are easing their restrictions.
As of now, only six spots require reservations. If you want to visit Muir Woods National Monument or the Washington Monument, you will still need to make a reservation. You’ll also need to reserve your spot if you want to visit certain areas of Acadia, Haleakalā, Shenandoah or Zion. You can do so by visiting Recreation.gov. Outside of that, you can go without worrying.
Before the pandemic, the demand on the parks wasn’t as high. But you always had to make reservations for campgrounds or some activities like horseback riding. That is the same now. You will have to book your activities and a place to sleep. But you don’t have to have a reservation to enter a spot like Yosemite, which you did just a week ago.
This is terrific news for spontaneous people. We love living in the moment. It is possible to decide you want to go on a weekend trip, prepare for it, plan and pack in just a couple of days. However, the reservation system stymied that. It put a stop to spur-of-the-moment camping trips. While we would never recommend going somewhere unprepared, we embrace answering the call of the wild!
The reservation system did stop some visitors from making their trip. But it also helped the parks. It did its job of letting the struggling parks get through the season without being swamped while improving the quality of the parks for people who did go. “The pilot [program] met many of the goals we set out to achieve, including distributing visitation throughout the day and improving visitor experiences, and it provided data that will inform our next steps,” said Arches National Park Superintendent Patricia Trap.
If you are concerned that the parks will be crowded now without reservations, have no fear. Fall and winter are historically quieter. This year the parks are more likely to have a crowd in the cool months after people were blocked out in the summer. But you can beat the crowds by going during the week. Kids are in school now. If you are retired or can take time off work, you can visit the parks mid-week; families cannot.
If you don’t have vacation days, certain times of the day are better than others on weekends. Going early in the morning or later in the afternoon, you can generally find some peace and quiet. You just need to dress warmly if the sun isn’t up or will set while you’re outside.
“Parking lots at popular locations tend to fill between 10 am and 3 pm on those warm, sunny fall days,” said Pamela Barnes, Community Engagement Supervisor at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
We’re excited to get back into the national parks with fewer barriers. The fall foliage is beautiful, and many parks are exquisite in winter. Now is a great time to visit, and there is one less hurdle.