National parks are booming. It could ruin your next trip
Tourists flock to Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming on July 14, 2021. Yellowstone is one of several national parks with a record number of visitors this summer.
Nathalie Béring | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Cadillac Mountain, located in Acadia National Park, Maine, is one of the nation’s top spots for watching the sunrise.
For six months, visitors to the highest 1,530-foot peak within 25 miles of the entire east coast of the United States were the first in the country to see the sun’s rays gradually illuminate Frenchman Bay and several of its islands. I see the sunlight in the sun. Blue and purple.
In other words, if they can find parking.
Until recently, it was not uncommon to see 500 cars competing for 150 parking spaces, according to park officer Kevin Schneider.
Sunrise over Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine.
Park staff implemented a reservation system this year to reduce congestion. Reservations are $ 6 per car and must be purchased online in advance.
Other sites (Yosemite, Glacier, Haleakala, Rocky Mountain National Park, Muir Woods National Park) also use advance reservations to access the entire park or popular attractions. Zion National Park in Utah will weigh the same on a hike to Angels Landing next year. On this hike, visitors may have to wait hours to access the trailhead.
Other traffic parks could take similar action in the years to come if the visitor trend continues, according to officials and travel experts.
Sunset from Taft Point in Yosemite National Park, California.
Travelers may have difficulty preloading one of the limited locations or may be refused if they are not aware of the requirements prior to arrival.
“They drove thousands of miles and earned tens of thousands of dollars in hotel reservations, plane tickets and car rentals, but couldn’t get a $ 2 ticket to visit the national park. of the Glaciers. The vacation has been ruined, ”said executive Kevin Gartland, director of the Whitefish, MT Chamber of Commerce, at a recent Senate hearing on parkland overcrowding.
After months of imprisonment, Americans eager to travel and get out have traveled to a record number of parks this year. Vacationers may still be wary of traveling to destinations outside the US border, or may not be able to travel due to regional restrictions.
July was the busiest month in Yellowstone Park history. Monthly visits to America’s first national parks, where thermal features such as geysers, hot springs, muddy water, and steam vents are the most concentrated in the world, have never exceeded one million.
Canary Springs at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.
According to park manager Kam Sholy, “The increase in visits to Yellowstone has accelerated rapidly over the past 12 months and continues to maintain a record pace in 2021.”
Neighboring Grand Teton National Park was the busiest in June, with a 20% increase in visitor numbers from 2019. According to federal data, visits to Sion were up 18% from 2021 to July compared to Likewise, Great Smoky Mountains Park National Park has the highest traffic in the system, with an increase in tourists of over 7% this year compared to 2019.
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These record numbers in some parks reflect long-term trends. For example, visits to glaciers and Yellowstone have doubled since 1980. Visits to national parks were about 20% more in 2019 than in 2013.
According to Senator Angus King, Maine, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, there is “tension and paradox” in this dynamic.
Cathedral group in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
On the other hand, it’s good that Americans are visiting public lands in record numbers. However, overcrowding leads to an increase in debris, vandalism and traffic, straining the park’s natural resources and wildlife and negatively impacting the visitor experience.
“We might accidentally love the park and die,” King said at a Senate hearing in July.
National park reservation
Reservation is one of the many ways the park plans to deal with congestion. Their details and restrictions vary from place to place.
For example, the Northwestern Montana Glacier is a scenic drive that runs through the center of the park and only uses vehicle reservations for one of its main attractions, Going to Sun Road. Tickets cover 7 days of admission from the date the visitor chooses. (It costs $ 2 on top of the regular park entrance pass.)
Visitors will walk through the Logan Pass Visitor Center in Glacier National Park in West Glacier, MT on July 26, 2018.
George Frey | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Like other parks, spaces are limited and can sell out quickly. Approximately 75% of reservations will be available 60 days in advance and the remaining 25% will only be available 2 days in advance.
In contrast, Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado uses scheduled admission reservations. Visitors must enter the park within the two hour time frame selected.
In Yosemite, a reservation of $ 2 to enter the park is valid for three consecutive days. However, this system may not be persistent. Park officials said the “temporary” system, which went into effect in May this year, will help manage visitor levels and mitigate health risks from Covid-19.
Angels land in Zion National Park, Utah.
Some travel experts expect the park to properly maintain its system, even though the pandemic is no longer a threat.
“It was only a matter of time,” said Casey Morrissey, president of Austin Adventures, which is based in Billings, MT and guides tours of national parks. “The Covid is not always the only factor that caused it.
“The park is very busy.”
Not all parks
However, it is unlikely that such a system will be adopted in all or most parks.
On the one hand, not all of them experienced an increase in traffic. According to Michael Reynolds, regional director of the National Parks Authority, half of all recreational tours take place in the 23 most visited parks, with “severe congestion” concentrated in the top 12 to 15. ..
Parks such as Glaciers, Zion, and Yosemite have limited parking in relatively small canyons and valleys, but parks with different geographies and road systems have the potential to better absorb more traffic. said sir.
And the park is looking for options beyond paid entrances to reduce congestion.
For example, Yellowstone, which does not require a reservation, is studying the feasibility of a shuttle system between Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin. This summer, we launched a pilot program to transport people around Canyon Village using a free automatic shuttle. Visitors can reserve a number of campgrounds six months in advance, not upon arrival.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.
According to park spokesperson Linda Beres, scheduled reservations in Yellowstone are not an immediate wait.
“But it’s good in the possibilities of the future,” she said.
While this can be “overwhelming” for tourists who cannot guarantee reservations, Morrissey said the system would improve the experience for those who can get reservations.
And there are creative options, she says.
For example, visitors to Acadia can hike, bike or take a taxi to the top of Cadillac Mountain without permission. Glacier Park and Rocky Mountain Park exempt tourists from making “service reservations” such as lodging and tours in the park. (However, the exemption only applies on that day.)
Upper Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.
Drivers can also enter the park before or after day staff are assigned to the entrance counter. (On glaciers, for example, before 6 a.m. or after 5 p.m.)
“If you can be a little sly, there are some ways to avoid it,” Morrissey said.