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

30 Tips for Making the Most of Your National Park Trip

Tips for making your next trip to a national park even more amazing

Mountains, seashores, grasslands, wetlands, coral reefs, and glaciers.

With sweeping vistas, stunning wildlife, and rugged landscapes, America’s national parks are truly a collection of national wonders. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or are a regular at the country’s national parks, planning ahead is the best way to ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.

Following are 30 ways to ensure that your trip to a U.S. national park is great from planning your route in advance to making sure you bring the right supplies and why it’s really important to pay attention to those safety rules. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Choose a time to visit that’s best for your park and travel style

First and foremost, make sure that the park you choose is open at the time of year that you’d like to visit. Several national parks are located in regions that can be dangerous, inaccessible, or uncomfortable if you select the wrong time. For example, you may not want to experience Death Valley National Park—the driest, hottest and lowest national park—in the heat of summer. Some parks such as Lassen Volcanic National Park are completely snowed in and unavailable in the winter.

2. Find out if the park you want to visit requires reservations

During peak seasons, many parks require timed-entry reservations that can be made in advance on each park’s website. You may not need to make that reservation in advance but checking before your trip is a good way to avoid disappointment at the gates. 

Camping in Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. …especially if you want to go camping

Because many parks have limited camping space, reservations fill up quickly especially on major holiday weekends. It’s best to start checking at least a few months in advance for camping sites and though a last-minute spot might open up, don’t count on getting lucky at many of the busiest parks.  

4. Research the best hikes

National parks offer some of the country’s best hiking opportunities and websites like AllTrails can help you find hikes that suit your abilities and sightseeing wishes. By planning your hikes in advance, you’ll be able to strategize and maximize your time in the park. For more on hiking in national parks check out these articles:

Scenic drive in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. …and don’t forget about the scenic drives

If hiking’s not your thing, don’t let that keep you from checking out the country’s incredible national parks. Almost all the parks offer scenic drives, many of which will get you up close and personal with nature without requiring a long trek. These scenic drives make an ideal start:

6. Consider traveling during shoulder season to beat the crowds

During the busy season, crowded parking lots and so many tourists can put a damper on your enjoyment of the outdoors. Consider planning your trip during shoulder season or just before or after the busiest times for the park you’d like to visit. A quick Google search will reveal when the park is busiest and also let you know about any weather conditions that may result in closures or other limitations on your visit to the park. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Prepare yourself for the elements

Hiking even short trails at national parks requires the right equipment and weather conditions can change rapidly depending on the climate. Make sure you’ve got good shoes, essentials like a rain jacket and sunscreen, and a first-aid kit in the event of any mishaps. 

8. Bring plenty of snacks and water

Most national parks don’t boast a ton of services like restaurants which means that you’ll need to bring your own (healthy) snacks. Water is especially important, especially if you plan to hike — plan on bringing about 1 gallon per person even if you’re just going on short walks, and more if you have more strenuous activities in mind. 

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. …and don’t forget to pack out all your trash

Leave no trace is an essential principle of being outdoors responsibly and that means getting rid of all your trash—all of it! Pack a trash bag in the car and toss your waste in only approved containers. Don’t toss out food scraps, either. They may be a detriment to the animals that live in the park. 

10. Be respectful of wild animals and keep your distance

The animals you encounter in national parks are wild; they’re living in their natural habitats and they behave accordingly. Respect the full-time inhabitants in the parks. Don’t attempt to touch them or point a selfie stick at them. Don’t chase them and stay the recommended number of feet away from them. Even though they’re cute or really majestic, never touch a wild animal, no matter how small or docile it seems. Wild animals are wild and contact with humans can endanger their lives — and the lives of the human.

11. …and take good care of the land you’re visiting

National parks are protected sites and the rules exist for a reason. Stay only on marked trails, don’t take rocks or other souvenirs from the ground, and never carve into any trees or rock formations. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Consider buying an annual park pass to save money

If you’re planning to visit multiple national parks this year, consider investing in an annual park pass. Costing around $80 per year, these passes provide access to all parks managed by the National Park Service (NPS) along with parks managed by other agencies, and are a real bargain considering that many can cost upwards of $20 per visit. 

