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Traveling U.S. National Parks in 2021?

Just a head's up here for anyone either with already formulated plans to visit some of the parks or are thinking about it:

Specifically regarding the Western/Southwestern parks, visitation numbers are already off the charts. Those numbers are affecting everything from the wait times just to get through entry gates, to skyrocketing car rental prices, to campgrounds/lodges already completely booked up through the summer (not that cancellation don't happen) to parking availability at trailheads and overlooks.

Additionally, some of the parks have either already instituted mandatory, timed-entry reservations for access (Zion shuttles) or will have them in place for high season (Rocky Mountain N. P., Glacier N.P. and for Cadillac Mt. at Acadia). Some previous first-come-first served campgrounds are going reservation-only (Yellowstone). Add summer road construction hold-ups here and there, unexpected cancellation of all Western Cabin reservations at Bryce through June and various other snags.

The short of it is to make good use of the NPS websites for the parks/monuments you intend to visit as some of the changes are VERY recent and there may be more to come. I'm seeing some disappointed folks over on the TA forums who didn't get entry reservations, land campground spots, etc. and sure don't want to see that happen to any of you! :O)

I've only glanced at a few of the websites but here are the URLs for some of the biggies (I'm always amazed at the amount of TA posters who don't appear to have used these at all for their trips):
Grand Canyon:
https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Yellowstone:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
Zion:
https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
Yosemite:
https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm
Glacier:
https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm
Arches:
https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm
Bryce:
https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm
Acadia:
https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

Posted by
6504 posts

I feel terrible with what's going to happen to the "blockbuster" parks and am opting out of those visits this year (and probably next, or however long it takes for the excess numbers to dissipate). People should know that there are many, many national and state parks that get very little visitors (I mean a ridiculously low number), primarily because they are not well known (or known at all), or are relatively less accessible, or have very short seasons (usually due to snow and driving access). The National Park Service publishes data on all its parks in terms of numbers of visitations (I bet the top 10 get 80% or more of total visits or something like that - it's highly skewed) - I've learned about parks I have never heard of. And for their own protection, I won't advertise any because they can get overrun too.

Posted by
25 posts

Just returned from the Grand Canyon and Sedona. There was a nearly 2 hour wait to get into Grand Canyon. However, once inside it was crowded but there was plenty of room to keep distance. At the entrance I thought it would be super packed but it is a big park. However, expect limited shuttle routes, difficulty parking, and waits for the shuttles limited to 15 riders.

Posted by
7963 posts

Thanks for posting this head's up, Kathy.

Yellowstone is going to be jammed again this year. Xanterra, the official lodging provider, is still in a Phase 1 of lodge openings so has cancelled a bunch of reservations which has sent people scrambling for back up plans. I was cancelled out of 7 nights in one of the Northern locations so will do Gardiner, the nearest gateway city, for those nights. My 7 nights at Old Faithful is secure at present. The cabins I generally stay in were open last year and have private baths so I don't think there will be a last minute closure issue. I look at the Xanterra booking website every. single. day and there is almost nothing for the entire summer in any location at any price point. Gateway cities will be fully booked as well.

Campgrounds are full and I suspect any dispersed campsites well outside the park will be full as well. Yellowstone suddenly made some of it's campgrounds reservation instead of FCFS and those sites were literally gone in minutes for the whole summer.

The lodging issues is 2-fold as I see it....they are not opening any of the shared bath cabins or hotel rooms AND they need space to spread out their employees who are usually 4 to a room. They are having to use guest facilities to house staff. Last year I heard some of the housekeepers talking at the Mammoth Hotel cabins. They were housed in the hotel instead of the usual dorms and were ecstatic. The hotel is newly renovated and one of them told the other she was never going to leave. I was happy for them!

Food is mostly grab and go as it was last year. They plan to open some of the sit-down dining areas to limited seating and only to guests registered at that particular hotel. I generally eat most meals out of a cooler any way so this won't really impact me but a cooler is going to be a must for everyone else.

Rental cars are also at a premium. Some have already posted on the TA Glacier NP forum that cars are sold out from Kalispell for some of the weeks in July. Prices are skyrocketing with "normal" prices being $400 a day according to some posters.

Last year visitation at Yellowstone was record-breaking for July, September and October. The park didn't fully open until June 1 so had a slow start and August was surpassed by August 2017 which was the year the solar eclipse passed over Grand Tetons so the entire area was jammed.

