Skip to content

Here's how national park reservations have changed since the pandemic

Feb. 02, 2021
5 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

National parks have been a respite for United States travelers this year. As dozens of international borders remain closed and as cases continue to skyrocket, road trips and outdoor destinations have been the name of the game.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

How has the unprecedented interest in our nation's treasures impacted national parks and visitor access?

Yosemite National Park

Sunset lights up Horsetail Falls on the large granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California. This popular phenomena only occurs once per year, in mid-late February, when the angles are such that the setting sun hits the waterfall at just the right angle to light up the waterfall and associated spray. Photo by Getty Images.


There's a hidden gem in Yosemite National Park that can only be seen in February: Firefall, a natural phenomenon where the angle of the winter sun perfectly strikes the upper spray of the 1,570-foot Horsetail waterfall, setting the water on "fire."

The incredible sight is only visible for a few scant days — and only under highly specific conditions, at that. As a result, thousands of visitors flock to the park each year in hopes of catching a glimpse.

Related:

But the COVID-19 pandemic is more of a threat than ever throughout the United States. In response, Yosemite has implemented a reservation system in order to limit the number of interested visitors passing through the area at any given time. Day-use permits for 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. access are available based on vehicle, not the number of people, and are only for visitors who are not camping in the park.

The system just went live Monday, Feb. 1, at 8 a.m. PT, for visits beginning Feb. 8. Predictably, slots are already filling up fast.

Related: How to bask in nature’s glory from home

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Eighty percent of day-use reservations are available in advance at recreation.gov, while the remaining 20 percent will be released two days in advance of the available date. For example, Feb 10 reservations will go live at 8 a.m. PT on Feb. 8.

Reservations require a $2 non-refundable fee, which is included in the $35 entrance fee required for each parked car. Annual or lifetime passholders are exempt from the car park fee, but need to pay the $2 fee.

Any cancellations are immediately available on recreation.gov, and each user can make one reservation per day.

Rocky Mountain National Park

(Photo by Brad McGinley Photography/Getty Images)

In contrast to Yosemite, Rocky Mountains National Park this winter temporarily suspended the timed-entry reservation system that had been implemented in June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A news release in early October 2020 stated that the system had helped the park manage visits throughout the summer, and thanked visitors for complying with the regulations.

Wilderness campsite reservations for 2021 continue to follow the usual park system, and will be available online beginning March 1. This year, all reservations must be made online; campsite reservations cannot be made in person before March 15 to prevent the spread of COVID, nor will phone, mail, email and fax reservations will be accepted.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park. (Photo by Zack Frank/Adobe Stock)

This west Texas destination has remained reservation-free, although the park remains only partially open as of early 2021. Visitors still need to pay park entrance fees, and groups are limited to a single household or up to eight visitors at once. Overnight campers still need advance reservations, according to the park website.

Yellowstone National Park

The home of Old Faithful implemented a reservation system this past winter for visitors hoping to stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, although most day trips remain reservation-free except for special activities. Similarly to Big Bend, Yellowstone is only partially open and all visitors are required to stay masked in indoor facilities where proper social distance cannot be maintained.

Featured image by Zack Frank - stock.adobe.com
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023