13. Check to see if you qualify for any national park discounts

Veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and some students are eligible for discounted national park passes, some of which are good for a lifetime. Check out the NPS website for details on these discounts. 

14. Don’t forget to fill up your gas tank before beginning the drive

As with snacks, gas stations aren’t always abundant near national parks and you’re probably going to do a ton of driving. Fill up the tank before you head out and make sure to keep an eye on the gas gauge throughout your trip. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Know your limits in the outdoors and operate within them

The beautiful scenery of many national parks can also mean some pretty rugged, unforgiving terrain. If you’re not an experienced hiker, make sure to stick to shorter, safer treks, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water and a wide-brimmed hat. Don’t take unnecessary or stupid risks. And don’t expect to rely on your devices if you get into trouble; in some national parks, cell and data service is negligible. Know your limits and stay within them, especially with children.

16. …and follow all the safety guidelines

In national parks, the rules are there to both preserve the gorgeous landscapes and also keep you alive. In addition to avoiding fines and other penalties, closely following all posted safety guidelines will also prevent you from ending up in a seriously dangerous situation. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Don’t expect great cell phone service

Thanks to the remote nature of most national parks, cell phone service can be sketchy, especially at high altitudes or in really rural areas. Make sure to download offline maps from your favorite navigation app, or make use of the paper maps provided at most ranger stations. 

18. Travel the right time of the year

Whether you’re looking for great fall foliage or a warm trip in the summer, choosing the right time of year at your park is essential. Going too early (or late) can mean road and trail closures so make sure to do your research in advance. 

19. Check in with park rangers when you first arrive

Stop at the visitor center when you first arrive. Often, you’ll find interesting exhibits and artifacts that will help you learn more about the land you’re visiting. The park rangers there will have current insider information that you’ll need such as which hiking trails, roads, and areas of the park are closed and what special ranger programs are being offered during your stay. Park rangers can also help you figure out what hidden trails to try or the best place to watch the sunset (or sunrise). Consider a ranger-led hike or nature talk. While there, pick up any needed guidebooks and maps.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Practice trail etiquette

Stay on designated trails. By doing so, you’ll help prevent erosion and damage to vegetation. Do not litter, pick flowers, or use the outdoors as your personal gift shop. Be aware of your surroundings and make room for quickly approaching groups, fast-paced cyclists, or horseback riders. Take a moment to move to the side and politely let them pass.

 21. Stay at a national park lodge

If you really want to immerse yourself in a national park, consider staying on property. Many parks offer hotels and other lodging and of course camping is an option. Being in grand old lodges literally surrounds you with park history. An added benefit is that you have the early mornings and late evenings in the park. There’s nothing like waking up and seeing the Grand Canyon or Zion Canyon right in front of you.

22. Camp for at least one night—or several

The ultimate thing to do when visiting a national park is to camp under the stars. By unplugging, you’re forced to be present, you more easily connect with nature, and you engage with other people more fully. But, do plan in advance and book a site early.

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

23. Tend to campfires and cooking stoves with the utmost care 

In 2013, a hunter’s illegal fire got out of control in the Stanislaus National Forest in California. For nine weeks, this Rim Fire burned the backcountry areas of Yosemite National Park consuming 257,314 acres. In 2018, Yosemite National Park closed for the first time since 1990 due to the nearby Ferguson Fire which burned 96,901 acres. In that same year, the Howe Ridge Fire, ignited by a thunderstorm, burned more than 12,000 acres of Glacier National Park. Read more on wildfire safety.

24. Have a mission in mind…

When in nature, there’s a lot to be said for being spontaneous and making discoveries by chance rather than overscheduling yourself. But when you show up at a national park and don’t have any idea about what you want to do, you might end up not doing much. On the other hand, making a list of everything you want to do in a sprawling national park can be overwhelming and cause you to become overly concerned with time allotments. So, go with at least one mission in mind to accomplish on your trip.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. … But don’t forget there are wonders—and place to wander—away from the famous sites 

Rather than sticking to the most popular sites, go out a bit and hit the trails (or water), particularly those routes that are longer than three miles. They may not be listed as the park’s top must-see locations but they’re almost guaranteed to be just as spectacular, yet apart from the crowds.

