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These national parks are eliminating reservations requirements for fall

Sept. 16, 2022
8 min read
Fall foliage in Yosemite National Park
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There’s no question that our country's national parks continue to be extremely popular, welcoming eager travelers seeking wide-open spaces and stunning scenery — whether that’s mountains, forests, canyons, coastlines or other terrain.

However, this past summer, many of the most popular parks had requirements or restrictions that made spur-of-the-moment trips more difficult.

In order to ensure that visitors get the best experience possible — and to help with social distancing and prevent overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic — some parks have been requiring guests to make advance reservations to enter the park or hike in-demand trails. Even at parks where reservations aren’t strictly required, they have been recommended as a way to avoid long waits for entry.

Now, as the fall travel season begins and summer crowds diminish, some national parks plan to ease or completely eliminate these reservation requirements. Others are still keeping reservation requirements for the time being.

Because rules continue to evolve with the season and each park's popularity, before you book that hotel or vacation rental near a national park make sure you check the park’s latest reservation rules. You'll want to determine how much planning is necessary to make sure your visit to one of the nation’s most beautiful outdoor spaces is a smooth one.

Here's what you need to know about some national park favorites right now:

Yosemite National Park

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. SCOTT CLARK/THE POINTS GUY

As of Sept. 30, Yosemite National Park will no longer require advance reservations to enter the park during peak times, meaning from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you plan to visit the park before Sept. 30, you still must make advance reservations through recreation.gov. These reservations are required even if you’re just planning to drive through the park and not stop. However, those with reservations to stay at campgrounds or other lodging within the park won’t have to make any additional park-entry reservations.

Those with wilderness permits (such as for backpacking, overnight climbing or other wilderness stays) or permits for hiking to Half Dome are also exempt from the current peak times reservation rule.

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Glacier National Park. HAIZAN ZHENG/GETTY IMAGES

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park no longer requires reservations for visitors to drive the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road from the West Entrance, St. Mary Entrance and the new Camas Entrance to the park. The summer reservation ticketing system, which concluded on Sept. 11, was intended to help manage traffic in the park during the busy summer season.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. MARK BRODKIN/GETTY IMAGES

Arches National Park

Arches National Park in Utah continues to require visitors to reserve an admission pass via its timed-entry ticketing system until Oct. 3. The park has more than 2,000 natural red rock structures accessed with limited roadways, and put the timed entry system in place to manage traffic and crowding. The timed tickets go on sale three months in advance and may be purchased at recreation.gov.

There are also a limited number of tickets available one day before entry. However, these tickets usually sell out quickly, so if you're planning a September trip to Arches and have not made reservations already, be sure to grab one of those tickets as soon as it is released.

Related: Explore Utah’s national parks with TPG’s guide to the ‘Mighty Five’

The Watchman in Zion National Park. JUSTIN REZNICK/GETTY IMAGES

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is still continuing to use a lottery process to manage visitor access to its iconic Angels Landing hiking trail. Zion has discontinued the use of ticketed reservations for the park’s shuttle service, and there is no requirement for reservations to enter the park.

The park does require permits for activities such as canyoneering, hiking and camping, all in an effort to avoid overcrowding both for preservation reasons and to ensure a better experience for visitors.

Related: This hotel near Zion National Park may be the best SpringHill Suites on Earth

Shenandoah National Park. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Shenandoah National Park

If you want to spend the night under the stars at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, you may need to plan ahead.

Securing space at one of the park’s campgrounds requires advance reservations and the system opens six months in advance. Weekends and holiday slots get taken up quickly, so we recommend you secure your place as soon as possible. Mid-week fall reservations still appear to be widely available, so there's no need to scrub your fall foliage trip plan if you have some date flexibility.

Shenandoah continues to require advance-purchase day-use tickets to hike in the Old Rag Mountain area through Nov. 30. Tickets are released at 10 a.m. both 30 days and again five days before the day of the hike (at recreation.gov).

Related: The 20 national parks that every traveler should see at least once

Elk at play in Rocky Mountain National Park’s lush meadows. MELANIE HAIKEN/THE POINTS GUY

Rocky Mountain National Park

In 2020, the 415-square-mile Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado introduced a temporary timed-entry system; that system will remain in effect this fall until Oct. 10. Visitors can make reservations either for the Bear Lake Road Corridor of the park or for the rest of the park (excluding the Bear Lake Road Corridor).

The reservation requirement is in effect from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the corridor, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the rest of the park. You don’t need a permit if you already have a reservation for a service such as in-park camping, horseback riding or a commercial tour.

Acadia National Park. DERMOT CONLAN/GETTY IMAGES

Acadia National Park

Though travelers don’t need to worry about timed-entry slots to enter Acadia National Park in Maine, reservations are required through Oct. 22 to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain for its inspiring coastal views. Watching the sunrise from the mountain is the stuff of legends. Vehicle reservations are available up to 90 days in advance, with the bulk released at 10 a.m. (EDT) two days ahead of time.

Haleakala National Park.
Haleakala National Park. ED FREEMAN/GETTY IMAGES

Seeing the sun rise over Maui’s highest peak in Haleakala National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To make sure you don’t miss out on this breathtaking spectacle, reserve your vehicle entrance pass as soon as possible, as reservations are required for every vehicle entering the park between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m, regardless of the season.

Make reservations online 60 days in advance. Additional slots also are released 48 hours in advance. For those who just can’t get enough of the volcanic landscape, the park also has three historic wilderness cabins.

Related: TPG’s favorite national parks: A month-by-month guide

A black bear cub in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. KEN CANNING/GETTY IMAGES

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Though you can enter the park whenever you like, reservations are still required for all campgrounds within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The system is open for reservations for most campgrounds up to a year in advance, with the exception of the front-country campgrounds and horse camps, which are only available up to six months in advance. Reservations and permits are also required for all overnight stays in the backcountry.

Fall travel season is a popular time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with nice leaf-peeping opportunities, so securing campground reservations on weekends may still be a challenge.

Additional reporting by Bill Fink.

Featured image by KARI SIREN/GETTY IMAGES
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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