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You might need a reservation just to take a hike this summer — here's what to know

May 17, 2021
5 min read
You might need a reservation just to take a hike this summer — here's what to know
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It's not getting any easier to plan a spontaneous getaway, even if you plan on spending the entirety of your trip outside -- even at a national park.

Last year, popular parklands such as Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado began implementing timed entry systems — and this summer, travelers should still expect to plan in advance for trips to some of the nation's busiest national parks.

Rocky Mountain National Park still requires visitors to reserve a day pass, either with or without access to Bear Lake Road corridor. At Yosemite, travelers must book a permit to visit between May 21 and Sept. 30. At Glacier National Park in Montana, you'll need to buy a $2 ticket to enter Going-to-the-Sun Road (in addition to the park entry fee) and for travelers hoping to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine's Acadia National Park — especially for sunrise — you'll now need a reservation.

Photo by Melanie Lieberman/The Points Guy

But it's not just the nation's busiest parks that are looking for ways to limit capacity. Across the country, travelers may find that reservations are now required in advance, even if all you plan to do is take a hike.

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"I tried to make reservations ... a few weeks before [when] I booked [my] trip," said TPG writer Chris Dong. "Nothing was available ... the whole calendar was blank."

No, Dong wasn't trying to score a seat at the hottest restaurant in New York City. He was trying to make park reservations to hike the famous Kalalau Trail at Hā’ena State Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. But, ultimately, he was forced to choose a different hike.

Right now, travelers who are looking to reserve entry and a coveted parking spot to Hā’ena State Park will find only four days available through the remainder of June. And these slots are likely to book up fast.

A quick glance at AllTrails, a popular app with trail guides and maps, tells a similar story.

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For the Hanakapi'ai Falls trail, also along the Na Pali Coast, eager hikers are bartering and begging for permits in the reviews section.

"Looking for a parking pass and permit for my brand new fiancé and myself for tomorrow," wrote one user, who also shared her phone number. "Willing to pay a premium for the experience." Another was attempting to trade one date for another. For weeks, most of the reviews for the hike are requests for permits and parking passes.

It's a trend that's cropping up at state parks, national forests and other wilderness areas all over the country.

Related: Why you'll need to prebook all your fun this summer

Here on the East Coast, I often look to the Adirondacks when I plan trips to hike or backpack. And now, I'll need to make reservations to visit the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), where a pilot program is being tested from May 1 to Oct. 31.

Basil Seggos, the commissioner of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said in a statement that the reservation system was designed to "protect visitors and ... natural resources, while also ensuring equitable access" in light of "the increasing number of visitors to trailheads accessed through AMR, exacerbated in 2020 by New Yorkers looking for a nature break as a respite from COVID-19."

The reserve is home to popular trails to Round Mountain, Pyramid Peak and even some of the best-known high peaks, such as Gothics, Haystack and Mount Marcy. The reservation requirement applies to visitors who want access to any hikes that begin on AMR land, whether or not they plan on parking.

Even where reservations aren't required, travelers still need to prepare for packed parking lots at trailheads. After all, the interest in outdoor-focused travel hasn't waned. According to a recent TPG report, travelers who are planning a vacation this summer are, by and large, sticking with road trips, visits to national and state parks, and beach getaways.

Even where permits aren't new or tied specifically to COVID-19 capacity concerns, travelers should brace for an unprecedented surge in demand.

So, if you're thinking about spending any time in the great outdoors, be sure to plan ahead. Check to see if the park, reserve or trail requires a reservation (again, this has long been true for some particularly popular trails to destinations such as Hanging Lake in Colorado or Havasu Falls in Arizona).

For destinations where only road access or parking permits are restricted or limited, see if you can get dropped off at the trailhead or take a shuttle. This might be especially important if you're planning a trip to a destination where rental cars are in high demand and may, as a result, be unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

And, with so many things during these unusual times, always have a backup plan. Even if you're able to get reservations or parking for your preferred hike, be prepared to change your itinerary if the trail is unreasonably busy.

Feature photo of the Adirondack Mountains in New York by robertcicchetti/Getty Images

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
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.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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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.

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  • 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