I was at Yosemite for the 2013 government shutdown – this is what happened

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, USA
(Image credit: Cat Ellis)

If you're planning a trip to a US National Park this fall, you'll no double be aware that a government shutdown is looming, which could slam the brakes on your vacation. If it happens, most National Parks are likely to close – and it'll happen quicker than you might expect.

In fall 2013, my husband and I set off on our honeymoon: a two-week road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with stops at Yosemite, Sacramento, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe and more along the way. We'd heard that a government shutdown might be on the cards over the coming days, but with flights from the UK, accommodation, car hire and everything else booked, we just had to chance it.

Things started perfectly. The late September weather was glorious, and despite the hire company's attempts to get us to upgrade to a small utility vehicle ("those roads will eat you alive"), driving was a breeze. When we arrived at Yosemite there was a slight tension in the air, but we got on with the important business of hiking, marvelling at the sheer scale of everything.

Yosemite National Park, USA

We were lucky enough to be able to enjoy several days in Yosemite before the shutdown (Image credit: Cat Ellis)

Nights were stunning too, and we spent one memorable evening lying on a tarp for a guided stargazing session, but elsewhere in the country the mechanics of government had seized and on the morning October 1, everything changed.

As an outsider, it was like a switch had been flicked; suddenly stores were closed and signs posted. Luckily we were due to move on that day anyway, but I'd hoped to visit the Mariposa Grove before we made tracks, tip my head back and be amazed by the mighty giant sequoias towering overhead. Sadly, it wasn't to be, and the grove was already closed by 10am.

As we prepared to leave a few hours later, other guests (including at least one wedding party) arrived to the bad news that they could only stay the night before moving on as staff were furloughed. Having tied the knot ourselves just a few months earlier, our hearts went out to them.

State Capitol World Peace Rose Garden, Sacramento, California, USA

Not much was open in Sacramento except the State Capitol World Peace Rose Garden (Image credit: Cat Ellis)

Thankfully Lake Tahoe made up for the missed redwoods, but Sacramento was something of a ghost town, with museums and other public buildings all shuttered. The State Capitol World Peace Rose Garden was still open though, and still beautiful.

The shutdown lasted 16 days, and was still in place when we arrived at our final stop in San Francisco, where our planned trip to Alcatraz was replaced by an open-top bus tour. It's hard to make recommendations, but if you have a trip planned, I'd just say to be prepared for things to change fast, keep a close eye on the news, and have a backup plan if possible, particularly if you're traveling a long way. If parks do shut down, it'll happen in the blink of an eye.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.