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

Feb 2, 2021

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?

In This Post

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.


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

Eighty percent of day-use reservations are available in advance at, 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, 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 photo of Big Bend National Park by Zack Frank/Adobe Stock.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.