ADVERTISEMENT

Here’s what to expect as the National Parks begin to reopen after COVID-19 closures

By Laura Brown
January 12, 2022
Kid on grand canyon rim
©Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images
Across the United States, local governments are beginning to move from shelter-in-place orders to phased schedules of reopening. This includes America’s National Parks, which are beginning to reopen after being shuttered for most of the spring season to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here’s a roundup of what to expect for the summer season.

Across the United States, local governments are beginning to move from shelter-in-place orders to phased schedules of reopening. This includes America’s National Parks, which are beginning to reopen after being shuttered for most of the spring season to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here’s a roundup of what to expect for the summer season.

Each National Park is empowered to make its own open or close decision, which will be based on local conditions and disease spread. Still, as parks open, officials stress that operations will not be close to normal. Visitors should largely expect for visitor’s centers and campgrounds to be closed or slow to open, and amenities like restaurants and gift shops to remain shuttered.

Before you plan a visit to National Park, we recommend checking the park website to determine its current status, and searching for it on Twitter to see if proper social distancing protocol is being followed. To check on specific operations in any particular park, go to https://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm

When America’s most visited park, Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, reopened select trails on Saturday, May 9, visitors flocked to it. Photos emerged showing full parking lots, crowded trails, and people disregarding trail closures.

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona was one of the last parks to close, at the dismay of its staff and eventually the general public. As of press time, the Grand Canyon is planning a phased reopening with limited services.

Zion National Park, the most popular park in Utah, is currently scheduled to reopen to the public on Wednesday, May 13. However, the visitor’s center, popular shuttle busses, campgrounds and hiking trails will not be open. Time will tell if the closures of necessary services will suffice to keep people at safe social distances.

Further up the state, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are expecting to open their doors after Memorial Day on May 29. However, both parks plan to have their trails, roads, and restrooms open, while visitor’s centers and overnight services will remain closed. In addition, commercial tour providers will be able to begin operations, except in places that are too small to allow people to achieve social distancing.

In Montana, the decision to reopen Glacier National Park is expected to be a joint decision made with state, local, and tribal officials, and as of press time, the decision has not yet been made about when to start phasing in openings. It has already been announced that the famous Glacier Park Boat Co., will not be operating tours this summer.

Despite these openings, sources inside the park service say they are being pushed to reopen before they are ready. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group representing 1,800 current, former, and retired employees and volunteers of the National Park Service, raises serious concerns about protecting NPS employees, volunteers, visitors, and local community members from the spread of the coronavirus. The group stresses that it believes it is too soon to reopen.

Phil Francis, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, explained:

“We are also eager to get Americans back into our national parks. But it is too soon.”

“Parks absolutely should not open until the safety of National Park Service (NPS) employees, concession employees, volunteers and other partners, including those who work and live in gateway communities, can be ensured. Parks must be able to demonstrate that they have adequate staff to protect resources, personal protective equipment available to those staff members, and employee training including specific training related to COVID19 as recommended by the CDC and OSHA.

“The vast majority of NPS staff will be in contact with visitors to our national parks. And many NPS employees live on-site, in close quarters, in government-owned housing. According to an NPS document, parks should estimate that 40% of the total population at the park will require isolation and 4% will require hospitalization. This is not only impossible under the current set-up, it is unacceptable.”

“Parks should follow the most cautious standards to ensure the safety of all involved in park operations, as well as visitors who visit the parks and utilize services provided in gateway communities. Superintendents, in consultation with their local communities, must be delegated the authority to make decisions about when it is safe to open. They should not be treated as pawns in a larger political game.

“We take the protection of park resources and employees seriously, and we urge the administration to do so as well. This means protecting our parks for the long term and supporting efforts such as the Great American Outdoors Act, rather than attempting to win short term political gains by rushing to reopen national parks at the expense of human health and safety.”


Keep reading
National Parks

Celebrate National Park Week with these 5 ideas!