My recommendation for the Western parks is ..... if you haven't made reservations now for lodging and entry times if needed, I'd defer to 2022.

For myself, I can't NOT go to Yellowstone, lol. I'm definitely feeling cabin fever-ish with lack of travel to Europe last and this year so I've got 3 nights in Grand Tetons (usually don't go there but decided to spend extra time there this year) plus about 14 nights in Yellowstone in June. It's my favorite time of the year - babies and wildflowers and all the erupting geysers I could possibly want!

Posted by
11966 posts

Xanterra, the official lodging provider (Yellowstone) is still in a Phase 1 of
lodge openings so has cancelled a bunch of reservations which has sent
people scrambling...

Yikes, Pam, so you got caught in that one! 😬 My nephew and his family were just at Zion last week and didn't know about the shuttle reservations until they got there (and I didn't know about their trip until the 11th hour) so we exchanged some hasty emails on how to get those last minute. They were able to land some day-before tickets by being registered to the website and ready to go the very minute they became available.

Agnes, yep there are MANY parks and monuments but just like Yellowstone is Pam's gotta do, my special trekking places are in the Moab/Torrey/Springdale/Grand Canyon red-rock areas and places in between. We're trying to get to Santa Fe again this fall and will do a four-peat to Bandelier if all goes well. LOL, I will leave the mountains to lovers of that sort of terrain.

Mikey, yep, once inside G.C. South entrance there's lots of room to roam (we have). The largest crowds were at the rim along G.C. Village but we've hoofed east or west of the Village at dawn and had the rim trail almost all to ourselves. Funny enough, our way into the park has been through the East Entrance but that wasn't a possibility for you with the Navajo Nation still locked down.

Posted by
11904 posts

Thanks for posting this, Kathy.

And add Olympic National Park to the list of parks that are going to get slammed this summer. Here is the website:

https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm

The TripAdvisor Washington State forum is filled with posts by people who start out, “Hey! I’m coming to your beautiful state this summer and want to see Olympic National Park. Where should I stay? What should I do and see?” And the “regulars” who have usually been very patient and helpful are getting tired of it.

Olympic National Park is a very large and diverse park, with alpine areas, rain forest, and beautiful beaches, but all very spread out. There is no one “base” that works for the whole park. There are only 3 lodges inside the park, and they fill up quickly. That leaves a few scattered motels and lodges, plus the town of Port Angeles and the small community of Forks. Lodges and beaches that are on tribal land are all closed for the health and safety of tribal members in these remote locations. The few campgrounds that take reservations are pretty much booked up for the summer, leaving the “first come, first served” campgrounds for those who want to risk heading out to this area without reservations.

Our other national parks—-Mount Rainier and North Cascades—-will have late-lingering snow that will keep hikers off the best trails well into July or possibly august for some. Last summer, the trails in and near these parks were crowded, and parking at the trailheads filled up early, leading to people parking along narrow roads and causing blockages and short tempers. The litter problem was terrible. And it is expected to be worse this summer. . . .

Thinking of Alaska? So are lots of others. But the cancellation of all the big cruise ships, together with the associated cruise tours on land, means there may still be some unused capacity in the lodges, hotels, and B and B’s, especially in Southeast Alaska (Juneau, Sitka, and other communities on the Inside Passage). Those might be worth a look if you have trouble finding lodging in the popular spots like Denali NP, Seward——and you wouldn’t have to worry about a surge in rental car pricing in Southeast Alaska; just ferry or flight reservations.

Posted by
4117 posts

Rocky Mountain Nat’l. Park had dropped their timed reservation requirements over the fall and winter, but we’d heard that was being reinstituted for the summer. Even in late June last year, things were nuts. A park policeman pulled us over for crossing over the center line of Trail Ridge Road, after following us for about 7 miles. If the concern was that there was a drunk or stoned driver, why allow the car to go for so long, potentially creating more mayhem. Impaired driving wasn’t an issue, but having to straddle the center line of the very narrow road, because cars and large motorhomes were parked on both sides with people jumping in and out of the vehicles without looking for traffic, was. As long as there wasn’t oncoming traffic, it was more reasonable to steer left of the main lane position, than to have to slam on the brakes each time a new hazard materialized. Driving in Ireland, Scotland, and Greece showed that there were times when staying in your “lane” just wasn’t the safe approach. The park cop, however, apparently saw us but was oblivious to vehicles blocking the roadway, and pedestrians swarming the road because a moose was in a field on the other side, as if they were in a parking lot, not U.S. Highway 40. That, and the cop then hovering only a couple of inches away from our car window, rolled down about a quarter inch to minimize exposure early in the pandemic, was troubling. Then having to sanitize the driver license after he handed it back, although no ticket. That was the last trip to RMNP we were going to make until the pandemic had cleared.

