National park visits are more popular in 2021 than ever before, thanks to the pandemic. With international travel halted and many parks closed for part of 2020, travelers and national park junkies are raring to go!
A couple of parks have already had record-setting months this year, and it’s only slated to get worse! So if you don’t like crowds or traffic jams, you might want to avoid these two parks:
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park on Course for Record-Breaking Year
According to the Billings Gazette, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks had record-breaking attendance in April 2021. Visitation to Yellowstone was up 40% from 2019, and Grand Teton had a 48% increase!
Both parks were closed during the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With everyone sick of being cooped up all year, the parks will likely continue to see record-breaking attendance each month this year.
Crowds Are the Worst Part About Visiting a National Park
Crowds are objectively terrible, especially when it comes to visiting a national park.
You take a trip to a national park to experience nature in all its splendor. With thousands of other people in the park on the same day, it might feel wild, but not for the reasons you hoped!
Yellowstone is already one of the most-visited national parks in the United States, seeing over 3 million visitors per year.
Why You Might Want to Avoid Yellowstone and Grand Teton This Year
If crowds, traffic jams, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to get the perfect photo-op doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, you might want to avoid Yellowstone and Grand Teton this year. You’ll face long waits, traffic jams, and no privacy (unless you head into the backcountry).
Parks Superintendent Cam Sholly believes it’s going to be a tough summer and one that will help guide future visitor management in the parks.
According to the Billings Gazette:
“Sholly said any actions to limit or control visitors will be more aggressive as visitation climbs to protect the park’s environment and wildlife.”
Is 2021 a Good Year to Visit Any National Parks?
Many national parks closed in 2020 due to COVID-19 and have opened at limited capacity this year.
Some parks now require reservations to get in! There are six parks requiring reservations: Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Haleakala, Acadia, and Yosemite.
From the sounds of it, Yellowstone and Grand Teton might be next on that list!
Tips to Get the Most out of a National Park Visit in 2021
If you decide to visit a national park this year, plan carefully to get the most out of your visit. Here are some tips for a national park visit in the post-COVID world.
From your date of travel to where you’re going to stay, there’s lots to plan when visiting any national park this year. Camping in most national parks might require bookings up to six months in advance! Reservations for popular campsites often sell out within minutes of opening.
RV parks, campgrounds, and even hotels in surrounding areas sell out quickly, too, so do your research ahead of time.
Schedule Several Days
You might think you can see everything in just a couple of days, but give yourself more time. Allow for delays from crowds, traffic, and weather.
Even when the crowds are low, you could spend an entire week in Yellowstone and not see the whole thing! Building time buffers into your schedule will reduce your stress and help you see the sites on your priorities list.
Be Prepared for Delays and Changed Plans
Some of the most significant delays in national parks are traffic jams, which frequently occur when wildlife blocks the road, or there’s bad weather.
Long lines of cars viewing rare wildlife on the side of the road might also block traffic. For example, bear sightings in Yellowstone have been known to back up traffic for hours, even after the bear has disappeared into the trees.
Be flexible in your itinerary, and be prepared that plans might change!
Be Prepared for Massive Crowds
This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: A busy post-pandemic summer means massive crowds heading to the national parks. It seems like the perfect vacation for those who want to social distance while getting out of the house. Unfortunately, large crowds make this difficult!
Try to maintain social distancing and wear masks if you’re not fully vaccinated. Social distancing may not always be possible at scenic overlooks when everyone wants a picture, but do your best.
Stock Up on Snacks, Chargers, and Gas
There’s a good chance you’ll be sitting in the car for long periods when driving through national parks in 2021. Fill up on gas ahead of time and bring plenty of snacks and phone chargers along!
Record-Setting Visitation Is Bittersweet
Record-setting park visitation is both a good and a bad thing for our national parks.
On the one hand, many parks have struggling infrastructure and staff as it is, and more visitors can put more stress on an already-struggling system. Extra visitors can also harm the environment and wildlife within these protected areas, especially if there are rule breakers among that group.
On the other hand, more visitors means more money for the parks, employees, and resource upgrades. It’s a catch-22!
One thing’s for sure: US national parks are in for one heck of a summer!