With new COVID-19 cases decreasing through most of the United States, many national parks that closed due to the pandemic are beginning the process of reopening. And while most are keeping potential crowding hotspots like visitor centers and restrooms closed, a few popular parks plan to go a step further by requiring reservations for people who want to visit.
Starting on June 4, visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park will need to reserve a time to enter the park. Only 4,800 vehicles, or 60 percent of Rocky's parking capacity, will be allowed in each day. In a press release, Superintendent Dara Sidles said that the plan "will more safely manage the pace and flow of visitor use, reduce crowding, and provide an improved visitor experience in alignment with the park’s safe operational capacity."
Located next to the gateway community of Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is the third-most popular park in the country, drawing 4.7 million visitors in 2019. Summer is prime-time for tourists who come to see the park's herds of elk and drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in Colorado. The park closed on March 20, following a request from local government officials.
Visitors who want to reserve entry to the park can do so through Recreation.gov; as of May 29, reservations were available for every day from June 4 through the end of July. Reservations for August will be available starting on July 1, with reservations for each subsequent month opening on the first of the preceding month. Park officials have not given a timetable for a full reopening.
Yosemite National Park, which also closed on March 20 and plans to open some time in early June, is reportedly also considering a timed reservation system for day visitors. In a phone call with local tourism and business groups on May 18, park officials said that Yosemite planned to limit visitors to about 50 percent of capacity and require advance reservations, the Fresno Bee reports. Backcountry permit holders and people with campsite reservations would also be allowed entry. The proposed plan is still awaiting approval from the Department of the Interior.
Other parks are proposing their own creative social distance solutions. Denali National Park will let visitors with a reservation drive the park's main road in their own private vehicles, Anchorage Daily News reported this week.