How to Visit National Parks during COVID: Here’s what you can do in 22 of the 62

National parks are open with COVID restrictions in place

Between wildfire concerns in the West and park closures both seasonal and weather-based, the status of these parks can change overnight. Check—then double check—each park to ensure you’re traveling safely and to a place you can actually access. We’ll continue to intermittently update this list throughout the winter. 

If you thought the national parks—which punched well above their weight in providing quarantine relief once they reopened—would be able to ease out of fall and into winter, you are underestimating 2020. Most parks are humming along with COVID restrictions in place. But seasonal closures are going into effect in many areas. Wildfires have effectively closed Rocky Mountain while smoke continues to choke parks all along the west coast. Even in places where skies are clear new safety protocols make visiting the parks somewhat more complicated. 

To keep you informed on the status of each national park—what services are available, whether you can camp, and more—I’ve kept tabs on 22 of the 62 to ensure you’re maximizing your time outdoors. This list is current as of November 14, 2020. Now go forth and be safe.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities:  Yes

Arches is back in pretty much full swing… and everybody knows it. If the park is at capacity, they will very much turn you away. The whole of Utah is basically one big national park so if you do get turned away, you still have many, many options. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

This South Dakota icon with its rugged geologic beauty is mostly open for business as usual. Be sure to stop off for free ice water at Wall Drug while you’re here: Now that the Sturgis rally is long over and all the Hogs have gone home, you’ll likely find smaller crowds at the T-rex show. 

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas
Status:  Open
Camping:  Limited
Amenities: Yes

After COVID crashed the party this summer things are easing back to normal. Day-use hikes and backcountry stays are on the table so make a reservation for one of the limited RV campsites. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

Bryce is pretty much back in full swing with distancing protocols and a limit on campground occupancy. Shuttles are open, horses are rearin’ to go, breakfast is back on the menu, and ranger tours are a thing again. One of Utah’s greatest treasures has awoken. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

This oft-overlooked Utah gem is back and going strong: You can now hit up the winding roads and endless trails then bed down at campsites. You can also score supplies at park stores. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

This International Dark Sky Park combines the best of Utah’s more famous national parks into one lesser-visited package of awesomeness. And it’s fully open for all activities including camping, hiking, and checking out the visitor center.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: No

Carlsbad’s open with one-way traffic in the cavern. No timed entry except November 21-29 and December 19-January3. The bat flight can still be viewed from the east parking lot past the visitor center around sunset each evening.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Limited

The nation’s oldest hardwood bottomland didn’t keep its 500-year-old bald cypress and water tupelo alive through multiple plagues, yellow fever, and the Twilight saga by taking chances. The park opened slowly and now most of it’s in play: That means you can hike in most of the park, canoe and fish, and camp if you scored a spot. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

The Grand Canyon has widened (pun aside) its access 24/7 though there are some limits. Campsites are slowly expanding their availability and lodges are now open.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

The nation’s most popular park allows access to most of its sprawling trails so go forth and peep those leafs but keep an eye on their site for closures. If you’re looking to stay overnight, several campgrounds are now open though most are still on lockdown.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

This gloriously trippy desert playground has opened up its trails, roads, bathrooms, and individual “family” campsites, which in California parlance ranges from actual family units to cult compounds of up to 25 people. Those are available on a first come, first served basis so arrive early if you plan to find yourself at night peering up at the star-studded heavens as is the way here.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities:  Yes

This remarkable park in Northern California’s Shasta Cascades is now offering up ample access to its rugged wilderness and rare geothermal delights. Just be sure to take that “rugged” part seriously. For example, Manzanita Lake is currently closed because river otters—we kid you not—will not hesitate to straight-up maul your face if they think you’re a threat to their babies. And check for snow closures before heading out.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

America’s largest archeological preserve has been around since 7,500 BC and is more or less in full swing at this point though you still can’t tour the cliff-dwellings, the museum, or the main visitor center. Otherwise, go nuts, and feel free to stay in the RV campground or the lodge. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Status: Open
Camping: No
Amenities: No

The park road, trails, and very hard wilderness areas are now open at this stunning park that suddenly pops up along both sides of Route 66 in eastern Arizona. Even if you’re just on an epic road trip you should make it a point to cruise through.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: No

The site for this Central California park boasts about it being “Born of Fire.” Right now, fire danger is extreme following significant fire-related closures. Be smart. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Status: Open
Camping:  Yes
Amenities: Yes

Located on either side of Tucson, this cacti-laden gem is currently allowing tent campers though groups are limited to 10 which gives you a good excuse not to invite Cousin Eddie. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California
Status: Open
Camping:  Yes
Amenities:  Yes
Both Kings Canyon and the densely forested Sequoia are open but fires are causing closures in and around the park. Smoke is giving it a serious ’70s dive bar vibe. You can still visit but will likely have a better experience sometime down the road.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Status: Open
Camping:  Yes
Amenities:  Yes

Renowned for its fabled Skyline Drive, this national treasure encompassing part of the Blue Ridge Mountains is well into phase 3 which means you can now access Old Rag and Whiteoak, set up shop in backcountry campgrounds and huts, and pitch a tent in designated sites provided you respect the social distancing rules.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Status: Open
Camping: Backcountry only
Amenities: Limited

Look, it’s not like they named this ultra-underrated park—where the prairies and the Badlands converge, forests stand petrified, Buffalo and antelope roam and the sky’s one big panoramic light show—James Buchanan National Park. It’s named after Theodore Roosevelt. Of course it’s open for day use and backcountry camping. Seasonal closures, however, are currently in place as winter comes early in these parts. And I’m talking big time cold and snow!

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park. New Mexico
Status: Open
Camping: No
Amenities: Yes

America’s newest national park didn’t pick a great time for its coming out party. Transitioning from a national monument to a national park in the final days of 2019, the park was forced to shut down just a few months later and was among the last to reopen. But hey, it’s open now! No, you can’t camp. Yes, you can rent a sled and go rocketing down the dunes. Seems like a fair tradeoff. Then head up the road Alamogordo way for the World’s largest nut!

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah
Status: Open
Camping: Yes
Amenities: Yes

One of America’s most beloved parks is easing back into public life with the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and many park trails currently open, though Angels Landing is still off limits. Shuttles, too, are back in business on a timed reservation system. Services including canyon rides and the Zion Lodge are also back in action. 

Worth Pondering…

One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.

—Eric Metaxas