With lockdowns lifted, Americans are heading for the great outdoors but in doing so some of the country’s National Park are becoming overrun with visitors.
As a result, the parks and nearby towns are becoming overcrowded with visitors with some even requiring reservations including California’s Yosemite National Park and Maine’s Acadia National Park.
The main reason for such high visit numbers well before the peak summer season is due to a higher percentage of first-timers checking out the nation’s natural wonders, according to the Bureau of Land Management after people were forced to endure months of lockdown and strict travel restrictions.
For much of 2020, many of the country’s National Park’s were closed to the public. It has led to a huge amount of pent up demand now that warmer months have arrived.
194,000 people visited Arches National Park in April in eastern Utah. The numbers were 15 percent higher than the number of visitors in 2019. The park was closed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Canyonlands, in southeastern Utah saw a 30 percent increase in visitor numbers in in April, compared with 2019.
At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, 438,000 people visited in May compared with 434,000 in 2019 – an 11 percent rise and the busiest May on record.
The surge in visitors means long wait times, sometimes of several hours in order to visit the parks. The higher footfall can also sometimes make them less enjoyable to visit.
Nationwide, some U.S. parks were emptier than normal during the pandemic, while Yellowstone and others were near capacity.
At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, 438,000 people visited in May compared with 434,000 in 2019 – an 11 percent rise and the busiest May ever. : Visitors watch black bears in Yellowstone National Park on June 8
In Maine, Acadia National Park began requiring a $6 reservation for vehicles heading up on Cadillac Summit Road, an extremely popular perch to watch the sunrise. Cars are pictures lining up on a weekend in mid-May this year
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is just one of many Parks that are experiencing record visitor numbers. Pictured, Old Faithful, a cone geyser. Memorial Day weekend is pictured
Visitor numbers are seen standing around Old Faithful at Yellowstone. Memorial Day weekend is pictured
At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, 438,000 people visited in May compared with 434,000 in 2019 – an 11 percent rise and the busiest May ever
On Monday, the park was forced to close just after 9am were forced to turn visitors away
Top Ten Most Visited National Parks
1.) Great Smoky Mountains National Park 12.1m
2.) Yellowstone National Park 3.8m
3.) Zion National Park 3.6m
4.) Rocky Mountain National Park 3.3m
5.) Grand Teton National Park 3.3m
6.) Grand Canyon National Park 2.9m
7.) Cuyahoga Valley National Park2.8m
8.) Acadia National Park 2.7m
9.) Olympic National Park 2.5m
10.) Joshua Tree National Park 2.4m
Outdoor experiences provided refuge from the pandemic for 237 million visitors to America’s national parks in 2020. The number represents a 28% decrease from the previous year due largely to temporary park closures and restrictions implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic .
Although overall visitation dropped, a number of parks experienced record crowds and welcomed new visitors. Trails, overlooks and open spaces provided safe ways for visitors to get some fresh air and stay active.
‘This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall wellbeing,’ said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge.
‘Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health.’
During the pandemic, 66 of the 423 parks of the National Park System were fully closed for two months or more.
The majority of parks – particularly those with outdoor spaces – remained accessible to the public. Just a handful of historic and cultural parks, primarily historic homes with limited indoor space, remain closed.
But now parks are once against becoming crowded.
‘Anywhere you go, there’s going to be a line,’ Libby Preslock told the Wall Street Journal.
Preslock recently visited Arched and showed up at 9am only to find the park already at capacity. She was advised to return between three and five hours later.
At Canyonlands there was also a wait but only for one hour.
‘Out of the five national parks, this is probably one of the most unique, but I definitely wouldn’t say it’s my favorite because there’s too many people,’ said Susan Mathews to the New York Post who recently visited Arches.
It’s not clear what the solution to overcrowding might be. Businesses in the area are against any kind of reservation system that are in place at Yosemite and Acadia.
People show up early at Canyonlands National Park in Utah in order to catch the sunrise. A sunrise is pictured last week
Yellowstone is similarly seeing a record number of visitors since all entrances were open for the 2021 tourist season. Visitors are pictured last week
Visitors, pictured last week, watch black bears in Yellowstone National Park last week. Yellowstone is seeing a record number of visitors since all entrances were open for the 2021 tourist season
Kent Green, the owner of Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures based in Moab, Utah, is against the introduction of reservations fearing such a policy might put off last-minute visitors from coming to the area.