1. Play one of these games with your family - the Park Service has a great list of games designed for families to play while in social isolation. Think you know the most about the parks? Love baby animals? They have a game for you! 2. Take a virtual visit to a national park - spend an afternoon exploring Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, or the Clara Barton National Historic Site where the Red Cross was founded. You can also check out live webcams of the Statue of Liberty and Yellowstone! 3. Join a virtual event from your favorite park! The parks are famous for their ranger-led activities, and most of our favorite parks have moved these ranger talks online. Check out live trivia at Hot Springs, or even livestream the sunrise from Bryce Canyon! 4. Recreate a national park trip in your backyard! Now that spring is finally here, put that camping gear to good use. Practice setting up your tent, lighting a fire, and then sleep outside and look up at the stars! 5. Dive into the history of the United States with the National Register of Historic Places. Are there historic places in your neighborhood you never knew about? Map out where they are, and how they are relevant to your community.

List pin
List pin
National Parks

Spice up your next meeting with these National Park Zoom backgrounds

Thanks to COVID-19, summer national park trips have been cancelled, and we're all stuck inside relegated to digital meetings. But! Digital meetings can still be inspired by your favorite park! We've assembled 13 national park backgrounds to spice up your next Zoom meeting. Simply right click and download the image, then add it as a background in your next call! All photography courtesy of Laura Brown. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Glacier National Park, Montana Yosemite National Park, California Glacier National Park, Montana Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida National Mall, Washington DC Zion National Park, Utah Shenandoah National Park, Virginia Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Arches National Park, Utah Canyonlands National Park, Utah Sequoia National Park, California