There are some wonderful State Parks, too, although some were requiring reservations, especially on weekends, and trailhead parking lots were packed to capacity many days. I guess major sights and museums in Europe aren’t the only places where reservations will be needed now. But U.S. Parks don’t have a cut-the-line process.

Posted by
4117 posts

Speaking of RMNP, a man died in a 50-foot fall this week. He wasn’t mountain climbing, but today’s news story didn’t have a lot of details, other than it was between the upper and lower parking lots along Trail Ridge, near Many Curves. Be safe in the park - Covid19, other visitors, natural hazards - there are a lot of things to beware.

Posted by
122 posts

My backup for TRNP this year is Colorado. I will be flying into Denver and I've never been to RMNP. I'd very much like to see it but after hearing about crowding I will be spending my time in the state but no where near the park. Completely different direction. I made that decision before the reservations were announced & I'm so glad I did.

I'm not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokies. Crowds last year were unlike anything I've ever seen. We already had issues in the Smokies prior to Covid. Fortunately I know lots of other places to go that are just as nice without the crowds.

Posted by
7 posts

We are spending 3 months out West from end of August to mid November and thankfully I made hotel, motel,Airbnb and national park reservations late last year, we are doing 4 nights Yellowstone and 3 innGrand Tetons in cabins with or ate bathrooms, so we shouldn’t be impacted by any type of cancellation and hadn’t planned any fancy meals but more grab and go and eating out of the cooler.

I am concerned about RMNP since we will be doing one night there in September. Mary got decide to cancel that and add it to other places we are staying in Colorado.

Nieves never been to that part of the country and had to cancel our 2020 trip so we are going ahead with the trip this year. Glad we decide to drive and now fly/ rent a car.

Posted by
38 posts

I just returned from visiting Arches, Capital Reef and a few state parks in those areas. Arches was absolutely the busiest in terms of entry. Most days the park was closed to visitors by 10AM with long lines to get in. We were told to either get there by 8AM or go after 3PM. For some reason, the day we decided to give it a try, we got right in and it was about 10:30AM. Once in there were a few spots where parking was difficult because of crowded parking lots but waiting a few minutes usually resulted in a space becoming available. Capital Reef was a breeze, no problem at all and was an unexpected surprise, very beautiful and I actually liked it better than Arches. We were told that the parks are very much understaffed and underfunded which is part of the problem. I can't speak to camping as we rented AirBnBs in both Moab and Torrie. There is road construction going into Moab that can delay about 40 minutes but, hopefully, it will be completed by Summer.

Posted by
11966 posts

Lola, thanks for adding the link for Olympic, another wonderful but very busy park!! Among others, shook my head over the TA post asking about ONP mountain getaway towns? Eeesh.

Cyn, they had two fatalities on Dorr Mt. in Acadia about 10 days ago. We've hiked that one and can see how it could easily have happened on slick, icy rock faces. Maybe the same cause of the sad fatality at RMNP?

Lisa, Capitol Reef is the park most often skipped of Utah's "Magnificent 5" so I'm delighted you had it on your agenda! Majestic scenery and lots of fun trails to explore, that one. Maybe we should keep it a secret? Ooh, Rim Rock Patio (decent pizza and sammies; just outside Torrey) has a lovely sunset view from the terrace picnic tables.

mboggs1, sounds like you have an epic trip planned! Crossing fingers it doesn't hit any unexpected snags.

Posted by
4381 posts

Any advice for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon? We had been thinking about Yellowstone this year; it's been decades since we've been there, but it looks like that's not a good idea. And we had previously decided that the next time we went to the Grand Canyon, it would be to the North Rim.

We camped in some state parks here in Oklahoma last year, and had to make camping reservations for all of them. This was a jolt; we're used to being a little freer. If we don't like a place, we leave; if we do, we may extend our stay. And having to reserve the actual campsite sight-unseen? Nope, didn't like that. One of the parks let us change after we arrived; another would have, but we liked the site.

Oh, for the good old days! We almost never had a destination in mind, just a direction.

