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Have You Made a Reservation for the National Parks Yet? You Better Read This

Several of the United States’ National Parks are adopting or continuing their ticketing systems this year. Here’s what you need to know before planning your trips to “America’s best idea.”

It seems like everyone has decided to make their summer vacation a National Park trip. Domestic travel has flourished over the past few years as travelers balk at the idea of heading abroad, which means that many of these sites have seen their visitation numbers explode in 2020 and 2021. With numbers expected only to increase this year, the National Park system has created new methods to manage visitors and keep these natural spaces from being overwhelmed.

“The reservation system is intended to enhance the visitor experience, from parking availability, decreased wait times and, most importantly, to preserve our environments and natural habitats,” says Public Affairs Officer Scott Gediman for Yosemite.

While reservation requirements have been promoted as a step in the right direction, it has frustrated several tourists who might not have been aware of recent changes or how acquiring tickets might limit the window in which they can visit certain parks. If you are planning a trip to one of America’s National Parks this year, here is a list of which ones will require reservations and some tips and alternatives if you don’t manage to get a ticket in time.

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Reservation Requirements

All reservations are made on the website. You can see which parks require reservations and how many tickets are available. Each park has a different system, which means that travelers will need to do some research several months in advance to ensure they have what they need before visiting.

Keep in mind that this list is only for entry to these specific National Parks. Others require additional ticketing for camping sites and specific activities, like Everglades National Park. Remember to do your research before booking any flights, hotels, or car rentals to make sure you have the experience you would like at your chosen park.

Acadia National Park

Acadia has a timed entry system for driving on its Cadillac Summit Road for $6, which is in effect from May 25 until October 22. It is recommended to look into booking tickets on the website 90 days prior to your trip since 30% of tickets will be released at this time. You can also obtain tickets one day before your planned entry at 6 p.m., but keep in mind there is a small number available.

Arches National ParkLauren Pandolfi/Unsplash

Arches National Park

Arches is also introducing a timed entry system for those visiting from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. starting April 3 and ending October 3. You will want to check the website on the first day of the month, three months prior to your visit. A lottery with a small number of tickets is available the day before entry at 6 p.m.

Glacier National Park

In order to drive Glacier’s famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, you will need a $2 ticket from May 27 until September 11. However, you are allowed to enter without one before 6 a.m. or after 4 p.m. You can purchase your tickets online at the website on a rolling basis starting March 2 up to 120 days before entry. The same process is required for the North Fork area of the park.

Haleakalā National Park

Reservations are required for cars looking to view the sunrise from 3 a.m. until 7 a.m. Tickets can be booked at the website.

Rocky Mountain National Park

From May 27 until October 10, Rocky Mountain will offer two ticketing options: one with access to the Bear Lake hiking area from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m., and the other without access from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. A first set of passes will be released on May 2 for dates from May 28 to June 30. For subsequent months, tickets will be available on the first of each month. Twenty-five percent of the tickets will be released the evening before entry at 5 p.m. on the website.

Glacier National ParkJustin Kauffman/Unsplash

Shenandoah National Park

Those looking to hike Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah will need $1 tickets starting March 1 until November 30. You can purchase tickets 30 days in advance at the website.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite has experimented with ticketing systems before due to the popularity of its coveted Half Dome hike. However, this year you will need a reservation to enter the park at all. For $2 on the website, you can get a three-day pass which grants you access to the park on consecutive days from your reservation day. More tickets will be released on May 13 and will be available seven days in advance before planned entry online.

INSIDER TIPIf you arrive by bike or on foot, you do not need a reservation.

Zion National Park

Hikers will need a reservation to take on Angel’s Landing. The system will be conducted through an online lottery system. It costs $6 to apply, and there will be a small number awarded the day before visitation. The lottery will open on April 1, July 1, and October 1 and run until February 2023.

Tips for Making Reservations

While each park is handling visitation this year differently, there are a few methods to keep you from going mad while booking reservations this year. If you are planning on heading to multiple National Parks this year or want to make sure that you don’t miss out on getting a ticket to your chosen park, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Have backup options and be flexible on which days you plan to enter ticketed areas of the parks.
  • Read about each reservation system thoroughly, and don’t assume that parks have the same systems. Head to each park’s website and do your research several months before your planned dates.
  • Download the gov app. It allows you to keep all of your tickets in one place, and you can pop on and make reservations easily with an already-created account.
  • Plan to be on the gov app or website as close as possible to the date and time when tickets are released. They go fast, and you will increase your chances of getting them when you jump right on them.

Dealing With the Crowds

Parks will inevitably deal with more visitors this year, which means that the visitors themselves will likely face more traffic on the roadways and on trailheads. Knowing the rules of hiking–like leaving animals alone, being prepared, and assisting others if needed–can help make the experience better for everyone involved. Remember that the outdoors doesn’t discriminate, and we are all its stewards.

Patience will also be required, and additional people will mean that you might not be able to see or do everything you would like due to limited parking or overcrowding. It’s important to be flexible and remember that our national parks were built over a hundred years ago, in some cases, for a different era.

Leave No Trace

An excess number of visitors means newbies to the outdoors who might not be aware of Leave No Trace and its principles. The main idea around these ideals is that humans keep nature the way we found it. If you are visiting the national parks for the first time or this is the first time you have heard about Leave No Trace, make sure to check out their website to learn more about how you can visit the parks responsibly and get involved with protecting these and other natural spaces.

Visiting Alternatives

If all of this seems overwhelming to you, then know that other options are available to get outside. There are over 113,000 federally-owned sites like recreation areas and national forests where you can enjoy nature without crowds. The best news? Your national parks pass will get you into all the national forests and recreation areas for free. While these spots might not have the cache that their well-known national park counterparts do, they can be equally as beautiful and provide that connection with nature we are all craving in 2022.

jimobeldobel8269 April 18, 2022

I'm thankful we got to enjoy most of the National Parks when they were still America's best idea. But my  "comment contains some words that are not allowed on the site". It didn't