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Photo by Francesco Ferrarini/Shutterstock
Yosemite still has plenty of summer slots available—just don’t delay.
Yosemite, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Arches are among the parks requiring advance reservations this year. Here’s everything you need to know about how to make sure you nab one in time for summer.
The country’s beloved national parks have always been a popular travel destination for nature-loving adventurers. But their popularity soared even more during the pandemic when social distancing in the great outdoors was embraced with a fervor. In order to limit visitor capacity, some national parks began requiring advance tickets or reservations as they reopened amid the pandemic. In 2022, many of those reservation systems remain in place and some new ones are joining the fray as individual national parks look to reservation systems as a potential tool for controlling high-season crowds, even in nonpandemic times.
In 2022, all 63 national parks are open. However, these seven U.S. national parks require advance reservations of some kind (we’ve noted those with a newly introduced a reservation system this year):
Yosemite National Park in California
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Haleakalā National Park in Hawai‘i
Acadia National Park in Maine
Glacier National Park in Montana
Arches National Park in Utah (new for 2022)
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (new for 2022)
Worth noting is that last year, Zion National Park was requiring advance shuttle reservations for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which includes the Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, Angels Landing, Riverside Walk, and the Narrows. This year, from March 19 to May 21, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles and visitors will need to take a shuttle instead—but they won’t need an advance reservation to do so. However, new for this year, anyone wanting to hike the challenging Angels Landing Trail will need to obtain a permit via lottery.
While the above list includes some of the most popular parks in the National Park System, plenty of must-see parks like the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains don’t require advance reservations. In fact, none of the 10 most visited U.S. national parks in 2021 is requiring reservations this year. But as a growing number of visitors descend on these outdoor expanses, it’s possible more parks will start to adopt advance reservation systems.
Here’s a cheat sheet on how to ensure reservations at these seven national parks as they become available.
In California’s Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park is home to the tallest waterfall in North America (Yosemite Falls), some of the largest trees on Earth (sequoias), and granite monoliths like Sentinel Dome, among other natural wonders. In 2019, nearly 4.6 million visitors descended on the park, a number that fell to 2.3 million in 2020 due to the pandemic, and rose back up to 3.3 million last year.
Because of the public health crisis, Yosemite closed to the general public in mid-March 2020 and reopened nearly three months later on June 11, 2020. When the park reopened, it required visitors to reserve a permit in advance. That reservation system was brought back for the peak 2021 travel season and again in 2022.
If you want to drive into Yosemite any time between May 20 and September 30, 2022, you’re going to need an advance reservation. Reservations for all of those dates opened on March 23 and are now available to be booked via recreation.gov; the vast majority of summer dates are still open for bookings save for a couple weekends in May and Fridays in June—though who knows how long that will last. (Prior to May 20, you do not need a reservation to visit Yosemite.) If people cancel, those reservations immediately become available online.
Yosemite also sets aside 30 percent of reservations that can be booked exactly one week before the arrival date. So, for instance, if you want to go on June 18, you can log onto the system on June 11 to try for a spot. Bookings open up at 8 a.m. Pacific Time on any given day.
Each reservation is for what is called “Vehicle 3-Day Entry” and is valid for three consecutive days of entering the park an unlimited number of times. Only one reservation is needed per vehicle—regardless of the number of people within the vehicle. Someone inside the vehicle, not necessarily the driver, must be the reservation holder (and should have a photo ID to be able to confirm they are the reservation holder).
The Vehicle 3-Day Entry reservation fee is $2 and is in addition to the $35 park entrance fee per car. The park is open to day-use permit holders from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. (this window has shortened since last year, when it was open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. for day-use reservation holders). Annual and lifetime pass holders only need to pay $2.
If you have a reservation at a hotel, private lodging, or vacation rental in Wawona, Yosemite West, or Foresta, you don’t need an advance reservation to enter the park. You will still need to pay the $35 fee upon entering the park (by credit card only). Annual and lifetime pass holders will not be charged an entrance fee. You will receive an overnight vehicle permit valid for the duration of your stay or for three consecutive days (whichever is longer) for unlimited entries.
