Procrastinators beware: Reservations at popular attractions are a must this summer

May 27, 2022

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Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before: It’s going to be a crowded summer on the roads, in the air and at attractions. Yup, that’s a sea of hands I see out there.

As part of the travel surge, you’re going to need to plan ahead for those “must visit” places on your travel list by reserving and purchasing timed-entry tickets. We’re not just talking about theme park and national park reservations, although you’ll need those, too. We’re also seeing everything from African wildlife parks capping visitors to timed tickets to see waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest.

Add reservation requirements for popular attractions from the Washington Monument to Machu Picchu, and you’ll start to get the picture about how tight admission will be when you head out this summer.

These are the most popular tourist spots that still have availability. You’ll need to book in advance for the summer’s most popular attractions if you don’t want to get left out in the cold during the hottest months.

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The Waterfall Corridor in Portland, Oregon

One of the highlights of visiting Portland is exploring the natural areas that surround the funky Pacific Northwest gem. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the most popular daytrips from the city; it’s a series of misty, rushing waterfalls that make you feel like you’ve stepped into the rainforest even though you just left the city. However, this area has become so popular that the U.S. Forest Service just implemented a timed-use permit system for summer (May 24 to Sept. 5) to access the Waterfall Corridor between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth. Plus, you’ll need a pass to visit the most popular waterfall of all: Multnomah Falls.

The one-hour timed-arrival slots can be booked up to two weeks in advance online. For same-day permits, a limited number will be available in person (no fee) at the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale and Cascade Locks Historical Museum.  While the reservation isn’t very expensive — it’s just $2 — note that the USFS says that a timed-use permit does not guarantee a parking spot. There is one workaround, however: If you arrive via bike, public transportation or with a guided tour group, you won’t need a timed-entry spot.

Washington, DC, attractions to book in advance

If you’re spending time in the nation’s capital this summer, it might help to download a planning app and set a timer since many of D.C.’s top attractions require timed-entry tickets. To ascend the Washington Monument, you’ll need to plan months in advance: Timed-entry tickets are released on a daily rolling basis 90 days in advance of the desired tour date. The same 90-day booking window also applies to the U.S. Capitol and the National Archives Museum.

For the National Museum of African American History and Culture, visitors can reserve timed-entry passes up to 30 days in advance on a rolling basis. We were able to find weekday availability for the month ahead, but no weekend time slots. If you didn’t plan ahead, you can try getting a same-day, timed-entry pass, released online only at 8:15 a.m. ET daily.

The concrete structures of Little Island of NYC as they rise out of the Hudson River
Little Island, New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Ellis/The Points Guy)

Reservations for New York City attractions

To live in New York City is to deal with crowds, especially at some of the most popular attractions. In some ways, timed-entry tickets are helpful, so you won’t spend precious vacation time schlepping across the city just to discover a place has reached capacity. Attractions such as viewing platforms fill up quickly, and or there’s sometimes an hourslong wait for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. One of the attractions you should book before visiting is Summit One Vanderbilt, the mirrored and immersive observation deck 1,400 feet above the city, which requires timed entry. (While there’s usually availability for daytime tickets, sunset sells out in advance.)

Two outdoor favorites in the Big Apple that you might not think need timed reservations are important to note here as well: The Highline, the city’s raised walkway along the West Side’s Meatpacking and Chelsea neighborhoods, has instituted a timed-pass system between noon and 6 p.m. for weekends and summer holidays. Weekend reservations will be in place through the end of September, and passes are released every Monday for dates two weeks in advance. And at New York City’s newest park, Little Island on the Hudson River, you’ll also need a timed reservation for peak summer hours May 12 to Sept. 19, Thursday to Sunday (and holidays) from noon to closing.

US national park reservations are needed

If you’ve tried to visit any of the country’s most popular national parks in the last few years, you’ve probably encountered timed-reservation systems during the summer.

Glacier National Park has a timed-reservation system in place for the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road. Yosemite National Park requires advance reservations for day-use access to the park. This is also the case for Rocky Mountain National Park, which introduced a temporary timed-entry system last summer. Arches National Park also introduced a timed-entry system for 2022 which is in effect from April 3 to Oct. 3; it applies to day-use visitors between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Related: Visiting a national park this summer? Better plan ahead

Epcot at dusk
(Photo by David Roark/Walt Disney World)

Reservations for Walt Disney World parks

Prior to the pandemic, you could purchase a ticket and just show up at the gates of whichever Disney World park you planned to visit that day. Now, there’s no way in without a reservation for a specific park, and sellouts are a very regular occurrence, especially in the summer.

If you’re planning on visiting Mickey, the most important thing to know is that you need to make a Park Pass reservation as soon as you know your travel dates and buy your tickets. Do not wait until a week or two before your trip to do this step, as it may be too late.

Additionally, park-hopping doesn’t begin until 2 p.m., so you’ll be stuck with the park you select to start at until midafternoon. This is important to note as you plan your days.

Related: It’s a changed world after all: 9 things you must know if you’re heading to Disney World

Reservations for the Maasai Mara and other wildlife parks in Kenya

Timed-entry concerns aren’t just limited to U.S. destinations. If you’ve been planning a bucket list trip to East Africa, you’ll want to keep a careful eye on the visitor caps implemented in some of the world’s most popular wildlife parks. According to Business Daily, Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Nairobi national parks will not allow more visitors than the monthly capacity of 32,000, 13,0000 and 10,000, respectively.

The number of visitors, both local and nonresident, will be monitored by an online ticketing and digital payment system that the Kenya Wildlife Service plans to roll out across all national parks and reserves.

Featured photo by AnaBGD/Getty Images.

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