In 2021 and 2022, several highly trafficked national parks implemented a reservation system to help control crowds and provide and more enjoyable experience for guests. The stunning scenery, hiking trails, and historical and cultural centers beckon visitors year after year.
But spontaneous trips became more difficult with the reservation system in place. Instead, visitors had to plan weeks, if not months, in advance to ensure they could hike a specific trail or enter on a certain day.
Here are seven national parks that are getting rid of those reservations this Fall.
About America’s National Parks?
A national park is an area set aside and protected by the federal government. This public land belongs to all people, and no one person or corporation can own it.
The land may be designated as a national park because of its beauty and landscape, historical and cultural significance, or scientific importance. Both the wildlife and the land itself are protected.
In 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) was a creation to administer the parks. The mission of the NPS is “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
The NPS currently manages 423 national park units, including national battlefields, seashores, and monuments. There are 63 national parks.
Why Do National Parks Have Reservations?
In 2016, more than a million people visited Muir Woods National Monument in California. But the parking lot only has 232 parking spaces. So when the spaces filled up, tourists illegally parked their cars on the road and walked up to a mile to enter the monument. There wasn’t a sidewalk, so these visitors shared the road with other vehicles. That certainly wasn’t safe. As a result, Muir Woods National Monument implemented an online reservations in 2018 that required guests to reserve a parking space up to 90 days in advance.
That’s just one example. Other national park sites struggled to control the crowds of visitors and found a need for a reservation system. From Arches National Park to Acadia National Park, guests are arriving in record numbers. This is great for tourism, and it’s wonderful to see Americans supporting the national parks. However, there are also serious problems that result.
There has been damage to the lands in recent years due to heavier-than-normal traffic and hikers who don’t stay on designated paths. Safety has become even more of an issue because of reckless parking and overcrowded hiking trails. The experience hasn’t been the same. There are long wait lines to get into the park, crowded viewing areas and overlooks, and vandalism to our national treasures.
In response, the NPS chose to implement reservation systems across the country. That includes locations like Shenandoah National Park’s hike, Old Rag Mountain, and Glacier National Park’s scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. The hope has been to provide a better experience for visitors with fewer crowds and less waiting and protect the land from heavy foot traffic.
Why Are Some National Parks Getting Rid of Reservations?
As the nation returns to a new normal after the pandemic, some national parks are easing restrictions such as online reservations because social distancing is encouraged but no longer required.
Other national parks are getting rid of reservations because their peak season has ended. Perhaps reservations will begin again in 2023, but for the rest of 2022, some national parks are lifting their reservation system.
7 National Parks Getting Rid of Reservations this Fall
If you’re planning on visiting a national park, it’s always best to keep checking to make sure restrictions haven’t changed. Every season and year, the requirements may be different. To date, here are seven national parks that are getting rid of reservations this fall.
1. Glacier National Park
About: Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park is home to some of the last glaciers on the earth. Alpine meadows, carved valleys, beautiful lakes, and over 700 miles of trails provide an outdoor wonderland for adventurers. It’s a paradise of beauty like the Garden of Eden.
Highlights to See: Going-to-the-Sun Road is a scenic drive all visitors shouldn’t miss. Connecting the east to the west side of the park, this road features tunnels, creeks, overlooks, wide vistas, and more. Lake McDonald is another highlight of Glacier National Park with its beautiful, pristine blue waters.
Guests can get a free boat permit for a day on the water or book reservations at one of the historic chalets overlooking the lake.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for these Most Dangerous Creatures in Glacier National Park during your trip.
2. Yosemite National Park
About: Yosemite National Park may be best-known for its waterfalls, such as the cascading Yosemite Falls that plummets 2,425 feet. Visitors also enjoy lush valleys, beautiful meadows, and ancient giant sequoias. The park was established in 1890, eight years after Yellowstone became the first national park.
Highlights to See: Glacier Point is an overlook with a stunning view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country. In the southern portion of Yosemite, the Mariposa Grove is the largest sequoia grove and is home to over 500 of these ancient trees.
Visitors can’t travel to Yosemite and not view the waterfalls. With falls like Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Falls, and Bridalveil Falls, there are countless opportunities to enjoy this wonderland.
3. Zion National Park
About: Utah’s first national park offers massive sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and rich history of early travelers. Different indigenous tribes settled in this area now called Zion, and Mormon travelers passed through on their way to Salt Lake City. The wilderness of Zion National Park contains over 124,000 acres, including rivers, streams, and numerous backcountry hiking trails.