Posted by
11966 posts

Jane, wish I had some truly useful advice on the North Rim. We've been and stayed in a Frontier Cabin: not a horrible experience but not one we'd like to repeat if we could help it. Definitely not if stuck inside due to heavy rain. It was really old, had some scary wiring, terrible lighting, a bed with one side up against a wall so one of us had to crawl over the other, and we could clearly hear the people on the 2nd side of the duplex. Western Cabins are better but we couldn't land one.

The campground is nice, by reservation, and doesn't have hookups. Does have laundry and showers but those were closed last season so unsure about those this season. Other amenities for lodge and campgrounds, such as restaurants (only 2 options+ a saloon) are limited due to the remoteness but if camping that's not a drawback. I remember the camp store being fairly well stocked prior to COVID.
https://www.nps.gov/places/000/north-rim-general-store.htm
https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/nr-campground-bulletin.pdf
https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/cg-nr.htm

Except for those near the lodge, overlooks are really spread out; you'll need to drive to a lot of them. We enjoyed our hikes there, though, and the views are, of course, stunning! Crowds are definitely lighter as there's only the one lodge and it's a long distance to much of anything else, although it wasn't free from some bus tours. The challenge is getting a spot in the campground; they become available for booking 6 months in advance and fill very, very quickly. Lodge rooms go very quickly as well but I can't remember how far in advance those are available. Worst you can do is try?

Posted by
279 posts

Thank you for posting this. We have lodging reservations in Glacier (and Waterton) for early July, but have been thinking we would probably cancel. This information has helped us to decide that this isn't the year.

Posted by
11904 posts

Kathy, yes, those questions about "cute mountain towns", "foodie destinations" and resorts/spas near Olympic National Park drive the TA Destination Expert crazy. Don't people ever look at a map before they think of going someplace new?

Jane, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is my preferred Rim---much quieter and less crowded than the South Rim. But there is only one lodge there, aptly named The Grand Canyon Lodge, and they have been flooded with reservation requests like everywhere else. Earlier this year, they initially opened reservations for the whole season at once, and it was chaos. The website kept going down, people got repeated error messages, and ended up with duplicate reservations and multiple charges on their credit card, or none at all. After a pause to sort things out, whichnresulted in many reservations being canceled, they set a schedule for the release of reservations in blocks on successive dates. And younare in luck, as the date for making lodge reservations for September and October---kothe best time to visit in my view---is coming up on April 9.

https://www.grandcanyonforever.com

I suggest you register in advance on the Forever Resorts webpage for the Grand Canyon Lodge (link above) and be ready at 7 am MST on April 9 (Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time). And review the types of cabins they have so you understand what each is like. The Western Rim Cabins are the nicest and the most popular, and were the main subject of the earlier brouhaha. There may not be any of these available---they originally let all the successful reservations made for those cabins for the whole season stay in place. But that may have changed.

The other carbins are the 2-room (plus one bathroom) Pioneer Cabins, suitable for up to 5 people, and the smaller one-room Frontier cabins for 2. Some of the Pioneer Cabins are designated as "Rim" cabins, which means they are the first row above the side Canyon known as the Transept, but you can't really see the Canyon from the little cabin windows. The lodge also has a separate building with motel-like rooms, but I believe they are not opening that this summer.

If you do not succeed in getting a reservation at the Grand Canyon Lodge, there is a decent alternative named the Kaibab Lodge about 5 miles outside the park entrance gate. The long road to some of the best Canyon overlooks ( Cape Royal, Cape Final, Point Imperial) branches off near the entrance station, so this lodge is not a bad option if visiting those viewpoints is your objective.

There is also a nice forested Campground at the North Rim; my first visit to the Grand Canyon involved camping there withba youth group when I was 16, and I loved it. Reservations can be made at Recreation.gov, I believe 6 months in advance.

Posted by
1147 posts

Here is Washington State Parks new gateway/portal site: www.parks.state.wa.us. Since we volunteer at our Camano Island State Parks we have a finger on the status of operations. There is paid daily entry, or by annual Discovery Pass. The cabins and campsites are reserved and book up for the Summer quickly. Day use can be limited by the rangers. Be sure to consider Parks in both Western (the wet side) and Eastern (the dry side) of Washington. Always check access ahead of your trip to any of the State Parks as Covid-19 Rules apply. If you do not want to be disappointed, don't come without reservations. It is best to plan booking early next year for your Washington State Park trips in 2022. P.S. Day Use buildings and Group Camps are starting to Open in some of the Parks; check by name of the Park online.

Posted by
149 posts

Barbara N. re Waterton; as you are probably aware the Canadian border remains closed to US vacationers at least until end of April. Both Alberta and BC are having COVID surges so likely will be closed for longer. Quarantine is required of anyone entering Canada.