You also don’t need an advance reservation if you have camping or lodging reserved at the following campgrounds: Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, Camp 4, Wawona Campground, Bridalveil Creek, or Tuolumne Meadows. The same applies if you have a reservation to stay in Curry Village, Housekeeping Camp, Yosemite Valley Lodge, the Ahwahnee, or the Wawona.
Backpackers and climbers with wilderness or Half Dome permits do not need an additional reservation either but must still pay the $35 car entrance fee. Those entering with an authorized tour group don’t need a reservation or permit.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s dream. The 415 square miles of mountain landscapes include more than 300 miles of hiking trails where visitors might spot moose, elk, wildflowers, and glacial basins.
The park welcomed 4.4 million visitors last year, a near return to prepandemic visitor levels—4.7 million people entered the popular Colorado park in 2019.
Rocky Mountain National Park was closed from March to May 2020. And when it reopened, it implemented a timed entry permit system that lasted through October 12, 2020. That system was brought back in 2021 and is back again in 2022.
In 2022, Rocky Mountain National Park is reintroducing entry permit reservation requirements for entry into the park from May 27 through October 10. (Outside of those dates, an advance reservation isn’t necessary.)
There are two types of reservations you can make. One is for the Bear Lake Road corridor, which will include access to Bear Lake as well as the rest of the park for entry between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Reservations are not required for entry prior to 5 a.m. or after 6 p.m., and the park is open 24 hours a day.) The other permit is for all areas of the park except for the Bear Lake Road corridor for entry into the park between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Reservations are not required before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m.)
The permits are available in two-hour entry windows—so, for instance, there are 5–7 a.m. slots, 7–9 a.m. slots, 9–11 a.m. slots, and so on. You must enter within that two-hour window but can leave at any time (obviously, the earlier slots are the most coveted).
Reservations to enter the park will go on sale on recreation.gov at 10 a.m. Mountain Time on the following dates:
May 2 to enter the park from May 27 through June 30
June 1 to enter the park during the month of July (and any remaining days in June)
July 1 to enter the park during the month of August (and any remaining days in July)
August 1 to enter the park during the month of September (and any remaining days in August)
September 1 to enter the park during the month of October (and any remaining days in September)
The park will set aside 25 percent of all permits that will be available for purchase the day before at 5 p.m. Mountain Time through recreation.gov.
Among the many things that make Haleakalā National Park popular is the fact that it is home to the highest peak in Maui, Puʻu ʻUlaʻula, which rises 10,023 feet above sea level. That height coupled with the unique desert-like landscape of this dormant volcano crater and the moody surrounding skies make this a very popular place to trek to for a sunrise viewing.
Reservations for a sunrise viewing at Haleakalā have long been required. The National Park Service implemented a reservation system for sunrise entries in 2017 in an attempt to control the crowds. The reservation system remains in place for 2022.
A reservation is required for each vehicle that enters the park from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Reservations can be made online 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. Reservations will not be refunded or exchanged due to weather.
Situated along the Atlantic coast, Maine’s Acadia National Park features 27 miles of scenic roads and 158 miles of hiking trails. The park is home to forests, rocky headlands, mountains, lakes, and wetlands.
Advance reservations are not required to enter Acadia National Park, but they are required to drive up Cadillac Summit Road from May 25 through October 22, 2022. Cadillac Summit Road is a three-mile scenic drive to the top of the park’s highest peak, Cadillac Mountain at 1,530 feet. One-third of Cadillac Summit Road reservations are being made available 90 days before each entry date; the remaining 70 percent will be released at 10 a.m. Eastern Time two days ahead of entry.
Go to reservation.gov to book a sunrise drive, which starts between 4 and 5:30 a.m. and ends between 5:30 and 7 a.m., depending on the month you are visiting. Or you can opt for a daytime drive—the daytime drives are available for 30-minute entry windows that start between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. and go until between 6:30 and 8 p.m. (depending on the month). Visitors will need to have a printed or saved digital copy of the vehicle reservation with the confirmation QR code (cell service in the park is not reliable).
As for the rest of the park, visitors will be required to have a park entrance pass, which must be displayed in their vehicles and clearly visible through the windshield. While it’s not required to reserve one ahead of time, the park encourages visitors to buy and print a pass online before visiting the park.