National Parks

Current status of National Park closures due to COVID-19

On April 2, 2020, the National Park Service has announced the closure of two more national parks, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree due to COVID-19. A few of the major parks that are still open to visitors (with minimal services) are: Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Shenadoah, and Zion. As always, please check with the National Parks website before you plan a trip, and make sure you adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines. Here is the current status of all 62 national parks as of April 3 2020: Acadia - park roads, facilities and services closed to slow spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) In support of federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), all park roads, facilities, restrooms, carriage roads, campgrounds, visitor centers and services are closed. Please call or email for park information. Arches National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Badlands Visitor Centers and Entrance Stations Closed as of 3/18/20 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Visitors Centers and Entrance Stations are temporarily closed. Roads/trails/campgrounds remain open Big Bend National Park Temporarily Closed No entry will be allowed into the park, except for employees, residents, and other authorized persons. Through traffic will be prohibited, as will travel on Terlingua Ranch Road within park boundaries. Until further notice. Biscayne Bay - Modification in Operations Land facilities at Convoy Point, Boca Chita, Elliott and Adams Keys are closed temporarily to public access. Visitor activities and Biscayne National Park Institute tours are suspended until further notice. Park waters remain open. Black Canyon of the Gunnison: South Rim Campground and Visitor Center Closed The South Rim Campground and Visitor Center are closed until further notice to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Bryce Canyon is Open - Though Some Facilities Have Closed Updated: Tuesday March 31, 2020, 11 am. Precautions are being taken due to the novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19). Shuttle operations will be delayed. Follow the link for the latest updates. Canyonlands National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Precautions are being taken due to the novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19). Follow the link for the latest updates Capitol Reef National Park is Open - Visitor Services Limited The park remains open. To support CDC recommendations, visitor services are limited. The visitor center building and the Gifford House are closed. Park staff will rove to provide information and be available by phone. The Fruita campground is closed. Carlsbad Cavern and Visitor Center are Temporarily Closed as of March 21 Following guidance from the CDC and state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, the cavern and visitor center are temporarily closed. Park roads, desert trails, and picnic areas will remain open. Channel Islands COVID-19 Park Closures The mainland visitor center is closed until further notice. The park transportation concessioner Island Packers has temporarily cancelled boat service to the islands. However, the islands are open for private boater landings. Congaree National Park Closed (4.2.2020) Congaree National Park has modified operations in order to implement the latest health guidance. Congaree National Park, including all facilities and trails, will be closed until further notice. All in-park programs are cancelled. Crater Lake National Park is Closed In accordance with Executive Order 20-12 issued by the governor of the state of Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is temporarily closed to visitors to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Highway 62 through the park remains open for travel. Cuyahoga Valley is OPEN Boston Mill Visitor Center is CLOSED until further notice. Park information is available at the kiosk outside. All programs are cancelled. Park trails, parking lots, and some restrooms in popular locations are open. Death Valley: All park facilities are CLOSED All restrooms, campgrounds, and visitor centers are closed. Some trailheads and secondary roads are closed. Denali's Visitor Centers are Closed Following guidance from the CDC and from state and local public health officials, the Winter Visitor Center, Sled Dog Kennels, and Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station are closed. Public spaces throughout the park remain open (e.g., winter trails). Dry Tortugas Islands and camping closed, no programs or services Following guidance from the CDC and federal/state/local public health authorities, Dry Tortugas National Park has temporarily closed islands and camping. Programs and concession tours are cancelled. Marine waters and both harbors remain open. Everglades Wilderness Campsites Closed Effective April 1, 2020 at 6:00 a.m., wilderness (backcountry) campsites with chickees and ground campsites will be closed until further notice. Portable toilets parkwide will also be closed. Beach campsites are open and permits are not required. Park Land Access is Closed, Programs Cancelled Land-based park access has closed to the public at Gulf Coast (Everglades City), Shark Valley, East Everglades area, and the main park road from the Homestead entrance to Flamingo. Park waters remain open for access from outside the park. Glacier National Park Is Temporarily Closed  Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health authorities in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Glacier National Park is temporarily closed. Glacier Bay Facilities Temporarily Closed As a public health precaution, Glacier Bay NPS facilities are temporarily closed to non-approved entry. To reach someone in the park please call them directly or call the park's general information line for assistance: 907-697-2230. Grand Canyon National Park Is Closed Due to Public Health Concerns (COVID-19) Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2020, 7 am. Visit the link below for details. Grand Canyon National Park is closed until further notice. Grand Teton National Park is Closed In consultation with local county health officers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Great Basin Cave Tours Temporarily Suspended, Lehman Caves Visitor Center and Campgrounds Temporarily Closed Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, cave tours, Lower Lehman Campground, and Lehman Caves Visitor Center are temporarily closed Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center is Closed and Campground Opening Delayed All outdoor spaces in the park and preserve are open. Following guidance from federal, state and local authorities, the Visitor Center is temporarily closed and the campground opening is delayed. Great Smoky Mountains Park Extends Closure to Support Regional COVID-19 Prevention Efforts Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that all park areas, except the Foothills Parkway and Spur, will remain closed until further notice. The park is likely to remain closed at least through April 30. Guadalupe Mountains is OPEN Changes in Park Operations to Protect Visitors and Employees from the Coronavirus pandemic Effective March 25th, 2020. The park will be closed to all overnight camping and backcountry camping. Visitor Center and contact stations remain closed. The park trails will remain open for day use only. Haleakalā National Park Summit Closed as of March 21, 2020. Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Haleakalā National Park will temporarily close, this includes the Kīpahulu District and Summit District. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Closed In response to the latest health guidance from the CDC and actions outlined by the Governor of Hawai‘i, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice. Hot Springs Gulpha Gorge Campground & picnic area temporarily closed as of Thursday, April 2, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media. Additional Information on Current Conditions Page.more info Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center is temporarily closed as of Wednesday, March 18, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media. Additional Information on Current Conditions Page. Indiana Dunes is OPEN Temporary Closure of Buildings and Restrooms As a public health precaution, Indiana Dunes National Park buildings and restrooms are temporarily closed for the safety of staff and visitors until further notice. Check back for updates via social media and park website. Isle Royale National Park Houghton Headquarters & Visitor Center is Closed to Non-essential Visitors In response to the developing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Isle Royale National Park has closed the Houghton Visitor Center and Headquarters complex to all non-essential visitors. This closure will be evaluated daily as conditions evolve. Joshua Tree National Park is Closed In consultation with the local county health office to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Joshua Tree National Park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Kenai Fjords National Park public building closures Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health officials, the Park Headquarters building and Exit Glacier area winter public use cabin and vault toilets are closed. Public spaces will remain open. Kings Canyon is CLOSED Effective 3/25, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice. CA Hwy 180 remains open for through traffic to access Forest Service land and private property. All other roads and parking lots are closed. Kobuk Valley Northwest Arctic Heritage Center Closed As a public health precaution, the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center is temporarily closed for the safety of staff and visitors as of March 16th. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media channels. Lake Clark Park Headquarters in Port Alsworth is closed indefinitely Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the NPS' goal to protect staff and visitors, the Park Headquarters is closed to the public until further notice. Staff are still working and can help you with any requests. Please call (907) 781-2218 for assistance. Lassen Volcanic National Park is Temporarily Closed Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Lassen Volcanic National Park is temporarily closed. Mammoth Cave is CLOSED The Visitor Center, Cave Tours, and Campgrounds are Closed On Tuesday, March 24, all campgrounds in the park will be closed until further notice. The park has already closed all cave tours & the visitor center in response to the CDC guidance. Surface trails are still open for hiking, biking & equestrian use. Mesa Verde National Park is temporarily closed as of sunset, March 25, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Mesa Verde National Park is temporarily closed as of sunset, March 25, 2020. Mount Ranier is CLOSED Temporary Closure of Park Facilities and Roads Following guidance from the CDC and state, local, and NPS public health officers, all park roads are closed to vehicles. Backcountry areas remain open to dispersed recreation. All park visitor centers, lodges, shops, and restaurants are closed. North Cascades NPS Complex is Temporarily Closed Effective April 3, 2020, North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area will be closed to all park visitors until further notice. SR20 will remain open to just west of the town of Newhalem. Olympic is CLOSED Temporary Closure of All Park Facilities, Roads, and Campgrounds as of March 24 Following guidance from the CDC and state, local, and NPS public health officers, and in response to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Proclamation by Washington State, park entrance roads, facilities, campgrounds and restrooms are closed. No services available Pinnacles is Closed to All Day-Use Visitation The campground remains open. Existing reservations are required to enter the park, prior to arrival. Campers must arrive between 8am-6pm. No walk-ins permitted. Previous closures remain in effect. See our News Release or social media for more information. Limited Services Available in Pinnacles National Park Following guidance from the CDC, the West side of the park, and all Nature Centers and Visitor Centers are closed. Shuttles are not be operating at this time. Trail Closures Are In Effect Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Safety Officers, the Bear Gulch Caves, Balconies Caves, and High Peaks Steep and Narrow trails are closed, effective 3/19/20. Redwood National Park is Open but Facilities and Many Roads Closed; Services Extremely Limited March 29: The park remains open but modifications to operations are in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, including: closed facilities, limited services, and closures of many areas and roads to vehicles. Rocky Mountain National Park is temporarily closed as of March 20, 2020 Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Rocky Mountain National Park is temporarily closed. Saguaro National Park Visitor Centers and Restrooms are Closed Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from public health authorities, Saguaro National Park is temporarily closing visitor centers, restrooms and all public programs. Fee collection operations are also suspended until further notice. Sequoia National Park is CLOSED Effective 3/25, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are temporarily closed to all visitors until further notice. CA Hwy 180 remains open for through traffic to access Forest Service land and private property. All other roads and parking lots are closed. Shenandoah Shenandoah National Park is open Please check our website or social media for details. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open. Visitor Centers are temporarily closed as of March 18th. Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Services, TRNP Visitor Centers are temporarily closed. Updates will be posted to the park website and social media. Virgin Islands National Park is OPEN As of March 23, 2020 the Cruz Bay Visitor Center is closed. All programs are cancelled and all restrooms are closed. Food service and watersports rental at Trunk Bay is closed and fees are not being collected. Park trails, beaches, and waters remain open. Voyageurs National Park is Still Open; Visitor Centers & Headquarters are Temporarily Closed The park remains open to visitors year-round, and we encourage visitors to get outdoors and experience the park. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center and Park Headquarters are temporarily closed. These closures will be evaluated continually as conditions evolve. White Sands National Park is temporarily closed as of Sunday, March 22, 2020. Following guidance from the CDC and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, White Sands National Park is temporarily closed. Wind Cave National Park is OPEN Following CDC and state and local public health authority recommendations, the park visitor center and the Elk Mountain Campground are closed now through April 15. Park roads and hiking trails remain open at this time. Yellowstone National Park is closed In consultation with local county health officers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the park is closed to all visitors until further notice. Yosemite National Park is closed Yosemite National Park has modified operations at the request of the local health department. Yosemite National Park is closed to all park visitors until further notice. Zion National Park is open Zion National Park has limited service available to the public and the park is recommending visitors comply with the Governor’s directive to temporarily discourage unnecessary travel and concentrated recreational use to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