Posted by
7963 posts

mboggs and Jane, I'm happy to help with any questions about Yellowstone.

Jane, reservations for Yellowstone open May 1, 2021 at 8A MDT for all of 2022. Book only thru the official concessioner, Xanterra, at www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com Do NOT book thru a 3rd party as they charge a 10% booking fee and have horrible cancellation policies.

Posted by
1600 posts

hey hey all
thanks for the post. have friends that are traveling with their RV's in may and june, but staying away from these parks seeing how busy and crowded places are. they have decided smaller RV parks with hookups and along a river/lake in oregon, washington and northern california coast.
years ago in june. maybe 8 to 10 years, we did a road trip bay area to yellowstone back to bay area, one of my favorites. yellowstone was crowded back then with bumper to bumper roads, booked hotels so we stayed outside west yellowstone about 15-20 miles at lake hebgen in an old dolphin motorhome on the lake in a small campground. can't remember name.
yellowstoneholiday.com RV full hook ups and cabins.
bring your own linens, towels, utensils but they do have rental packages. general store and wifi
hebgenlakeviewcabin.com
tetonvalleycabins.com
we stayed here driggs idaho in a cabin. really liked it and even had a big hot tub that was refreshing after a long day. explored jackson hole, the gorgeous teton range away from the crowds, grocery, restaurants/bars, beautiful scenery. bought some picnic goodies for our ride into yellowstone over the teton pass. at top of pass were two huge moose just staring at all of us that stopped for that photo op. found a turnout with picnic table and enjoyed our meal. took picture of us at continental divide 8391 elevation. spent 3 days driving around park (zig one day zag the next). stopped at old faithful, so crowded, had a glass of wine in lodge then over to the faithful show.
it was nice to drive outta park and to our casa on the lake, with a restaurant nearby to have dinner.
like others have mentioned, see another smaller park without the crowds. i guess i'm spoiled with my friend who has an RV, no rough camping for me (not in a tent, on the ground, or in a bag!)
after our great adventure here, drove to coeur d'alene thru big sky country. the road trip took us to the oregon coast and down to home.
hope this helps some folks out with places and couple areas to look at. enjoy
aloha

Posted by
11966 posts

More "YIKES!" at Grand Canyon South Rim:

I see two TA members reported yesterday that Yavapai Lodge abruptly cancelled their reservations less than 24 hours in advance (for one of them) and less than a week (for the other) of their booking dates due to staff shortages. One poster reported closure of the deli (must be the one at the market) as well.

Staff shortages, as I understand it, was also the reason for cancellation of Western Cabin bookings at Bryce until later in the season. Reasons given for both are the inability to staff up to appropriate levels as they can't house multiple individuals together in the same room due to COVID. Some of the parks/lodges/restaurants/concessions also hire temporary staff from outside the U.S. during peak seasons, and, well, that's not happening either.

Jane, crossing fingers that you can land a room at the NR! According to what Lola posted, sounds like you have a decent shot, if on the horn and ready to rock on the 9th. 🤞

Posted by
7963 posts

Oh, my, that's shocking about the immediate closure!

I agree Kathy with your assessment of why the closures. Staff housing, especially in the Western parks where there is not much in gateway cities is a huge problem. That and increased needs for housekeeping for shared bathroom areas which is why I'm sure the shared bath cabins are not opening.

Last summer and to an extent 2019 also saw the impact of no international workers for Yellowstone. Many Eastern Europeans and Asians are recruited for service jobs in the park and at the gateway cities in the Yellowstone area. Or maybe not actually recruited but follow a chain somewhat like some of the immigration chains....Joe works one summer then the next Joe, his cousin and their roommate sign on... While at the housing/restaurant cluster at Bryce a few years ago we were chatting to the server, a middle-aged man, who indicated he was from Moldova and had been coming to Bryce for something like 15 years.

Posted by
860 posts

Well, I will report back in July as I will be one of the hordes descending on Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Glacier, TRNP, and Mt. Rushmore on a 3 week trip. Lol! I have gotten good advice from Pam and have all my lodging reserved (well, the ones that matter). I was at Mesa Verde, Arches, Bryce, Zion, and the GC last October and really Zion was the only one that was overly crowded. I have not stayed up with whether the GC east entrance will be open this year, but that cost me a couple of extra hours drive time.

