We are always championing national parks. Our taxes pay for “America’s best idea.” Why shouldn’t we get outside and visit our giant natural playgrounds? They’re great ways to get out into nature and see the world. Right now, while gyms are closed, we need exercise and to breathe and some relaxation. Visiting a park can be a wonderful break. But, things are different in the time of COVID-19.
The first thing you must do is call ahead. Research online to find out if your closest park is open. We’re all used to parks having seasonal closures. But, this year, with the pandemic, parks have different rules. Some have shorter hours, are open only on some days, aren’t open at all. Some require planning as snack shops, vending machines or restaurants are limited. Some may have closed or limited their restrooms.
At Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park pamphlets and signs show a buffalo wearing a blue surgical mask captioned, “Have you masked up?” The masks are NOT required but requested. However, social distancing is very strongly advised as they would like everyone to stay safe.
If you plan on camping, be sure to book your campsite well in advance. The Park Service is limiting how many people can be in the campgrounds to allow for social distancing. And, at some campsites, the bathrooms are closed. Additionally, some of the more dangerous hiking trails are closed. There is concern that, if someone were to need rescuing, it would put rescue workers at risk for coming in contact with COVID-19.
All of these measures vary from park to park. That’s why it is so important to call ahead. Zion is seeing far fewer visitors than usual; Yellowstone is seeing far more people than they normally do. If you reach out to the park, they can give you a good idea of what to expect and how to plan your visit.
Additionally, national parks can have many entrances; some may be closed, and others open. The Grand Canyon, for instance, is closed from the East Entrance, but you can come in from the South Entrance. Knowing things like that can save you a ton of time before you hit the road.
If you’re concerned about your health, worried about people’s adherence to distancing or none of the parks are open near you, you can still access their majesty. The Park Service offers a variety of park and wildlife webcams for you to enjoy to tide you over until life goes back to normal. Then you can get back out there and enjoy the parks to their fullest potential!