Glacier National Park features more than 700 miles of trails, numerous pristine glacial lakes, scenic mountain views, and ample wilderness. The park’s popular Going-to-the-Sun Road, connecting Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and the St. Mary Valley, is a 50-mile scenic drive through the natural wonders of the park.
Beginning May 27 and through September 11, 2022, tickets will be required to drive the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road as well as to access the North Fork area of the park.
A portion of tickets for each day will open up at recreation.gov 120 days in advance, which means right now tickets are being made available for mid-August dates. The remaining vehicle reservations will be released at 8 a.m. Mountain Time the day before the effective date.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road Vehicle Registration is valid for three days and costs $2. In addition to the vehicle registration, visitors will need a park pass, which costs $20 for an individual, $30 for a motorcycle, and $35 for a private vehicle.
Those visiting Many Glacier Valley, Two Medicine Valley, Cut Bank, the area between the St. Mary Entrance and Rising Sun, and park areas along Highway 2 and Chief Mountain Highway entrances do not need reservations, nor do those entering on foot or by bike. Those with proof of a reservation inside the park for lodging, camping, boat rides, bus tours, guided hikes, or horseback rides are also exempt from the reservation requirement.
True to its name, Arches National Park is defined by hundreds of natural arches shaped by the elements over thousands of years. From the famous Delicate Arch, the largest freestanding arch in the park, to the formations known as the North and South Windows, avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts come from far and wide to see these unique forms and to tackle the beautiful and at-times challenging treks to reach them.
For 2022, Arches is testing a pilot program that will require an advance reservation to enter the park from April 3 through October 3, 2022.
Arches is releasing timed entry tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at recreation.gov. Currently, timed entry slots are available through the end of July. On May 1, reservations for August will open; on June 1, reservations for September will open; and on July 1, reservations for October will open. A limited number of tickets will become available for purchase one day before entry at 6 p.m. Mountain Time. Tickets are available in one-hour entry slots from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.—for instance, 6–7 a.m., 7–8 a.m., etcetera.
“Visitors must enter the park in the hour for which they signed up. Visitors who arrive early or late may be denied entrance,” Arches National Park said in a statement about the new timed entry rules.
In addition to a timed entry reservation, which costs $2, visitors will need to present a photo ID and will need a park pass as well. Park entry passes are $15 for individual entrants, $25 for motorcycles, and $30 per private vehicle.
Shenandoah National Park is a popular day trip from Washington, D.C., and with good reason. The 200,000-acre park is best seen via its 105-mile Skyline Drive, a trip that winds past dozens of scenic panoramas from which you can view the mountain ridges. There are also ample hiking trails and numerous waterfalls that make longer stays in the park well worth it.
This year, from March 1 through November 30, visitors to Shenandoah’s Old Rag Mountain, a 3,284-foot peak that is the park’s most popular hiking attraction, will need to reserve a day-use ticket in advance. That includes those hiking the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails.
The move comes after Shenandoah National Park conducted a study that showed that Old Rag Mountain is experiencing major crowding and congestion during certain peak times. “Most visitors agree that limiting users would improve their experience and safety, and better protect the rare ecological communities found on Old Rag,” park authorities reported.
Day-use tickets to hike Old Rag Mountain can be purchased up to 30 days in advance and will only be valid for the day of arrival. Hikers must purchase their tickets, which cost $1, in advance via recreation.gov—they will not be available at the Old Rag fee station, and Shenandoah National Park authorities caution that cell service is not reliable in the area.
A total of 800 tickets will be available for each day, with 400 released 30 days in advance and the remaining 400 released five days in advance. “A day-use ticket does not guarantee a parking spot and entrance fees still apply in addition to the day-use ticket,” Shenandoah National Park authorities stated in a press release about the new reservation system.
For those who had their heart set on a very particular date for one of the parks listed above and found it was booked up, all is not lost.
There is always the option to bank the idea for another year and uncover the National Park Service’s underrated gems instead, explore these crowd-free national park alternatives, or head to some of the dozens of U.S. state parks worth discovering this summer and fall, too.
This story was first published on May 13, 2021, and has been updated to include current information.
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