26. Journal every day

Make sure to record your memories in a journal each day so you don’t forget the good times—and the bad. They’re all part of your experience and your story. Journaling is also a great way of releasing any anxiety or stress.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Go with a good attitude

Remember that the national parks belong to all of us. Its part of their appeal and what makes them so special. Undoubtedly, there will be times when the places you’re visiting will get uncomfortably crowded. Meet those challenges with a smile. It’s important to remember our joint venture in these places and play well with others.

28. Passport to your national parks

A National Parks Passport is a really fun memento and a great way to mark each park you’ve visited. You pay $10 for the passport and each park will have a stamp you can put in your book. You can look back and see the exact date you visited different places.

29. Share your experience

If it’s possible, take a family member or a friend along with you on your adventure; there’s no better way to share your experience.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Leave the park better than you found it

My final piece of advice is to leave the park better than you found it. This also means knowing and committing to the National Park Service’s Leave No Trace principles. They range from minimizing campfire impacts to disposing of waste properly. By being a good steward of these national treasures, those who come after us can continue to enjoy them as we do now.

In my opinion, visiting just one national park is almost impossible. They quickly become addictive.

Worth Pondering…

I encourage everybody to hop on Google and type in national park in whatever state they live in and see the beauty that lies in their own backyard. It’s that simple.

—Jordan Fisher, American actor and musician

What to Know Before Planning Your National Park Summer Vacation

From when to book a reservation to how to avoid traffic

This year, visiting the national parks—one of America’s favorite summer pastimes—will take a bit of extra strategizing. Following the trend of recent years, summer 2023 is shaping up to once again shatter visitor records across the national parks system. 

The National Park Service (NPS) recorded nearly 312 million recreational visits in 2022, a five percent increase over the number of visits in 2021. As you can imagine, this increased wear and tear on hiking trails, park roads, visitor centers, and park amenities like restrooms, restaurants, and gift shops. Road construction, trail repairs and closures, and traffic delays will be widespread this summer. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worse still, record snowfall in the West is still melting, causing troubles of its own like flooding and landslides. So, as you gear up to have a memorable national parks vacation, keep organized and stay on top of park websites and social media for the latest updates—and most of all, be patient and flexible. Here’s what you should expect.

There will be a lot of traffic

Prepare for road closures and delays. From Grand Teton and Glacier to Rocky Mountain and Zion—even the Blue Ridge Parkway—units across the National Park Service are diligently making much-needed repairs and upgrades to roads, hiking trails, parking lots, and visitor facilities.

At Yellowstone, construction projects are taking place across the park to address last year’s devastating flood damage, stabilize road bridges, and rehabilitate the most heavily trafficked routes including a 20+ mile section of Grand Loop Road which allows access to Old Faithful.

Pro tip: Stay on top of park websites for closures, delays, and traffic. Yellowstone, for one, has a page dedicated to updates on road status including wait times and webcams showing current traffic conditions at park entrances.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to bring plastic

Not plastic bottles but plastic credit and debit cards. Many parks are going cashless. The idea is that by freeing national park staff from handling and processing cash they can spend more time improving visitor experiences and making park upgrades.

So far this year, more than a dozen national park units have opted to go cash-free including Mount Rainier, Badlands, and Crater Lake. That’s on top of various other NPS units including certain monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, and recreation areas which no longer accept cash.

Pro tip: If you must use cash purchase a prepaid gift card at a grocery or convenience store ahead of your visit to pay for park entrance. Some general stores, resorts, and historical associations within gateway towns may also accept cash for park passes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may need a reservation

Long gone are the days when you could just show up at a national park for a scenic drive or an invigorating hike. Some of the most popular parks including Arches and Glacier now require reservations generally in the form of a timed entry ticket that enables access to either the entire park or to a popular corridor like Bear Lake Road at Rocky Mountain.

Several parks also require advance planning to check off the most popular hiking trails. You’ve got to win a permit lottery to hike Half Dome at Yosemite or Angels Landing at Zion. At Shenandoah, a day-use ticket is required to hike Old Rag from March through November.

