10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits

Planning a trip to a national park in 2024? Check to see which parks will require advanced reservations and timed entry as peak travel season arrives.

With the arrival of the New Year, many are making plans for the 2024 travel season. Whether taking one of the many bucket list-worthy national park road trips or planning an entire trip around a single park, America’s protected, nature-packed areas are some of the most popular travel destinations in the U.S.

As travelers are making plans to visit national parks, the park system readies itself to receive the influx of visitors. For some of the most beautiful (and popular) national parks, this means implementing early reservation and timed entry systems to control the flow of vehicles and people into each park.

As of early January 2024, the following national parks have announced early reservation systems for the upcoming peak season between April and October. Some parks will have timed entry for one or two of their most popular attractions while others are preparing to use a timed entry system for the entire park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start planning now; these are the national parks that require reservations in advance and will take some serious preparation!

1. Yosemite National Park, California

Reservations required for: Entire park (select days)

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S. with some of the most iconic granite structures in the world. With such iconic hiking trails, scenic drives, and backcountry campsites, it’s no surprise Yosemite National Park requires timed entry reservations during parts of the peak season.

The most significant reservation requirement in Yosemite National Park is during February when the famous Yosemite Firefall is visible. Reservations are required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park every weekend in February to help control traffic.

In addition to the February reservations, timed entry is also required during most of the peak season (April to October). Reservations will be required on weekends in April, June, September, and October and daily during July and August. Controlled crowds are positive for guests in the park, leaving more room to enjoy not just the stunning Firefall but all the sights and stunning hiking trails in Yosemite National Park.

About Yosemite National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days
  • Reservation fee: None
  • When are reservations required: Weekends in February, April 13-October 27

2. Glacier National Park, Montana

Reservations required for: Going-to-the-Sun Highway, Many Glacier, and North Fork

Home to some of the most spectacular scenic drives Glacier National Park is certainly a must-visit destination. Between May 24 and September 8, admission to the most popular parts of this region will require an additional pass.

Vehicle reservations will be required to drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway and to enter the Many Glacier and North Fork areas. Reservations will be required from 6 am until 3 pm each day during the peak season.

For those who have planned activities in these areas like camping, horseback riding, or boating the pass to the activity doubles as the vehicle reservation pass as well. Given that Going-to-the-Sun Road in particular is the access point to some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park, travelers are sure to be grateful for the limitations on crowds as they enjoy the one-of-a-kind views.

About Glacier National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days
  • Reservation fee: None
  • When are reservations required: May 24-September 8 (6 am-3 pm)
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park, Utah

Reservations required for: Angel’s Landing and The Narrows

Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country and is well-established as being one of the best national parks for scenic hiking. One of those hikes, however, will require some advanced planning.

Angel’s Landing, one of the most dangerous hikes in the U.S. is not a trail that people can just jump onto spontaneously. Hopeful hikers must first enter the seasonal lottery to obtain a permit or they can try their luck with the day-before lottery system on the Zion National Park website. Those who do not receive a permit can still hike to Scout Lookout along the strenuous West Rim Trail which gains 1,000 feet in elevation over 2.3 miles and provides scenic views of Zion Canyon.

While Angel’s Landing is the most famous hike that requires a permit in Zion National Park, there is one other trek that will need a reservation as well. The 16-mile Through Virgin Rivers Narrows hike requires a reservation as well and visitors will need to note whether they plan to spend the night on the trail or not.

About Zion National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $6/group (Angel’s Landing)
  • When are reservations required: Year-round

4. Acadia National Park, Maine

Reservations required for: Cadillac Summit Road

From the forests to the coastline to the mountains, Acadia National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places in America (a fact that was recently confirmed by Condé Nast Traveler). Cadillac Mountain is one of the main attractions of this scenic region and for good reason. As the highest point in the park, the views are practically endless.

During peak season, however, the drive to Cadillac Mountain’s summit aptly named the Cadillac Summit Road will require reservations. From May to October, visitors to Acadia National Park will need to purchase a separate reservation pass to gain access to Cadillac Summit Road. Since the park’s shuttle does not service the summit the views from the top are exclusively for those who have planned allowing everyone to get that perfect shot.

