In fact, with signs that Covid-19 seems to be starting to regress in the U.S. as vaccination rates increase, it appears as if it will be another busy season on the trails through the woods, at campsites near serene lakes and along just about any scenic vista on the map.
Last spring, most of the 63 U.S. national parks closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although they all reopened with social distancing regulations, limited services and Covid-19 health and safety precautions in place, an unprecedented surge of visitors still managed to visit the parks from late spring until the early fall.
As the school year ends and the start of summer approaches, the U.S. National Park System is bracing for another massive summer of tourists. Covid-19 precautions will remain in place at all parks and some parks will have reduced services, lodging, camping and staffing, but the parks and the grandeur they offer will be open for visitors.
National Park reservations 2021: where you need to make a reservation
Six popular national parks will require entry reservations this summer (opens in new tab), but there’s still plenty of opportunity to gain access to the parks for camping, hiking, climbing, fishing and sightseeing if you have flexibility in your timing, according to a story in Afar.com (opens in new tab).
If you want to visit Acadia National Park (Maine), Glacier National Park (Montana), Haleakalā National Park (Hawai’i), Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado), Zion National Park (Utah) and Yosemite National Park (California), you’ll need a reservation to enter the park from Recreation.gov (opens in new tab). Reservation fees are inexpensive but don’t include standard park entry fees or fees for other activities such as camping or fishing.
Due to the increased popularity of the parks, day-use permits are expected to sell out quickly, but most parks are holding back a percentage of permits that will be made available between 48 hours and 60 days in advance. The best way to get an entry reservation into the park of your choice is to know each park’s booking criteria and be able to execute on the Recreation.gov website (opens in new tab) or new app (opens in new tab) the first moment they become available.
Other popular national parks, including Grand Canyon National Park (learn why the Grand Canyon is ranked America's most dangerous national park), Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yellowstone National Park, won’t require entry reservations but camping and lodging permits will be required as normal at those parks and potentially much harder to come by based on the expected crush of tourists.
National Park Reservations 2021: Acadia, Glacier, Haleakalā, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Zion
Acadia National Park reservations
Acadia National Park will require vehicle reservations (opens in new tab) to be made in advance, online, between May 26 and October 19. Two reservation windows are available: a two-hour “sunrise” reservation with entry between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. and a daytime drive entry with a 30-minute entry window that start at 6:30 a.m. and go all the way to 8 p.m. (Of the daytime slots, 30 percent of reservations will be available 90 days in advance, with the remainder being released two days prior to each date.) The cost of a reservation is $6, but it does not include park entry fees.
Glacier National Park reservations
While most areas of the park do not require reserved entry passes, tickets are required to access the popular “Going-to-the-Sun Road” (GTSR) (opens in new tab) between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 28 to Sept. 6. That historic, 50-mile stretch of paved road offers visitors spectacular views of the park’s interior, filled with pristine forests, alpine meadows, magnificent lakes, rugged peaks and waterfalls.
A $2 entry reservation ticket (opens in new tab) must be purchased in advance by day visitors entering by car or motorcycle via Camas Road, St Mary or West Glacier between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m., in addition to park entry fees. The tickets are valid for seven days, and 75 percent of the reservations will be available 60 days in advance, with the remaining 25 percent available 48 hours in advance.
Haleakalā National Park reservations
Reservations for the popular sunrise viewing ritual at Haleakalā have been required for several years. A reservation is required for each vehicle that enters the park from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Reservations can be made online (opens in new tab) up to 60 days in advance and are released at 7 a.m. Hawai‘i Time. Some reservations will also be released two days prior to a desired date of entry if you want to try for a last-minute booking. (No refunds will be available due to the weather.)
Rocky Mountain National Park reservations
The park has debuted a new pilot timed-entry permit reservation system (opens in new tab) that will last between May 28 and Oct. 11. One type of reservation will offer access to the entire park, including the busy Bear Lake Road corridor, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. Another type of reservation will allow access to most of the park from 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., with the exception of the Bear Lake Road corridor.
Reservations opened on May 1, but 75 percent of permits will be made available up to 30 days in advance and the remainder released at 5 p.m. on the day before each admission date. Day-entry permits cost $2 apiece and do not include regular park entrance fees.
Yosemite National Park reservations
Yosemite National Park is implementing a ticketed system for day-use visitors entering by private vehicle (opens in new tab) from May 21 through September 30. Each $2 permit is valid for three days between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. and doesn't include park entrance fees.
Day passes per vehicle for a trip to Yosemite cost $2 for entry between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., but reservation fees do not include standard park entrance fees. (Passes are valid for three days.) Initial ticket sales opened on April 21, but a limited number of reservations are available seven days in advance for the remainder of the summer season.
Zion National Park reservations
Only certain sections of Zion National Park will require reservations. The upper Zion Canyon and Scenic Drive will be closed to cars all summer, and visitors must make a reservation for the park's $1 shuttle service (opens in new tab) to access the sights there, including the popular Angels Landing hiking area.
Tickets are released on the 16th and the last day of each month, and some are available online at 5 p.m. one day in advance. Once visitors board at the main visitor center, it is possible to hop-on and hop-off for the day. A limited number of shuttle tickets are also available at the visitor center between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily.
If you plan on heading to Zion, check out our article Why do so many people die at Angel's Landing?
Brian is an award-winning journalist, photographer and podcaster who has written for Runner’s World, The Times, Outside, Men’s Journal, Trail Runner, Triathlete and Red Bulletin. He's also the author of several books, including Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and loves to run, bike, hike, camp, ski and climb mountains. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes, completed four Ironman triathlons, as well as numerous marathons and ultra-distance running races.
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