Pro tip: Set a calendar alert. Every park manages their reservation system differently in terms of when they release timed entry permits. Know when a park will release permits or open a lottery and set your calendar accordingly. And don’t dally. Some permits can be gone within 15 minutes.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some sections of parks will open late this season—if at all

The West got a whole lot of snow this winter. It’s going to take time to melt but as it does, runoff is going to cause rivers and creeks to swell, making for potentially dangerous conditions including slippery rocks and unsafe pedestrian bridges which can cause closures.

The opening of Yosemite’s Glacier Point Road is at least one month behind schedule due to record snowfall and road construction. It’s not expected to open until at least July. Floodwaters in Yosemite Valley are also causing intermittent closure of campgrounds.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 30-mile highway through Lassen Volcanic National Park recently opened for the 2023 summer season though sections might seem like winter. A higher-than-average snowpack has been fully cleared. Visitors to the park should prepare for winter conditions at higher elevations and possible delays due to ongoing road work.

Pro tip: Seek out updates on park websites but also be flexible and open to alternatives. Chat up rangers to identify open park sections and trails that may not have been on your original plan.

Worth Pondering…

I encourage everybody to hop on Google and type in national park in whatever state they live in and see the beauty that lies in their own backyard. It’s that simple.

—Jordan Fisher, American actor and musician

National Parks Requiring Reservations in 2023 + How to Snag One

Getting a national park reservation can be a pain. Here’s what you should know.

America’s protected lands may be for all—but in 2023, national park reservations are very much a thing. Timed entry passes have helped with overcrowding but the new system has created winners and losers

At 7:59 a.m. Mountain Time on the first day of March, people across the world hovered over keyboards and smartphones, ticking away the seconds until Glacier National Park released its block of coveted reservations for entering the park during July. The clock hit 8 a.m., setting off a mad race to click Book Now on the recreation.gov vehicle reservations page. The quickest fingers would score a pass to explore the Montana park’s pristine lakes, sheer peaks, and beargrass-dotted meadows in the high summer season.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those spots went fast. The remote North Fork area in the park’s northwestern corner sold out within 10 minutes. Glacier’s stunning main thoroughfare, Going-to-the-Sun Road filled completely in half an hour. Some people got lucky that day but many more came away disappointed including Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke who tweeted about his failure to land a reservation.

While backcountry hikers and river runners have long dealt with the difficulty of nabbing permits for high-demand destinations, casual travelers haven’t had to wrestle for reservations simply to enter a national park—until recently.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is ticketed entry a solution to overcrowding?

After years of struggling with record-breaking visitation and crowding, three parks rolled out pilots of so-called managed access systems to stem the tide. California’s Yosemite National Park instituted a day-use reservation system for 2020 through 2022 (No reservation system for 2023 while the park works on long-term planning); Glacier and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park introduced theirs in 2021 followed by Arches in 2022. A handful of other parks require reservations to visit specific locations like Cadillac Summit at Acadia and Angel’s Landing at Zion.

Each parks’ rules are different and for many confusing. Pass requirements vary by date and location within a park and are valid in some places for one day and in others for three days. Parks release a percentage of passes months in advance but reserve a portion for the day before (see info below). Successfully planning a summer trip is an experience Alex Kim, founder of Here Montana, likens to “cracking the code.”

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But few dispute that these parks had to do something. Starting with the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 and skyrocketing with the COVID pandemic, park visitation numbers have increased to record numbers. “We’re seeing unprecedented levels of sustained demand in a lot of these parks,” says Will Rice, an assistant professor of parks, tourism, and recreation management at the University of Montana who studies reservation systems.

“The parks belong to the American people and there’s no substitute for being in a national park,” says Scott Gediman, public affairs officer for Yosemite. But “when you’ve got two-and-a-half hours waiting in line to get in, then you get there and shuttle buses are packed and there are long lines for food, it’s just not a good experience.” Add environmental damage caused by trampling feet and illegal parking and the problem compounds. Enter what Rice calls the rationing of recreation.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who do get a reservation, most say managed access leads to a much better trip. Park representatives are quick to note that they’re not trying to reduce visitation, just spread it out throughout the day and the season. All three parks succeeded in that: Since implementing their systems, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite have seen lines at entrance stations and shuttle buses dwindle, parking ceases to be a competitive sport, traffic gridlock ease, and people enjoying their experience more.