About Acadia National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $6/vehicle
  • When are reservations required: May-October

5. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

Reservations required for: Sunrise Park entry

For most national parks that require reservations, the goal is to limit crowds during the crazy midday rush that often bombards these natural wonders. In Hawaii, however, the rush starts at 3 am with people clamoring for a perfect place to enjoy the sunrise.

One of the best places to watch the sunrise in Hawaii is Haleakalā National Park. The park has become so popular for sunrise watching that Haleakalā National Park has implemented a reservation system for sunrise viewing. Between 3 am and 7 am entry to the park requires the purchase of a reservation slot in addition to the normal park fees.

To ensure that everyone has their chance to enjoy the morning glow slots open 60 days in advance with a second set of slots opening just 48 hours before the time frame. Golden ticket in hand and backpack on, early risers will be in perfect shape to enjoy the morning glow rising over the tropical landscape.

About Haleakalā National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $1/person
  • When are reservations required: Year-round
Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Arches National Park, Utah

Reservations required for: The entire park

Arches National Park is home to the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world and these delicate formations require a little extra protection to maintain. Starting on April 1, 2024, Arches National Park will require time entry for peak season.

As a relatively compact national park, Arches does not have the acreage of some of the other national parks for guests to spread out. As a result, a timed program is being introduced to manage the crowds that the park sees between April and October.

A small, non-refundable $2 fee will ensure one’s vehicle entry to the park. Alternatively, those who have reservations for camping or other park activities will be able to use their activity tickets as their timed entry passes. These precautions are great news to visitors who are hoping to enjoy the amazing rock formations in Arches National Park without overcrowding on the park’s roads and trails.

About Arches National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $2/person
  • When are reservations required: April 1 – October 31
Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Reservation required for: The entire park

Located west of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park feels a world away from the busy city streets of downtown. Despite the remote feel, the park’s proximity to a major city means that crowds are to be expected especially during peak season.

To combat the waves of eager hikers, bikers, and campers, Rocky Mountain National Park has a two-part timed entry system in place between May and October. The first reservation is for Bear Lake Road Corridor which gives a two-hour entry window between 5 am and 6 pm to both Bear Lake Road Corridor and the rest of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The other timed entry reservation is exclusively for the rest of the park or everywhere except Bear Lake Road Corridor. This reservation also gives a two-hour entry window and is only required between 9 am and 2 pm.

About Rocky Mountain National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $2/person
  • When are reservations required: May 24-October 20

Note: Rocky Mountain National Park is undergoing several major construction projects. Even with timed entry reservations limiting guest numbers, visitors should be prepared for long lines in some areas of the park including at both main entrance points.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Reservations required for: Old Rag Mountain

A scenic day trip from Washington DC, the mountains and forests of Shenandoah National Park draw in thousands of visitors each year. There are so many things to do in Shenandoah National Park from hiking to scenic drives to fishing, so it’s no surprise that limitations are in place to control visitor numbers and prevent overcrowding.

During peak season, visitors to Shenandoah National Park will need a reservation to visit one of the most popular areas for hiking and backpacking, Old Rag Mountain. Visitors can obtain a day-use permit pass which grants access to the mountain and its scenic hiking trails including the Old Rag Summit hike.

Tickets are released in two batches, 30 days and 5 days ahead of the permit date. This means that advanced planners and last-minute travelers alike will have a chance to take in these incredible summit views.

About Shenandoah National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $1/person
  • When are reservations required: March 1-November 30
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Muir Woods National Monument, California

Reservations required for: The entire park

Muir Woods National Monument was one of the first parks to implement a reserved entrance fee requiring entrance reservations starting in 2018. Starting in 2024, Muir Woods National Monument’s reservation system is getting an update with a shuttle service to and from the park being offered instead of making a parking reservation.

With limited parking space and a delicate ecosystem within Muir Woods, a reservation system is a matter of necessity. As a result, parking and shuttle reservations are required year-round. This means more space in the park for guests to enjoy the scenic hiking trails, towering redwoods, and coastal views that make Muir Woods National Monument a hotspot for hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

About Muir Woods National Monument reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $15/person
  • Reservation fee: $9.50/vehicle or $3.75/person via shuttle
  • When are reservations required: Year-round

10. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Reservations required for: Grand Teton backcountry overnights

For many national parks, it is the busy scenic driving routes and hiking trails that require permits to limit overcrowding and damage to the delicate ecosystems. In Grand Teton National Park, however, it is a trip to the remote backcountry that will require advanced planning.

