Since the pandemic and its corresponding visitation boom, several national parks have implemented timed-entry reservations to reduce crowding and ensure that visitors have access to parking during their stay. But after Labor Day, many of these national parks see entries drop, which allows them to lift those crowd-thinning rules. While parks like Haleakala National Park require year-round reservations because of consistent traffic, others reduce their reservation requirements for the winter. Want to make an impromptu visit to one of America’s crown jewels? These 7 destinations should be on your list.
Rocky Mountain National Park
In 2021, Rocky Mountain National Park implemented its first timed-entry system to fight park congestion. Entrances were based on 75 to 85 percent of the park’s parking capacity. Today, the park has two different timed entry systems: The main corridor requires a reservation from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., while the rest of the park requires a reservation from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.. These requirements are in effect from May 27 to October 10, and the reservation costs $2.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is notorious for its short visitation season on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is often closed due to snow until late in the summer. The shortened season typically contributes to high traffic levels, which can make the park experience chaotic. The park’s current reservation system runs from May 27 through September 11, so it has already wrapped up for the year. Like Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier has two different reservation systems: one for the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and one for the Polebridge Ranger Station. Each reservation costs $2.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park piloted its timed-entry season in 2022 in an attempt to curb the crowds. Visitors to the park need a reservation for every day of their visit if they plan to enter between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.. The reservation season runs from April 3 to October 3. Reservations cost $2.
Yosemite National Park
During the park’s peak season, Yosemite National Park now requires a timed reservation from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.. These $2 reservations run from May 20 through September 30.
Iconic Park Destinations with Lapsing Restrictions
Some national parks do not require a timed reservation for general admission, but they do have seasonal restrictions on the most popular features within the park. Off-peak times offer a great opportunity to experience the nation’s most coveted national park destinations without the headache.
Shenandoah National Park
Old Rag is a 3,284-foot mountain in Shenandoah National Park that is known for its scrambles and stunning vistas. It’s a fall-favorite hike because the changing foliage creates an unforgettable spectacle. But if you want to hike Old Rag, you’ll need a $1 ticket for day use from March 1 through November 30.
Acadia National Park
Visitors can see most of Acadia National Park without a reservation. But in order to experience the Cadillac Summit Road, you’ll need a reservation from May 25 to October 22, and it’ll cost you $6. The Cadillac Summit Road takes visitors to Acadia’s tallest peak, where they can enjoy the sunrise while overlooking the water.
Redwood National Park
The Gold Bluffs Beach Day Use Area in Redwood National and State Parks is one of the most popular destinations in the unit. Over the past few years, officials have expressed concern about the safety issues that crowding could create. Because of this, the park implemented a seasonal permit system that is in effect from May 1 to September 30; permits are free of charge.
Visiting during the off-peak season can be a great way to experience national parks with fewer crowds and fewer reservations. Keep in mind that many of these reservation programs are pilot programs, which means that they are susceptible to future changes. In addition to visiting these national parks outside of their reservation windows, national parks are offering free entry on September 24 in celebration of National Public Lands Day.