Kathy’s advice to stay on top of things is good. Most of my Yellowstone lodging was among the cancelled, so I scrambled a bit to replace it. Fortunately my lodging at Glacier is all in-park, so I don’t have to worry about the reservation system there. I originally had a night at Waterton, but decided the likelihood of getting there was not good and was able to snag Glacier east side instead by lucky timing, just before opening was announced.

Posted by
275 posts

Lola--I have read all those same forums and just shake my head. Especially about the cute little towns etc. We normally would head over there to camp or backpack in the summer, but you couldn't pay me to go this year. We will wait until the fall and head over when it is quieter. I just saw someone asking basically the same thing about the North Cascades. Again, just shaking my head. If our Iceland trip in August does not pan out, we might head up to Alaska, but our trips up there are not the usual as you know. No tourist sights at all. Fly up, family picks us up, we get in their bush plane and head to their cabin in the bush for a few weeks. I am so thankful that invitation is open:)

Posted by
59 posts

I’m in the group that went to TA to ask for advice. I have done 2 NP road trips in the past, have had to change our trip to Europe twice and have wanted to visit Yellowstone forever. So I guess I will be in with the crowds and in the line of cars. I have to say that we started talking about this in December, when we realized our youngest would probably not be fully vaccinated and Europe was not going to happen. I booked hotels before flights. Because I went to TA, and constantly check the NPS sites, I was able to get in park lodging in Bryce, GC North Rim and Zion NP. I could have gotten Yellowstone, but only at Grant Village and decided against it (I might regret that). We can only travel in the summer, and we only have so much time, and so many places to see, so I guess we will have to deal with it. In my case, when I go to TA, I have already googled the topic to death. Even so, it's good to hear from the people with experience, and again in my case, even after months of research, I still feel a bit overwhelmed by planning Yellowstone.

Posted by
4381 posts

Kathy, Lola, and Pam, thanks for the tips on Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. I'll check out the lodges, but we usually tent camp. The campground in the Kaibab sounds attractive. When we go to the South Rim, we usually camp outside the park proper, in the Kaibab National Forest, in the TenX campground. I think the last time we were there we stayed at the campground in the park, but I don't remember why. It was very crowded, but then, all of the campgrounds around there are.

I think the second trip Stan and I ever took was to Yellowstone. We stayed in a campground outside of the park, and loved it. But it seems to have disappeared; at least, when we tried to find it again, we couldn't. Our last visit we stayed in the park, a couple of nights at a small, almost primitive campground; then we moved to the large full-featured one - again, I don't remember why. It was packed, and noisy. (But it did have showers...)

Lola, thanks for the detailed tips on the GC. I was hoping we could wait long to decide where we want to go, but it looks like we'll have to commit pretty soon.

Thanks, all.

Posted by
719 posts

This site has stats for visits to National Parks by month for the past many years. This link takes you to Yellowstone but you can change it to any park. https://irma.nps.gov/STATS/SSRSReports/Park%20Specific%20Reports/Recreation%20Visitors%20By%20Month%20(1979%20-%20Last%20Calendar%20Year)?Park=YELL

I find the stats interesting in that while they were higher last summer, they weren't that much higher, and they've been steadily rising for years. While many are 'blaming' the pandemic for the crowds - since 'we' (Americans) can't go to Europe right now (or last summer), what about all the Europeans who are not able to come here. Last time I was in the parks (about 6 years ago) I was amazed at the number of foreign voices I was hearing. I think I saw a stat that said close to a third of all visitors to national parks are from overseas. So while more Americans are visiting the parks right now cause we can't go to Europe, I wonder if it makes up for all those non-Americans who aren't coming here. Point being - if you wait till next year hoping the numbers will be down it might actually get worse. Some of the other problems such as not enough staff (cause they can't get overseas workers, and cause they can't house them in the usual dorm accommodations) should get better, but that won't alter the parking lot crowds or long lines at entry stations.

Question for those of you who've been recently - are there different lines at the entry stations for those with passes vs those who need to pay?

Posted by
3012 posts

Isabel: Interesting link, showing that for most of the famous parks, visitor numbers peaked a few years ago-- they are not rising. For example, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the FDR House (NY) peaked in 2016, Zion 2017, Grand Canyon in 2018.

Posted by
4381 posts

Isabel, we were last at the Grand Canyon a few years ago, and there was no separate line for pass holders. The line at the entry point was quite long; I think we whiled away the time listening to a Pimsleur language disk!