Reservations are required to overnight hike, backpack, or camp in Grand Teton National Park’s backcountry and permits are only available between January and May for the entire year. As a result, visitors hoping to explore the wilder parts of this Wyoming gem in 2024 will need to plan well in advance.

About Grand Teton National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $15/person
  • Reservation fee: $20/permit flat rate and $7/person nightly fee
  • When are reservations required: Year-round

Backcountry permits for Grand Teton National Park peak season become available on January 10, 2024, at 8 am MST. Walk-up permits are also available at the backcountry office and can be obtained no more than 24 hours before the permit takes effect.

Worth Pondering…

A national park is not a playground; it’s a sanctuary for nature and for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.

—Michael Frome

Top 10 National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

The chance to spot a bear, bison, or bald eagle in the wild is one of the major reasons RVers visit America’s 63 national parks

The sky is broad, the land is rugged, and the air fills your lungs with joy. But for many adventurers, the true appeal of a trek through a national park is the fine detail: the living flora and fauna often rare and unusual that quietly populate the landscape.

U.S. national parks are each home to an average of 415 species of wildlife—often hundreds more—and over a thousand different plants. Yet there’s not really such a thing as the average national park. Each has its unique characters, families, sights, and sounds. From tiny but tough pikas to trumpeter swans and Dutchman’s breeches, these wild expanses are full of surprises.

So where are most of those surprises found? A recent report from vacation rental site Casago analyzed National Park Service data to find out which parks have the most wildlife and plants per 100 km² (38.61021585 square miles) and which have the greatest biodiversity overall.

Casago sourced the number of species of amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals, and reptiles in each national park from the National Park Service’s Integrated Resource Management Applications (IRMA) portal. They combined the figures to give the total number of animals overall and per 100 km² in each park and calculated additional figures just including birds. And then they did the same for plant species.

Dear in Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key findings

  • Congaree in South Carolina has the greatest density of wildlife species with 362 per 100 km²
  • However, Biscayne in Florida has more overall: a total of 1,002
  • Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico boasts 194 bird species per 100 km², the highest density
  • Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio has the densest plant biodiversity of all at 935 species per 100 km²
  • The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee have the highest number of plant species overall: 2,278.
Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Number of species per square kilometer: 362

Life of all kinds from tiny synchronous fireflies to 160-foot-tall loblolly pines crowds this park’s bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem 18 miles from Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. Congaree is also laced with rivers and lakes that sustain its astonishing biodiversity. 

Paddling the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is a great way to look for wildlife. Most commonly you see what we call the creepy-crawlies including fishing spiders with leg spans wider than your palm and red-bellied water snakes. Other residents you might encounter include barred owls, river otters, pileated woodpeckers, and sometimes, alligators gliding on the water.

2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Number of species per square kilometer: 317

Located 20 miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a mixed ecosystem of oak-hickory forest, meadows, and wetlands sheltering a variety of animals. From the boardwalk at Beaver Marsh watch for water-loving mammals (river otters, muskrats, beavers) or snapping turtles that can weigh as much as 55 pounds each. It’s neat to see the old-timers covered in moss. 

More than 200 bird species live or migrate through the park including nesting peregrine falcons (near the Route 82 Bridge) and bald eagles (hike the Towpath Trail north from Station Road Trailhead). Check the park website for occasional birding walks or ranger talks.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Number of species per square kilometer: 286

The poster child for Carlsbad Caverns is the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of the furry, big-eared creatures roost in these honeycombed limestone caves in southeastern New Mexico attracting crowds at sunset with their spectacular outflight. But it’s just as exciting to come just before dawn and watch the bats return; the bats tuck their wings and execute speedy dives back into the caverns.

The Brazilians are one of 17 bat species that nest at Carlsbad. You might also encounter ringtails (a small, raccoon-like mammal), porcupines, peccaries, and cave swallows.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Pinnacles National Park, California

Number of species per square kilometer: 255

Driven to the brink of extinction in the 1980s, the mighty California condor now soars again over this landscape of twisty volcanic peaks in central California. Intense recovery efforts including a captive breeding program and the establishment of two distinctive wild-flying populations have brought the population of the largest birds in North America from just 22 in in 1982 to 347 condors today. 

