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Environment

Plan For Your Great National Park Trip

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is America's original national park and hosts more than 4 million visitors annually.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is America's original national park and hosts more than 4 million visitors annually.

With the COVID-19 pandemic apparently coming to a close, many Americans are preparing for a no-holds-barred summer filled with many activities that the coronavirus has outlawed for more than a year. Here are some tips from the National Park Service to help visitors make the most their trip.

Plan Your Visit

Some destinations like California's Yosemite National Park implemented an entrance reservation system to better manage visitors during the pandemic. And even though pandemic restrictions are being lifted left and right, Yosemite plans to continue enforcing a limited number of daily visitors through the end of September 2021.

Other parks, including the immensely popular Yellowstone, won't cap the number of daily visitors, but good luck finding a place to stay. Most camping and lodging sites within the park are already booked solid, the Park Service said. Depending on which park you're talking about, the nearest place to crash for the night may be hours away.

Before committing to the journey, visitors should make sure they have any reservations required and a lodging if necessary.

Be Patient With Staff And Other Visitors

Last year 237 million people visited 423 national park sites across the country. And while that may seem overwhelming, those numbers were down 27.6%, 90 million visitors, from the previous year. This was attributed to temporary park closures because of the coronavirus.

Yellowstone is located along the northern border of Grand Teton National Park. Visitors often visit both parks, traveling back and forth between the two, including 7.1 million visitors in 2020.
NPS / David Restivo / NPS
Yellowstone is located along the northern border of Grand Teton National Park. Visitors often visit both parks, traveling back and forth between the two, including 7.1 million visitors in 2020.

Visitation numbers are expected to bounce back this summer, as the NPS prepares for what it calls an "especially busy season in 2021." Grand Teton National Park in Northwestern Wyoming was closed last spring. The park still welcomed about 3.3 million people in 2020.

This year, the park saw just under 88,000 visitors in April, a 48% increase from the 2019 season, a NPS news release said. And with Yellowstone along Grand Teton's northern border, visitors often make a point to travel between the two, as did 7.1 million tourists in 2020.

Take The Trail Less Traveled

The National Park System manages more than 85 million acres across 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, each offering something different for visitors. That said, the 10 most popular parks made up one sixth of all visitors in 2020. Half of all visitors were in the top 23.

NPS rangers recommend that adventurers consider the lesser-known parks, especially during the busy summer months.

California's Channel Islands National Park has seen a five-year average of only 338,000 annual visitors. A little more than 700,000 annually explore Crater Lake on foot and by car in Oregon. Canyonlands and Arches National Parks provide hikers, climbers and mountain bikers a less-crowded alternative to Zion in Utah.

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park. Arches and Canyonlands both offer hiking, camping, biking and more for visitors, without the crowds common for Utah's Zion National Park.
NPS/Debra Miller / NPS
Balanced Rock at Arches National Park. Arches and Canyonlands both offer hiking, camping, biking and more for visitors, without the crowds common for Utah's Zion National Park.

Pack It In, Pack It Out

The park service oversees 70 million pounds of waste every year. That's almost 600 dump trucks full. The NPS asks visitors to manage their trash while making the most of America's parks. Don't leave trash, food scraps or hygiene products behind.

Additionally, many of parks and monuments will be overwhelmed this summer. That being the case, visitors are encouraged to bring their own meals to reduce the amount of waste generated from takeout food containers, the National Parks Conservation Association said.

Visitors at a lookout point in Rocky Mountain National Park. Pets are welcome in RMNP, but only in developed campgrounds, roads and picnic areas. They are prohibited on all hiking trails and meadows.
NPS/M.Reed / NPS
Visitors at a lookout point in Rocky Mountain National Park. Pets are welcome in RMNP, but only in developed campgrounds, roads and picnic areas. They are prohibited on all hiking trails and meadows.

Consider Leaving The Pets At Home

While some national parks and monuments allow pets on a leash and in campgrounds, others do not. Visitors should check their destination's pet policy before hitting the road. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado prohibits pets on all of its trails and meadows. They can, however, go for walks on a leash along established roads, campgrounds and picnic areas.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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