And you are definitely right about the number of foreign visitors. An unofficial count (ours) had about 1/2 the visitors from abroad the last time we were there. We first started visiting the Grand Canyon in about 1977 or so, and it was rare to encounter foreign visitors then. It was fun this last time seeing how many languages we could recognize.

Posted by
454 posts

Isabel: we were at Grand Tetons and Badlands last year. At the entrances we used neither had separate lanes for passes. Although long the Grand Teton lines went pretty quickly since most had passes. I suspect that was the case because most were also going to or had gone to Yellowstone.

Posted by
7963 posts

For Yellowstone...it depends. There are no separate lines for pass holders at the East and NE gates. There are sometimes Pass holder lanes at the North and South gates (depends on the Ranger availability and estimated traffic). There is usually a dedicated lane at the West entrance which is busiest. For informational purposes it's the far right lane.

They are re-doing the Entrance kiosks at the North entrance but it's still only 2 kiosks and one may be a Pass-holder lane. Previously the gates had been after the side entrance from the concessioner warehouses so ALL that inter-departmental delivery traffic had to go thru the gates as well. Now they are siting the kiosks so the delivery traffic doesn't have to wait in line.

It doesn't take long to purchase a pass even if you get them at the gate. It's also a good idea to have the pass and picture ID out and handy for the gate Ranger to inspect. Even last year they had you hold up the pass and your Drivers License for verification. The America the Beautiful Pass ($80 for a calendar year) is an excellent deal. The even better deal is the Senior Pass when you turn 62! Now it's $80 for a lifetime.

Editing to add: "Interesting link, showing that for most of the famous parks, visitor numbers peaked a few years ago-- they are not rising."

Although you need to look at the month to month statistics as well. Just look Yellowstone at 2020 for Sept and Oct. Those numbers far surpassed previous years. April was Zero as the whole park was closed. May 2020 had just the East and South gates open as they are in Wyoming. Montana didn't lift travel restrictions/14 day quarantine until June 1. August was a lot but still less than August 2017 which was the time of the solar eclipse which was in totality over Grand Tetons. From my view, Fall months are very much controlled by the weather. Oct 2017 and 18 saw early snowstorms which caused road intermittent road closures due to wintry conditions. It's my experience that YNP closes roads quicker than they might close in more populated areas. I am guessing this is because they've assessed that many rental car drivers have zero winter driving skills and it's better to be proactive than have accident after accident with few tow trucks available.

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4381 posts

When we got our Senior passes they were only $10! I thought it was such a great deal I got one as soon as I turned old enough, even though Stan already had his, and you only need one per carload or household.

Posted by
11904 posts

Jane, I missed that part about camping; I was so focused on explaining how to get reservations at the lodge. The Campground at the North Rim is great, but you need to book something ASAP as it will sell out. As for choosing a specific site, assuming there are multiple sites still available, there are websites devoted to campsite photos that can be very helpful. I can find individual campsite photos even for the national forest campgrounds here in Washington. If recreation.gov doesn't have photos (but I thought they did?) try googling the name of the Campground and add the word "photos". Between the Campground map and the photos, I can usually make a good choice.

As for visitation numbers at the national parks, the popular national,parks have been operating at full capacity for the past few years, and that may account for the numbers leveling off. When the campgrounds and nearby lodging are full, that caps the visitor numbers. And I believe that foreign visitation may have dropped off a bit since the 2016 election. And now the pandemic prevents foreign tourists from coming. But I do expect to see a big uptick in numbers of US tourists here in our Washington national parks this summer.

Posted by
11966 posts

The campground in the Kaibab sounds attractive

Jane, not sure exactly which campground you're referencing but I'm seeing that Demotte - about 11 miles from the N.R. entrance (25 from the lodge) - is seeing good reviews. Might be an option if you can't land a spot at the rim? It's near the Kaibab Lodge Lola had mentioned.

https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/234722

Posted by
11966 posts

Some welcome news for Grand Canyon South Rim!

They've finally opened the East Entrance! This one provides more convenient access for visitors coming up from the South - such as from Flagstaff or Sedona - who wish to visit Wupatki and/or Sunset Crater National Monuments along the way. Both are off 89, and you'd head west on 64/Desert View Dr. at Cameron to the park. This is also a more convenient entry point for visitors coming to the park from the North, such as from Page or Kanab. In both cases, the reverse is also true.

An additional benefit, when the park is very busy, is to be able to take right-hand turns off Desert View Dr. into the overlook parking lots versus left-hand against traffic.