Eighty-nine of the birds are thought to live in and around Pinnacles. If you have binoculars, you have a good chance of seeing condors flying over the ridge behind the main campground in the mornings and evenings.

Other Pinnacles standouts include golden eagles, peregrine falcons, an exceptionally high density of prairie falcons, and more than 400 species of bees.

5. Acadia National Park, Maine 

Number of species per square kilometer: 242

The Atlantic Ocean meets the cliff-lined Maine coast at this popular park on Mount Desert Island providing habitat for wildlife with feet and flippers. From the shore or a sea kayak (try Castine Kayak Adventures or Coastal Kayaking Tours) scan the water for the dorsal fins of harbor porpoises and the sleek heads of harbor and gray seals.

On land, you might spot beavers, snowshoe hares, or if you’re lucky a mink or bobcat. In between in the intertidal zone tide pools hold translucent anemones, sea urchins, snails, and sea stars. Acadia also draws loons and songbirds and fall, rangers and volunteers conduct an annual hawk watch from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia’s highest point.

Pronghorns near Wind Cave National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Number of species per square kilometer: 235 

Located at the edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest this park may be best known for its unique boxwork cave geology. But wildlife watchers also come for the herds of American bison, elk, and pronghorns grazing above on the mixed-grass prairie. 

Wind Cave is part of an ecosystem restoration and species recovery program that’s been going since the early 20th century. Populations of all three ungulates have rebounded since then and in 2007, biologists also returned the critically endangered black-footed ferret to the grasslands. Drive the 3.7-mile Bison Flats Road or hike the steep, challenging Boland Ridge Trail for the best chance to see animals.

7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Number of species per square kilometer: 223 

Contrary to its name, water makes up 99 percent of this park located on and around a seven-island archipelago some 70 miles off the coast of Florida. Visitors must catch a seaplane or ferry from Key West to get to this remote part of the Florida Keys but they’re rewarded with excellent coral reef and seagrass habitats. 

The part of the park’s name that does make sense: Five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles (Tortugas in Spanish) nest here; visitors might see them swimming or on the sandy beaches.

Book a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion to explore the reefs where green sea turtles, nurse sharks, barracudas, and decorator crabs live amid elkhorn and staghorn corals. Divers can also access the Windjammer wreck site where an iron-hulled ship that sank in 1907 provides a home for marine life. 

8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Number of species per square kilometer: 219

In western Colorado, the 2,722 vertical feet between this sparsley visited park’s canyon rim and the Gunnison River below support multiple wildlife habitats. Experienced climbers and hikers who venture into the inner canyon, find collared lizards and mule deer near the rim and bighorn sheep scampering along the middle of the cliffs. Trails are extremely steep, covered with poison ivy and require a wilderness permit to use.

It’s easier to access the Gunnison River by driving down East Portal Road where anglers fish for brown and rainbow trout and nature-lovers might run into river otters and ringtails. 

9. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Number of species per square kilometer: 217

Located in central Kentucky this national park holds the longest known underground cave system in the world. Mammoth’s 426 miles of caverns are home to 160 species from animals that merely visit (think bats) to those that can’t live anywhere else. Long-legged cave crickets pick their way up the walls, eerily eyeless white cave fish swim the underground waterways, and black-spotted orange cave salamanders lurk under rocks. 

If you’re going into the cave system, stop and slowly look around. You might see some of the small, inconspicuous vertebrates that are thriving in complete darkness.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Number of species per square kilometer: 215 

The glowing orange hoodoos and rocky walls of Bryce Canyon National Park might seem stark but the arid Utah landscape teems with life. Scan carefully for short-horned and side-blotched lizards basking among the boulders and look out for the venomous Great Basin rattlesnake under the canyon rim. 

Small, furry mammals like the golden-mantled ground squirrel, Uinta chipmunk, and Utah prairie dog are easy to see throughout the park but you’re less likely to spot larger predators such as mountain lions and black bears.

Take only memories

A wildlife trip to a national park makes for a welcome alternative to urban life and the computer screen. But to stand your best chance of spotting some gems and avoiding harm to the park’s natural life, leave no trace.

  • People only, no pets
  • Keep quiet and stay still where possible
  • Dress in natural tones and don’t wear scent
  • Keep your distance and never feed wildlife
  • Take only memories (and photos); leave only footprints
  • And don’t forget to look at the clouds

Worth Pondering…

Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson