What you need to know before you go to a national park this summer

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Thinking about visiting a national park this summer? You’d better take a look to see if there are any new rules for visiting, such as advance reservations to enter or drive the most popular roads.

The National Park Service has tightened access at the most popular of the 63 national parks to reduce crowding and traffic jams, which have become worse as visitor counts have soared.

A timed-entry reservation system has been put into effect, with the goal of spreading out visitation throughout the day, to avoid nightmare traffic jams and gruesomely long waits, officials said.

Arches National Park is among the national parks that now require reservations. (AP Photo/Beth Harpaz)

Typically, reservations are required during peak visitor hours, such as 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (If you arrive before or after those hours, you won’t need one.) Check the National Park Service website for each park for details.  And if you already have camping or other permits or activity reservations, entrance reservations aren’t required.

Sometimes timed entry tickets are required to get into historic homes, to board ferries or to drive specific roads, such as the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Each park has its own rules.

Here are the national parks and monuments requiring reservations at this writing, though you should really check the website to make sure there haven’t been any changes. (And note that some state parks and recreation areas have also jumped on the bandwagon. See details below.)

Acadia National Park, Maine
Adams National Historical Park, Massachusetts
Arches National Park, Utah
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Ellis Island Part of Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York
Ford’s Theatre, Washington, DC
Fort Matanzas National Monument, Florida (Ferry ticket)
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, DC
Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
Glacier National Park, Montana (Going-to-the-Sun Road eastbound, the North Fork, and Many Glacier areas)
Haleakalā National Park, Maui, Hawaii (for sunrise viewing only)
Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania
Mount Rainier, Washington
Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial, Ohio (Memorial Deck only)
Redwood National and State Parks, California (required only for Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon)
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Theodore Roosevelt House) New York
Statue Of Liberty National Monument, New York
Thomas Edison National Historical Park (To visit Edison home) New Jersey
Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah (Cave tour required)
Washington Monument, Washington, DC (elevator to the top. Some same-day passes available)
Yosemite National Park, California

Perhaps interestingly, you won’t need a reservation to visit Yellowstone National Park, at least not as of this writing.

Clouds hang below the summit of Haleakala volcano in Haleakala National Park on Hawaii’s island of Maui, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Park officials say the sunrise on Haleakala attracts over a thousand people a day, resulting in an overload of visitors and creating a safety hazard. As a result, anyone wanting to see the sunrise on the summit will now be required to make reservations in advance and pay a small fee. (Photo by Caleb Jones, The Associated Press)

And, while we’re on the subject, note that you may need a special advance permit to visit certain overcrowded attractions, such as the popular Angels Landing hike at Zion National Park in Utah. You don’t need a timed ticket to get into Zion (although you do have to ride a shuttle bus), however if you want to make this popular hike, you’ll need a permit in advance.

In addition to your timed entry ticket, you’ll also need to pay the fee is for that particular park on arrival, or have a pass that enables you to enter free, such as a senior, military, disabled or 4th grader pass.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

How to reserve a timed-entry National Park ticket

These are available in advance on the Recreation.gov website or mobile app. It’s a good idea to get one as soon as your plans are firm.

There will be a limited number of last minute timed-entry tickets made available at 6 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on the night before. These will probably go quickly, so be ready.

Glacier National Park in Montana now requires reservations as a way of managing crowds. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)

How to book: Go to the Recreation.gov website or app (you must create an account) or call the reservation line at 877-444-6777. Reservations cannot be booked at park offices.  It costs $2 to make a reservation. This is not refundable.

What about National Forest sites?

Yes, it’s true. We haven’t finished listing all the types of places you might need a reservation. At the most popular National Forest fun spots, expect to find that you’ll also need to book in advance. For example, at the Coconino National Forest in Arizona, the Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River trails and waterfall require advance booking on Recreation.gov.

It’s not a bad idea to double check, so you don’t get shut out.

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington now requires resrevations. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Reservations for state parks

And even some particularly popular state parks are now requiring advance reservations. You’re not getting in without one, so take heed. The downside is that you have to pay for the reservations. The upside is that you’ll be able to find a place to park.

Here are a few of the most popular:


Reservations cost $5 per person, plus $10 parking. They can be made up to 30 days in advance. (Make a reservation here: gostateparks.hawaii.gov)

 Waiʻānapanapa State Park and its black sand beach along the Road to Hana in Maui.
Īao Valley State Monument,  Maui
Diamond Head State Monument. Oahu
Hāʻena State Park, Kauai


Advance purchase day passes are not mandatory but parks do fill up, so these “Save The Day” passes are highly recommended. Texas has 84 state parks. Here are some of the most heavily visited. (Reserve here: tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/reservations or call 1-512-389-8900.)

Balmorhea State Park
Brazos Bend State Park
Cedar Hill State Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Garner State Park
Inks Lake State Park
McKinney Falls State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Nevada requires $5 advance day use reservations only for the Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area. In Tennesee, only the Cummins Falls State Park requires a $6 access permit. So it goes without saying that if you’re planning to see a state park or national forest recreation area that you know is popular, it’s never a bad idea to find out if you need  to book it in advance.

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