9 US national parks that require a reservation in 2024

America’s outdoor spaces are becoming increasingly congested, so more US national parks will require a reservation in 2024

In 1872, the US established Yellowstone National Park. It was the first protected site in the country and only the second in the world after Bogd Khan Uul in Mongolia. Yellowstone soon became the international standard for the preservation of biodiversity and cultural history; a standard that has since been widely replicated around the globe.

In 2021, Yellowstone received a staggering 4,860,537 recreation visits, up 28% from 2020 (3,806,306 visits), making it the busiest year on record as pandemic-weary Americans headed for the nation’s outdoor spaces. May, June, July, August and September of that year were all the busiest months on record. In addition, July was the busiest month in Yellowstone’s history and the first time visitation exceeded one million visits in a single calendar month.

Despite a dip in 2022 because of early summer flooding, last year saw another hike in visitor numbers. October 2023 saw a 26% increase from the same period the previous year with 299,127 recreation visits in the month. Up to November 2023, the park had hosted a total of 4,446,509 recreation visits, up 37% from 2022.

The increase in visitors once again led to reports of overcrowding, parks closing their gates and local towns overrun with tourists. While Yellowstone has not begun a formal process yet, park managers have not ruled out introducing management strategies such as timed-entry systems or reservations in the future to counteract the unsustainable rise in visitor numbers.

As such, several parks have introduced systems including day-use reservations and timed-entry tickets designed to cut crowds and preserve the fragile landscapes, wildlife and ecosystems the parks were created to protect.

US National Parks that require a reservation

There are now nine national parks that have implemented ticketing procedures in some form. Below, we take a look at the US National Parks that require a reservation in 2024 along with details of when, where and how to organise the permits.

1. Acadia National Park

Location: Maine
What:
Timed-entry for cars on the Cadillac Summit Road
When: 24th May to 22nd October 2024
More info:
recreation.gov

Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

After the launch of a successful pilot scheme in 2021, Acadia National Park has renewed its vehicle reservations for the popular Cadillac Summit Road. The highest point on the US eastern seaboard, Cadillac Mountain is a popular destination for visitors to Acadia, particularly sunrise hikers.

Therefore, the NPS will require vehicle reservations for Cadillac Summit Road users from mid-May through mid-October. Thirty percent of passes will be available 90 days in advance with the remainder from two days before. Visitors have two types of tickets to choose from: sunrise or daytime.

2. Arches National Park

Location: Utah
What:
Timed-entry for all visitors
When: 1st April to 31st October 2024
More info:
recreation.gov

The US national park service was reportedly banned from tweeting following its anti-Trump retweets
Zhiwei Zhou/Dreamstime Arches National Park

In 2021, Arches National Park hit the headlines when it was regularly forced to close its gates by 8am as car parks and trails hit their capacities. Some days the gates stayed closed for five hours before reopening.

It was hardly surprising when in 2023, the NPS introduced a site-wide timed-entry system for all visitors to Arches. This pilot program will continue to help cut the long lines stretching from Moab towards the entrance gates.

There is a $2 reservation fee as well as the park entrance fees (beginning at $15 per person). Reservations will be released three months in advance, on a rolling basis. For example, on 2nd January, all reservations for April will open. On 1st February, all reservations for May will open. Some last-minute tickets will also be available one day in advance from 31st March 2024.

3. Glacier National Park

Location: Montana
What:
Ticketed entry for day-use visitors to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road and Polebridge Ranger Station
When: 24th May to 8th September 2024 and 1st July to 8th September 2024
More info:
recreation.gov

The Going-to-the-Sun Road
Sean Xu/Shutterstock The Going-to-the-Sun Road

In spring 2021, Glacier National Park piloted a ticketing system for its renowned 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, the scenic road traversing the park that is designed to blend into its mountain setting.

Unsurprisingly, the NPS renewed and expanded the system in 2022 and it will continue into 2024. The system now includes North Fork (24th May-8th Sep) and Many Glacier Valley (1st Jul-8th Sept).

Tickets will become available on 24th January and cost $2 plus the entrance fee beginning at $15 per person. A limited number of reservations will also be available from two days in advance. Read this NPS press release for full details.

