At various times over the past few years, pandemic-related challenges prompted many U.S. National Parks to implement advance reservation systems, requiring that prospective park visitors make bookings ahead of time to be allowed access to the park grounds.
As Americans to flocked the great outdoors for social-distanced escapes, controlling overcrowding in these public lands quickly became a problem. With increased foot traffic and congestion, a need arose for better methods of preserving nature’s integrity in these protected places, maintaining walkable trails and providing adequate staffing to handle the influx of visitors.
Some implemented these reservation systems temporarily and only as needed for public safety purposes during the pandemic, but others continue to rely on them seasonally as a tool to help manage visitor volumes and park resources. Then, according to Frommer’s, there were also some (even among the very busy parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon) that eschewed such reservation systems altogether.
Now that America is emerging from the grip of the pandemic, will the advance entry reservations continue to be required? It depends upon which park you’re looking to visit and when. With warmer weather will come increased visitation, and the following National Parks will be requiring reservations—either for general entry, or to access popular drives or trails—this spring, summer and early autumn.
Acadia National Park, Maine
— From May 24 – October 22, visitors will need vehicle reservations to gain access to the immensely popular Cadillac Summit Road. Timed admission tickets are $6 per car and must be purchased in advance at recreation.gov.
— General entry reservations will not be required to enter Acadia National Park itself, but visitors will still have to pay the park’s standard entry fee of $35 per vehicle.
Arches National Park, Utah
— From April 1 – October 31, between 7:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., visitors will need a timed entry ticket per vehicle entering the park, with scheduling available online with payment of a $2 reservation processing fee. Entering the park outside the denoted hours does not require a ticket.
— Upon arriving at the park, you’ll also need to pay a fee of $30 per vehicle.
— Visitors who are already booked with passes for camping, backcountry access and guided Fiery Furnace activities do not need to make a separate park entry reservation.
Glacier National Park, Montana
— This year, Glacier’s seasonal reservation system has been expanded to four specific parts of the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Many Glacier, the North Fork and Two Medicine.
— From May 26 – September 10, between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., visitor vehicles will need tickets to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the park’s west-side entrance or the North Fork area.
— From July 1 – September 10, between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., visitors will need advance vehicle reservations to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the east-side entrances, or to visit the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas.
— Visitors also need a park pass to enter the park, which is separate from the vehicle reservation requirement. Park passes can be purchased at entrance stations or online.
— Note that Glacier National Park also charges a standard $35 entry fee per vehicle.
— Visitors who already hold Wilderness camping permits or who have a registered campsite do not need to make a separate vehicle reservation.
Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
— Year-round competition among parkgoers to catch the sunrise from the summit of Maui’s Haleakala means visitors are always required to have a reservation for each vehicle entering the park between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. daily.
— While the reservation fee is only $1, you’ll also need to pay a $30 entrance fee to get into Haleakala National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
— From May 26 – October 22, Rocky Mountain National Park will implement a timed entry permit advance reservation requirement, similar to the seasonal system used last year. In this case, there are two different types of timed entry permits available: Park Access or Park Access+.
— Park Access permits allow access to all park areas located outside of the Bear Lake Road Corridor and are required for entry between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
— Park Access+ permits allow access to destinations along the Bear Lake Road Corridor, as well as all other parts of the park, between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
— Reservations must be made online with payment of a $2 processing fee.
— Rocky Mountain also charges a single-day entrance fee of $30 per vehicle.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
— While advance reservations aren’t required to enter Shenandoah National Park, people who wish to visit Old Rag Mountain (including the Saddle, Ridge and Ridge Access trails) must buy a day-use ticket ahead of time for just $1. This requirement is set to remain in effect through November 30.
— Don’t forget to factor in the park’s standard entrance fee of $30 per visitor vehicle.
Zion National Park, Utah
— Zion National Park likewise doesn’t require advance entry reservations, but visitors who want to access the popular Angels Landing hike from Scout Lookout do need to obtain a special permit. This requirement is being implemented throughout the year and at all times of day as part of a pilot program, intended to improve the visitor experience and protect park resources.
— Unfortunately, obtaining said permit is not a straightforward process. Hopefuls have to apply online (and pay a non-refundable $6 application fee) for their group of up to six people to be entered in a Seasonal Lottery, from which successful applicants will be drawn at random. There is also the option of entering a Day-before Lottery pool, with drawings conducted on the day immediately preceding applicants’ desired hike date.
— Visitors will also need to pay Zion’s entrance fee of $35 per vehicle.
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