Has anyone told you to avoid national parks?
Probably not, but maybe they haven’t been to one recently. What was once a peaceful way to connect with nature has changed.
Keep reading to learn more about national parks and why we think you should avoid them.
Let’s dig in!
The History of National Parks
Before the 19th century, people saw the natural environment as simply a resource. It was a place to find food, clothing, and shelter. This idea began to change with the influence of writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman.
John Muir furthered the notion that nature was to be enjoyed and appreciated for its beauty. He and others lobbied for wilderness preservation.
In 1864, president Abraham Lincoln created the Yosemite Grant Act to protect the area around Yosemite. President Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park, eight years later. It was intended for Americans, excluding indigenous peoples, to enjoy the outdoors.
The act also included land in what would become Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and sparked the worldwide national park movement.
The Birth of the National Park Service
Fast forward to 1916. In that year, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service (NPS.) The primary purpose was to consolidate the management of parks. Before the NPS, the War, Agriculture, and the Interior departments independently managed national parks with varying success.
According to the NPS, its purpose is “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life… to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Today, the NPS oversees over 400 areas and 84 million acres throughout US states and territories. Approximately 20,000 NPS employees care for America’s national parks. The NPS says nearly 300 million people visited their parks in 2021. The NPS contributes around $35 million to the economy each year.
Over the years, the NPS has faced funding issues. As a result, the NPS has reduced its workforce despite record high visitor numbers, but this might be turning around. In 2021 the Biden administration announced they would invest $3.5 billion in the NPS.
5 Reasons to Avoid National Parks in 2022
Yes, our national parks are amazing places to explore. But here are five reasons why this year may not be the best for visiting them.
Thanks to social media and the need to connect with the natural environment, national park visitors have set record numbers. The crowds are especially thick in the most popular parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Unfortunately, the engineers didn’t create our national parks with today’s crowds in mind. With overwhelmed staff and overflowing parking lots, what was once a therapeutic visit has become stressful.
Park staff have struggled with overflowing trash receptacles and dirty restrooms. Traffic jams in the more popular national parks are nightmarish.
The number of rescues has also increased. Visitors underestimate nature and can be careless of slippery rocks, wild animals, and dangerous ledges.
Overcrowding has led to additional issues like hastily implemented visitor limitations and land destruction.
#2 Planning Required
In the past, you could just show up at a national park and enjoy the day. Now, day and overnight visits might have to make reservations or get turned away. Reservations help prevent large crowds and provide a good experience for as many visitors as possible.
Some national parks use reservations to limit visitors and avoid crowds throughout the park. In contrast, others only require reservations for certain fragile or popular sections.
The reservations systems limit when you can reserve tickets. For example, visitors may only purchase tickets 60 days in advance. Some parks only allow timed entry tickets.
Even with a reservation system, you might not be able to visit the park. There are a limited number of tickets, and they sell out quickly.
Visitors hoping to camp out also have to book in advance, sometimes months or years in advance.
Before you head out, make sure you check the specific park you’re interested in visiting. Find out if they have a reservation system and how it works. You don’t want to miss out because you didn’t plan your visit.
#3 Destruction of the Land
National parks are set up to allow visitors to enjoy the land without impacting it. However, many visitors disregard signs, notices, and advice to respect wildlife, naturally occurring features, and designated areas.
Many don’t seem to understand that the place they’re visiting is not like Disney – the rocks, the plants, the winding creeks, and the cascading waterfalls are natural. Visitors have taken plants, rocks, sticks, and even wild animals as souvenirs! When the environment is damaged, restoring it can take decades or more.
In addition, due to overcrowding, national park trails are congested and people step off the path to avoid each other. Therefore, hikers have made their own paths and trampled through plants and shrubbery destroying sometimes endangered flora.
Pro Tip: Respecting national parks is important! Discover more about Why RVers Must Leave No Trace!
#4 Older Campsites
Campgrounds in national parks were designed when RVs were lighter and shorter. The campgrounds lack amenities that many RVers long for, such as full hookups, paved roads and campsites, and modern bathhouses.
While some national park campsites can accommodate larger RVs, most can’t fit an RV longer than 28 feet or those with slides. Large sites book up fast, so they’re hard to find. The campgrounds often have tight spots, roads, and a limited turning radius.
National park campgrounds offer a place for visitors to enjoy nature, not have a resort experience. Campers come to the parks to disconnect from technology and slow down.
It’s an excellent environment to learn life skills, including campfire building and experiencing life without creature comforts.
National parks aren’t the cheapest recreational outlets out there. Not only is there an entrance fee, but there are also camping fees. You might also want to pick up a souvenir while you’re there.
And, depending on the park, there might not be many options for groceries or restaurants, meaning the available ones are expensive.
Some of the most expensive national parks charge an entry fee of $20 per person. Each national park has an annual pass, or you can purchase a pass that covers all US national parks.
Pro Tip: Do you travel with your furry friends? Find out Are Dogs Allowed in National Parks?
Of course, national parks aren’t the only ways to get out into nature. There are plenty of beautiful places to explore inside national forests and state parks. They tend to be cheaper, with smaller day and camping fees. Some even have free camping.
If you’re still interested in seeing national parks, we recommend visiting some lesser-known parks. They’ll have fewer crowds and more opportunities for an authentic experience. We also suggest visiting during the shoulder or off-season, either right before or after the busiest time of the year.
Is It Worth Going to a National Park in 2022?
Despite all the reasons to avoid national parks, they’re still worth visiting. The main thing is to be flexible and prepared. Will things calm down in another year or two? We can’t say. The future may mean being a little more of a planner than a free spirit when it comes to visiting our national parks.
Where are you going in 2022? Are you camping in national parks or looking at the alternatives? Drop a comment below!
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