‘I think it will kill our economy,’ he said.
At some privately owned attractions, reservation systems have been introduced to handle the fast-growing number of visitors including at the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve.
Similar management systems are in place this summer season for outdoor attractions from Maui to Maine, typically in response to the pandemic or to crowds that were surging even before lockdowns inspired more wilderness visits.
Trails elsewhere in New York’s 6 million-acre Adirondack Park remain reservation-free but hikers throughout the reserve are now checked in by staff in the parking lot and at the trailhead.
The reservation system offers a trade-off to visitors, sacrificing spontaneity and ease of access for benefits like a guaranteed parking spot and more elbow room in the woods.
Visitors watch bison and their newborns as they cross the road in Yellowstone National Park, pictured last week
The coronavirus pandemic saw many National Parks shut in 2020. With summer approaching people more people than ever are visiting outdoors. Visitors watch black bears in Yellowstone National Park on June 8
Early-rising visitors to Acadia National Park await the sunrise on the summit of Cadillac Mountain, near Bar Harbor, Maine, pictured, last month. The Maine Governo Janet Mills eliminated most outdoor distancing requirements imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic as the tourism season begins to kick into gear
Arches National Park in Utah has also been experiencing long traffic jams with staff. This was the scene on Thursday
Popular trailhead parking lots are typically filled before dawn on summer weekends. Summits like Cascade Mountain are packed.
The three-year pilot reservation system, announced by the reserve and the state in March, is designed both to protect natural resources and for public safety. State officials hope the managed entry will reduce illegal roadside parking.
Outdoor reservation systems are not new, especially for camping spots. But they are popping up more as parks brace for a busy summer now that the coronavirus pandemic is waning in the U.S. and restrictions are being lifted.
Waianapanapa State Park in Hawaii began requiring entry and parking reservations for non-residents. Yosemite and Rocky Mountain national parks have entry reservation systems in place.
Tanya Wyler takes a photograph as Matthias Zather and Ines Zather, all of Switzerland, gather at the Grand Canyon Friday last May after the Grand Canyon National Park increased recreational access at the South Rim to selected viewpoints
A parking reservation sign alerts visitors at the entrance to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve trailhead in St. Huberts, New York A free reservation system went online recently to control growing numbers of visitors packing the parking lot and tramping on the trails through the private land of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. Pictured last month
Adirondack Mountain Reserve Ranger Mike Ryan, right, checks in two hikers at the trailhead of the reserve, pictured in May
In Maine, Acadia National Park began requiring a $6 reservation last month for vehicles heading up on Cadillac Summit Road, an extremely popular perch to watch the sunrise. The move, part of a larger park transportation plan, was designed to cut down on traffic backups.
Glacier National Park in Montana recently launched a similar advance vehicle reservation on its 50 mile Going-to-the-Sun Road and quickly sold out the initial slots, prompting complaints on social media from frustrated tourists.
More reservations are made available daily on a rolling basis.
Advocates say the inconvenience is outweighed by the need to protect wilderness from overuse. Though the day-use reservation system at Yosemite National Park was enacted because of the pandemic, it has helped solve congestion problems that have plagued the attraction, said Neal Desai, a senior program director with the National Parks Conservation Association.
‘We need people´s experience to match their expectations, and there´s a massive disconnect right now,’ said Desai, who advocates for Yosemite. ‘People think they´re getting nature and beautiful trails and instead they´re inhaling car exhaust for hours and finding trails and facilities overcrowded.’
The number of Americans who hiked last year increased by 8.1 million, the largest one-year gain on record, according to the Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association.
National park visits dropped precipitously last year amid pandemic-related park closures and restrictions. But the drop followed years of high use and crowds are expected back in force this year.
‘We expect that there will be significant increases in visitation at many parks as COVID mitigation measures are reduced, vaccination rates rise, and Americans increase their travel,’ National Parks Service deputy director for operations Shawn Benge told a Senate committee last month.