National Parks

A Grand Canyon park ranger's plea to the public: "please, stay home!"

During the time of COVID-19, there are quite a few National Parks that remain open to the public. We spoke with a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park to get a detailed view of what’s happening on the ground in one of America’s most popular parks. Our source requested to remain anonymous to protect their job. This interview took place the week of March 23, 2020. Question: How is Grand Canyon National Park handling the COVID-19 crisis? Answer: The park has been closing visitor services bit by bit as we can. It is Spring Break, and visitors are coming from across the US and risk spreading the virus to park staff and visitors. It’s frightening to see how many visitors are still coming to the park, crowding the rim, and acting as if there is no pandemic. Especially since we’ve pulled staff from manning entrance booths for their safety, there is minimal crowd control. The National Parks in general are already short-staffed and unable to deal with a pandemic. I do not feel like we have the ability and resources to keep visitors safe, nor to protect our natural and cultural resources from the people crowding into the park. Q: How is park staff specifically affected by the crisis? A: Around 2,500 people live & work at the Grand Canyon. A third of those people live below the poverty line and many don’t have health insurance. We are 1-1.5 hours away from any social services, and our community cannot afford to be swept by this virus. We have a tiny medical clinic that will be overloaded quickly. Our one small school has closed, and our small food pantry is already empty. In the course of the job, staff interacts with thousands of people, and the infection risk is off-the-charts. We can't manage to have "fewer than 10" people at one location nor can we manage "social distancing". I have seen the most oblivious behavior from visitors: how can they not know we are in a pandemic, or do they just not think they can get sick or make others sick? Park staff have been exposed to visitors from all over the world for several weeks. Everyday we get an update on the number of people from our community who have contracted the virus, the number of people in the county who have it, and the number who have died. The Navajo Nation has requested that all of their people return home and shelter in place: they have more courage than the political leaders of Arizona. Q: How could people respond better to the pandemic with regards to the National Parks? A: People don't seem to realize that the same reasons that sporting events, restaurants, Disneyland, movie theaters, etc. are closed are the exact same reasons why it is unsafe to visit national parks at this time. "Fresh air" and being outside is all well and good: sharing that space with others is not. Please, PLEASE ask the public to stay away from the parks at this time. Despite what the Secretary of Interior is saying, most of my colleagues at the Grand Canyon feel the park should be closed. I want to enjoy our public lands, and I want others to enjoy them as well. Now is not that time. Only a tiny percent of people ever get into the backcountry: most are crowded into small areas. Now is not the time to come to national parks. Please, America, stay at home. Update as of 4/1: Grand Canyon National Park has been closed to the general public indefinitely.