The NPS keeps current visitors safe
The National Park System is one of United States’ signature ecological achievements—a collection of rugged mountains, serene beaches and mysterious caves that attract over 300 million annual visitors. The parks are conveniently located throughout the country, so whether your travelers are visiting California, Florida, New England or anywhere in between, there is a national park to suit your activity level. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes (some temporary, some permanent) in how visitors experience these protected areas, and we have provided the most up-to-date policies that will apply to inbound travelers.
Since national parks and monuments are federally managed property, they do not adhere to state-specific health protocols but instead follow a federal mask mandate when visitors enter buildings, ride public transportation or walk through areas of high-transmission risk. As of this printing, all NPS visitors and employees are required to wear masks or face coverings in crowded outdoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status or community transmission levels. If clients are interested in sleeping on-site, note that major lodges such as Yellowstone Lodge and the Grand Canyon Lodge have capacity limits until further notice, and many campgrounds are utilizing only 50% of spaces to ensure social distancing.
The ongoing pandemic has both increased the risk of transmission in large crowds and has prompted both domestic and international visitors to experience the great outdoors. Because park infrastructures can only handle so many visitors, and because large groups may increase the risk of infection, there will be capacity limits in several parks for the indeterminate future. This has resulted in several popular national parks such as Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain requiring all visitors to make advance reservations. Reservations can be made up to only six months in advance, with clear instructions for both online and phone reservations. Some parks require commercial use authorizations (CUAs), which require tour operators and for-profit businesses that conduct activities in the park to pay additional fees. A systemwide CUA program was put on hold last year, but those parks that already had CUAs were allowed to continue. CUA applications require travel dates, so be sure to establish your tour schedule. Also check the website for each individual park; entrance or mask requirements may evolve in the future.
An invaluable resource for tour operators and motorcoach planners is the NPS app, which provides up-to-date COVID-19 protocols for over 400 national parks and monuments nationwide. Visitors can use the app to explore interactive property tours, make entrance reservations, discover buildings and trails with ADA accessibility, and confirm current COVID-19 safety measures. Visitors can also supplement their itineraries with NPS’ vast online and virtual resources. They can access webcams to see rare wildlife, browse multimedia libraries for additional context of historic events and host live discussions with park rangers and local historians.