Opening this entry point will hopefully take some of the current traffic strain off the South Entrance, where lines during peak hours lately have been reported to have been very long. The NPS website states that no services aside from parking are currently available at Desert View (the first overlook after the East Entrance) but it's a fabulous spot to get a first eyeful of our grandest canyon!

https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/news/grand-canyon-re-opens-east-entrance-gate-4-8-2021.htm

Posted by
4381 posts

Kathy, that is good news. We love Sunset Crater (there's a great campground there, as I recall) and Wupatki. We had decided that whenever we go back to the South Rim, we would use the East Entrance.

Thanks for the update.

Posted by
11904 posts

Yosemite news: as of May 21, day use permits (reservations) will be required to enter the park if you are coming from lodging outside the gates.

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/covid19.htm

If you have lodging or camping reservations inside the park, including the private enclaves of Yosemite West, Foresta, and Wawona, you will not need the day use permits, just your usual entry fee or pass.

If you are staying in El Portal, Fish Camp, Groveland, or other lodging outside the park entrance gates you will need a permit. Read the article carefully to see how and when to get one if you have reservations at one of these places or you could be denied entry.

Posted by
7963 posts

This is your on-the-ground reporter reporting in with a report...lolol!!

Yep, have been in Gardiner at the Yellowstone North entrance since Wednesday. The park is mostly closed at this time of year with just the small segment of road open from the North to the NE entrance. I’ve been this time of year previously and I am SHOCKED at the number of people here right now.

Not all hotels are open until later next week when the roads to the interior open however the hotel where I’m staying has been completely booked every night. The desk clerk told me on Thursday that they were inadvertently overbooked by Booking.com on Wednesday and the people had to drive to Livingston MT, 50 miles away, for a room.

Most people seem to have done no research and are surprised the roads are still closed. I was using my ice scraper on a guy’s windshield yesterday AM (from CA and not prepared for snow and ice) and asked about his plans for the day. He was planning to drive thru the park to Cody for the night. Uh, not gonna happen I told him, as the route he was planning is still closed for winter and is not plowed open until May.

Meanwhile, my goal of seeing birds is bring fulfilled with about 30 species so far plus Bison, Elk, Pronghorn, Mule Deer, Coyote, Bighorn Sheep, and a good look at Wolves yesterday. No Grizzly or Black Bear yet nor Moose or Mountain Goats.

I’ve got a cooler with food and a book to read while parked at a pullout waiting for birds or other critters. Blue skies overhead this morning!

BTW...the book is Dragonfly, a spy story set in Paris in WWII. My other favorite location!

Posted by
11966 posts

Well done with the update, Lola, although it isn't welcome news for some folks, I'm sure.
Glad to hear that you're having a wonderful time, Pam! We expect a book report. HA!

Blows my mind the amount of people who think they can just rock into the busiest parks any old time, and with zero pre-planning! Not just that but based on the overload of TA posts I'm seeing for Sedona lately.... Holy Hannah. 😳

Editing to add: The individual asking if Torrey has much to offer for downtown and dinner? Oh dear.
(We have booked in Torrey (Austin's) several times for Capitol Reef, and had a fine time but a local would laugh themselves silly if asked directions for "downtown." Same for Hanksville. Yep, we've stayed there too (Whispering Sands) and can recommend for Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse/Bell canyons and Horseshoe Canyon.)

Posted by
11904 posts

Not welcome news for some, but I believe it is necessary to limit Yosemite visitation this summer. With the Valley shuttle not running, the traffic is going to be gridlock. I hope they get the bicycle rentals up and running!

Posted by
885 posts

Good post. I just got back from a week at Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Vermillion Cliffs. It was a fantastic trip but I will say that all of our hotels were sold out, there are waits for restaurants at all destinations, and Zion was an absolute cluster as far as traffic and crowding. Bryce and Vermilion did not feel crowded. We missed out on the national park shuttles for Zion and had to do the private shuttle which got us to one section of the park, but there was no flexibility or spontaneity to it. If I had to do it again, I would book a private full day tour with one of the six approved private companies so that I could see more than one site inside of Zion. Or honestly I would just skip Zion all together as I did not feel it was anywhere near as cool as the other two.

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1656 posts

Well, for those who like a bit of adventure, you can always raft the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. I know there are still spaces left with several of the outfitters who have permits to do it. We only did a two nighter, but someday would love to go back and do the 6 night motor tour. It was fabulous! You must like camping and roughing it however! (which I don't really, but still loved it).