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‘Plan like a park ranger’: Tips for visiting U.S. national parks this summer

·Anchor
·3-min read

Visitors are descending on national parks in record numbers this summer as Americans are anxious to get out of the house and travel. But before you hit the road, it’s important to plan your trip carefully in an effort to navigate the record-setting crowds.

“We’re expecting one of the busiest years on record,” Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, National Park Service assistant director of communications, told Yahoo Finance Live. “Plan like a park ranger… Make sure you have a reservation before you hop in the car so your only surprises are those happy ones.”

While the majority don’t require reservations, popular parks including Yosemite National Park, Acadia National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Glacier National Park are among those that have implemented reservations for access to at least part of their parks with plans to maintain the systems through peak summer visitation months.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK,WY - JUNE 08: Visitors watch bison and their newborns as they cross the road in Yellowstone National Park on June 8,2021. Yellowstone is seeing a record number of visitors since all entrances were open for the 2021 tourist season.  (Photo by William Campbell/Getty Images)
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK,WY - JUNE 08: Visitors watch bison and their newborns as they cross the road in Yellowstone National Park on June 8,2021. Yellowstone is seeing a record number of visitors since all entrances were open for the 2021 tourist season. (Photo by William Campbell/Getty Images)

National Park Service officials are also urging travelers to plan ahead and visit busy sites in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid lines and crowds during peak times of the day.

“We are reaching record numbers. Yellowstone National Park had the busiest Memorial Day on record and Grand Teton has seen a significant increase in visitation [numbers] over prior years,” Anzelmo-Sarles said. “We’re seeing this trend across the country. The Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Acadia National Park — it’s not just the big parks out West. We’re seeing an increase everywhere.”

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming saw 87,739 visitors during the month of April, up nearly 50% from 2019, while Yellowstone National Park welcomed more than 483,000 visitors last month, its busiest May on record. In Utah, visitors entering Canyonlands National Park sat in traffic for hours to enter the park during peak visitation times Memorial Day weekend.

To compare these numbers to last year, national parks experienced nearly a 30% drop in visitors in 2020 when 66 of the 423 parks were closed for two months or more due to the pandemic, according to the National Park Service.

Because of record-setting crowds in 2021, National Park Service officials are urging travelers to make arrangements for lodging ahead of time, as some campsites and hotels are already fully booked this summer.

“Where people might run into trouble is if they don't plan for a place to stay at night,” Anzelmo-Sarles warned. “Campground reservations are up 73% from 2019. Most hotels in and around most popular national parks are either fully booked or nearly so through Labor Day.”

But don’t let the crowds discourage you. The National Park Service is encouraging Americans to use this as an opportunity to travel off the beaten path and explore some of the country’s lesser known national treasures as the “top 10 or 15 parks attract most of the visitors.”

“There are lots of opportunities across the country to get out and enjoy your parks, have a quiet moment, and get away from the crowds,” added Anzelmo-Sarles. “We want to welcome you but you might need to have a little bit of patience and plan for a little bit more time.”

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith

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