“We have done a survey of people who got reservations,” says John Hannon, Rocky Mountain’s management specialist. “They’re very supportive of timed entry once they’ve experienced it.” Yosemite visitors reported similar sentiments. “And anecdotally, a lot of people were seeing more wildlife,” notes Gediman.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downside to ticketed entry

But limiting access, even if only during peak hours, necessarily leaves some people out. Under these systems, a certain type of visitor is more likely to snag the golden ticket. At the very least, it’s someone who plans well in advance. But also it’s someone with high-speed internet and a credit card, a job that allows for vacation planning months ahead, and familiarity both with recreation.gov’s reservation platform and the English language (recreation.gov is only available in English, though it does provide a how-to on using Google Translate).

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Making parks accessible to all

Part of the solution might lie in creating more ways to nab a reservation. “We need to expand the idea of how we ration these things,” says the University of Montana’s Rice. “People have different preferences and needs when it comes to how they want to gain access to these highly demanded recreational resources.”

Park officials say they’re well aware of these issues and continually tweak their systems to help all potential visitors get a fair shake. For this year, Rocky Mountain upped the number of reservations that go live 24 hours ahead of time—rather than months ahead—to better accommodate spur-of-the-moment travelers. And all three parks required reservations only during the busiest hours so anyone can come in without an advance booking before, say, 9 am or after 3 pm.

There are more strategy ideas on the table, too. Hannon says Rocky Mountain is considering setting aside some tickets for local retailers to sell in person reducing the system’s reliance on recreation.gov; hotel operators near Yosemite have requested a similar setup for their guests.

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

Rice suggests the parks also look into implementing a lottery or even using license plates to determine who can enter on a given day as Yellowstone did in 2022 after flooding shut down portions of the park.

Visitors can be grateful that at least one other crowd-control tactic won’t be considered: raising entry fees. Unlike amusement parks and ski resorts that use demand-based systems to jack up prices during particularly popular times, national parks belong to everybody.

Like it or not, the days of spontaneously driving up to one of these national parks on a summer Saturday morning are probably over.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

WHAT TO KNOW

Yosemite National Park is not implementing a reservation system for summer 2023. But here’s how to book at three of the most popular national parks that will require reservations this year.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier National Park

Vehicle reservations are required between 6 am and 3 pm from May 26 to September 10 on North Fork Road and Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west side of the park and between July 1 and September 10 for all other park roads and Going-to-the-Sun Road from the east side. Going-to-the-Sun Road passes are valid for three days; the others last one day.

Cost: $2 processing fee (does not include park entry fee)

Release dates: The park releases a block of August reservations on April 1 and September reservations on May 1, both at 8 am Mountain Time. Additional reservations go on sale at 8 a.m. the day before your intended visit. Reserve at recreation.gov.

Tip: Visitors with reservations at a park campground, hotel, or outfitter, or with backcountry camping permits, do not need an entry permit.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rocky Mountain National Park 

Reservations are required from May 26 to October 22. There are two types: Bear Lake Corridor entry permits are required between 5 am and 6 pm while “rest of the park” entry permits are required from 9 am to 2 pm. All are issued to enter the park during a specific two-hour window. Reservations are valid for one day.

Cost: $2 processing fee (does not include park entry fee)

Release dates: The park releases a block of August reservations on July 1, September reservations on August 1, and October reservations on September 1, all at 8 am Mountain Time. Additional reservations go on sale at 5 pm the day before your intended visit. Reserve at recreation.gov.

Tip: Visitors with reservations at a park campground, hotel, or outfitter, or with backcountry camping permits, do not need an entry permit.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Beginning April 1 and continuing through October 31, Arches National Park will require visitors that want to enter the park during peak hours (7 am to 4 pm) to have a timed-entry pass. This pass is in addition to the park entrance fee everyone pays when they drive through the entrance of the park. Without your timed-entry pass, you will not be able to get into the park.

Release dates: The park releases a block of August reservations on May 1 and September reservations on June 1, both at 8 am Mountain Time. A small number of reservations will be available at 6 pm on the day before your intended visit. There’s no guarantee you’ll get one of these limited passes, so be sure to have plan B ready to go into effect if you don’t get a pass.

Tip: Reservations aren’t required if you have a camping reservation, are on a commercial tour, have a special use permit or are a Fiery Furnace ticket holder.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im