Highlights to See: The Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. The 16-mile hike is a hike of a lifetime if you’re able to do it. Otherwise, you can wade in the waters and enjoy the stunning scenery. Angel’s Landing is another popular hike that is 5.4 miles roundtrip.
However, this hike includes long drop-offs and steep ledges. So, it’s not the hike for anyone afraid of heights. The scenic 5-mile drive along the Kolob Canyons Road provides beautiful views of the crimson canyons and access to trails and scenic viewpoints.
Pro Tip: Use our Zion National Park Road Trip Guide to plan your ultimate adventure.
4. Arches National Park
About: Arches National Park is a wonderland of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures. It has over 2,000 natural stone arches and giant balanced rocks. It’s also one of the best places to view the night sky. Because of its remote location and distance from light pollution,
Arches was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2019. Rain, storms, and the Colorado River continue to shape this desert landscape through erosion and fracturing.
Highlights to See: There are so many arches and rock structures within this national park, but a few you definitely should visit are Delicate Arch, Double Arch, Landscape Arch, the Windows Section, and Balanced Rock.
The Fiery Furnace offers a unique trail through narrow passageways in the stone. Getting lost in this labyrinth is easy, so a guided ranger-led tour is advised. Definitely make plans to visit Arches National Park at night for stunning stargazing opportunities.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
About: Over 300 miles of hiking trails, incredible wildlife viewing, and towering mountain peaks define Rocky Mountain National Park. The 415 square miles feature meadows, lakes, mountains, and more. Fall is a spectacular time to witness the aspen leaves changing to gold, orange, and red.
This National Park is especially popular for wildlife viewers who want to catch glimpses of elk, bighorn sheep, moose, otters, mule deer, and more.
Highlights to See: Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road, and Bear Lake Road all offer beautiful scenic drives to enjoy the immensity of the landscape. You can walk the 1-mile trail around Bear Lake for stunning views of the aspen, spruce, fir, and pine trees.
The Emerald Lake Trail, although a bit longer at just over 3 miles, also offers similar scenery around Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Tyndall Creek. In addition, this trail leads to breathtaking views of Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain.
6. Acadia National Park
About: Known as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” Acadia National Park welcomes approximately 4 million visitors each year and now reservations are no longer needed to visit. The 45 miles of carriage roads are unique to this national park and the product of John D. Rockefeller Jr’s hard work and generosity.
Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing are common activities. Over 150 miles of trails wind through Mount Desert Island.
Highlights to See: Catch the first sunrise in America by sitting atop Cadillac Mountain. Venture into Bar Harbor to explore the quaint shops and restaurants with the unique New England vibe. Drive Park Loop Road – one of the best scenic roads in the country.
Head over to the other half of Acadia National Park on the Schoodic Peninsula and marvel at the crashing waves against the rocks at Schoodic Point. And whatever hiking trail you choose, you’ll be in awe of the spectacular scenery surrounding you.
Pro Tip: Spend the night at one of these 5 Best Acadia Campgrounds for RV Owners during your trip to Maine.
7. Shenandoah National Park
About: Like Rocky Mountain National Park, the Fall is a great time to visit Shenandoah National Park to view the beautiful colors. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles throughout the entire park and offers amazing overlooks and opportunities for wildlife viewing. From Skyline Drive, you can access other points of interest like Big Meadows, Old Hag Mountain, and Skyland.
Shenandoah’s Wilderness Area makes up 40% of the entire park.
Highlights to See: You must drive Skyline Drive to travel through the park, but take your time and stop at the overlooks. From meadows to ridges, this scenic drive is a must.
One of the most popular hikes is to Old Rag Mountain. It’s strenuous, so only experienced hikers should make the attempt. The more than 2,300 feet in elevation gain is challenging but well worth the view from the top.
Are National Parks Worth Visiting in the Fall?
With the leaves changing colors in the fall, national parks like Rocky Mountain, Acadia, and Shenandoah are prime locations for spectacular viewing. Even if you don’t have time to get out of the car, driving along the scenic routes makes the trip well worth it.
But even if you can’t visit in the fall, it’s good news for many national park travelers that these seven parks are getting rid of their reservation system. You might still have to deal with crowds, but as the winter season nears, you can enjoy your visits spontaneously. Get out there and embrace America’s national treasures.
Which National Park will you visit this fall? Tell us in the comments!
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