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And some of the most visited national parks in the United States are going through the same thing — the downside of being popular.
It puts them in quite the jam, especially those with short, sought-after peak seasons and one-of-a-kind attractions. After all, you want people to come. Just not too many all at once. Achieving a balance can be tricky.
And like those canal-laced European favorites, the US National Park Service is turning to some of the same methods to regulate the flow.
How does this affect you? If you want to visit a popular park this summer, it’s already time to plan.
Extra fees, advanced reservations, special passes, lotteries and caps on the number of visitors are all in play in 2022 to keep what’s special about some crowd-pleasing parks from being deluged by the sheer flood of humanity.
Travelers to national parks: We want in!
Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming saw record visitation in 2021.
The Covid-19 pandemic fueled the desire of people hunkered down in small spaces for weeks and months at the time to head out into the restorative wilds all over the country.
In 2021, they especially packed the big-name parks, parkways and related sites. Here’s a brief snapshot of some of the action:
You begin to see what these park areas are up against.
So the NPS is experimenting with a variety of ways to satisfy crowd demand and safeguard fragile environments at the same time. Here are some of the things you may encounter on your next visit:
New entry fees
A boardwalk leads down a dune at Indiana Dunes National Park, which will be instituting an entry fee.
The fees will vary depending on how you enter. The walk-in / bike-in / boat-in rate will be $15 per person (up to a maximum of $25 per family).
The new fee revenue will help pay for a bike trail and other improvements, the park said.
Sunsets at Arches National Park in Utah are stunning. The park has set up a timed entry program from early April to early October.
The days of just popping into the most popular parks on the spur of the moment could be fading.
• February 1: May reservations (May 1-31)
• March 1: June reservations (June 1-30)
• April 1: July reservations (July 1-31)
Extra fees or advance tickets for popular attractions
A view from the Old Rag Mountain hiking trail at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. You’ll have to get a special day-use ticket to visit Old Rag.
You might start encountering more fees or advance tickets (or both) for highly popular park attractions once you’re inside.
The trial program will be in effect from March 1 to November 30.
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is just one of many spectacular natural spots in the wildly popular park.
Lane Erickson/Adobe Stock
Some features are so popular that the NPS is trying out lotteries — and there’s no guarantee you’ll win.
New entrance stations
Joshua Tree National Park is taking public comment on a new entrance station.
Doug Oglesby/Adobe Stock
The last thing you want on your escape is being in a city-style traffic jam. Limited entry points can often be pain points these days.
The park hopes a new station will ease “excessively long traffic back-up outside the park boundary” as well as give park staff safer working conditions in the desert.
Campground size limits
Big RVs are posing a problem at some places run by the NPS.
“The current limits in place will be enforced for the safety and protection of the park and visitor property,” said Darrell Echols, Gulf Islands superintendent, in a news release.
“In 2021, Gulf Islands National Seashore saw an increase in incidents resulting in damage to park resources and visitors’ property. The enforcement of these restrictions is expected to reduce these incidents.”
Planning far out on your calendar
A tourist visits an overlook at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. You have to plan really far out to raft the Colorado River at the bottom.
Matteo Colombo/Moment RF/Getty Images
The general trend is toward visitors having to plan out their trips for months and even more than a year ahead.
The application period ends on February 22. The NPS says follow-up lotteries are “held as needed throughout the remainder of the year to reassign canceled and/or left-over river trips.”
Other NPS efforts
Glacier National Park in Montana will have a ticket system in place for peak season.
Snehit Photo/Adobe Stock
Here’s a short roundup of other parks and their crowd-control efforts for 2022:
Escape the crowds
A brown bear rests along a river in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Paul Souders/Adobe Stock
Don’t like those fees and early planning involved with the most popular parks?
Consider visiting lower-profile or harder-to-reach parks. The NPS is encouraging people to see their other offerings. Some ideas:
Go state level
You don’t have to go national to see epic wilderness. For example: New York’s Letchworth State Park.
And one last option to consider: state parks. There are some great ones scattered around the United States, and they might be less congested while still offering memorable nature excursions. Some more ideas:
Top image: At Sequoia National Park in California, a hiker enjoys a bit of solitude — a sometimes rare commodity at popular national parks in peak season. (Maygutyak/Adobe Stock)