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: North Carolina and Tennessee
What:
Parking tag for anyone planning to park inside the grounds for more than 15 minutes
When: Year-round
More info:
recreation.gov

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee
Yuan Yue/Shutterstock The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In 2023, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park introduced a requirement for visitors to purchase a daily, weekly or annual parking tag if they wish to park inside the grounds for more than 15 minutes. No reservations are required for parking locations once the tag is bought and displayed.

Three tags are available for purchase for all vehicle types and sizes:

  • Daily: $5
  • Weekly: $15
  • Annual: $40

Parking tags are sold at visitor centres and automated kiosks as well as online.

5. Haleakalā National Park

Location: Hawaii
What:
Reservations for cars entering from 3am to 7am to catch the sunrise from Maui’s highest peak
When: Ongoing
More info:
recreation.gov

Silhouette of crowd enjoying the sunset atop Mount Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii
Allen.G/Shutterstock Sunrise on Mount Haleakalā

In 2017, to combat overtourism in the area, Haleakalā National Park introduced a reservation system and fee for sunrise viewing at the 3,055m (10,023ft) summit of Mount Haleakalā.

The fee is $1 and reservations are available up to 60 days in advance with a limited allocation of last-minute tickets available two days in advance.

6. Rocky Mountain National Park

Location: Colorado
What:
Timed-entry system with either full park access or excluding Bear Lake Road Corridor
When: 24th May to 30th October 2024
More info: recreation.gov

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sean Xu/Shutterstock Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

In a similar fashion to previous years, Rocky Mountain National Park will require all vehicles to carry a special pass to enter the park. These passes will allow drivers to enter the park in two-hour windows to help ease crowding and stagger traffic.

Most reservations will be available approximately one month in advance, on a one-month rolling window. For example, on 1st June, all reservations for July will become available. Additionally, the park will hold back 40% of timed-entry permits for next-day reservations, which can be booked from 23rd May on a rolling basis.

7. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia
What:
Day-hiking tickets for Old Rag Mountain
When: 1st March to 30th November 2024
More info:
nps.gov

The rocky summit of Old Rag Mountain in Virginia
Jonathan A. Mauer/Shutterstock The rocky summit of Old Rag Mountain in Virginia

The rocky summit of Old Rag Mountain and its surrounding trails are repeatedly named one of the best hikes in the US. It’s no wonder then that the popular hiking destination was forced to introduce a pilot project to help alleviate some of the stress placed on the trails. The system is set to continue for 2024.

All visitors to Old Rag Mountain will need to acquire an Old Rag Mountain day-use ticket in advance in addition to a park entrance pass. Half of the 800 tickets will be released 30 days before the reservation date with the remaining 400 tickets released five days before a given reservation date. Tickets cost $2 per person. More information is available on the NPS website.

8. Yosemite National Park

Location: California
What:
Day-use reservations for the Horsetail Fall event; peak-hours reservations during spring, summer and autumn
When: 10th-11th, 17th-19th & 24th-25th February; 13th April-27th October (various days)
More info:
nps.gov

Liberty Cap looms above Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park, California
Nyker/Shutterstock Yosemite is reintroducing reservations for 2024

Every February, Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park is illuminated by the setting sun. If conditions are right, it creates the illusion of a ‘firefall’ where the waterfall glows iridescent, giving the appearance of fire. Unsurprisingly, the event has become so popular that reservations are required for three weekends in February.

After dropping summertime entry permits for 2023, the park experienced significant bottlenecks. As such, Yosemite has modified and reimplemented its ‘Peak Hours Plus’ reservation system in spring, summer and autumn.

Horsetail Falls illuminated by the setting sun
Gregory B Cuvelier/Shutterstock Horsetail Falls illuminated by the setting sun

Reservations will be required on certain weekends from 13th April to 30th June and then every day from 1st July to 16th August. Then, from 17th August to 27th October, weekend reservations will be required. Reservations are valid for three days after the date of entry.

Phew. Got that? If not, then head over to the NPS website for full details as there are further permutations of release dates and timings and exceptions for those with in-park camping or lodging reservations, wilderness or Half Dome permits and anyone entering with a tour group or on a public YARTS bus. As if it wasn’t complicated enough!

9. Zion National Park

Location: Utah
What:
Permits to visit Angels Landing via ‘online lotteries’
When: From 1st April 2024
More info:
recreation.gov

Angel's Landing in Zion National Park will require a reservation
Calin Tatu/Shutterstock Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah

Angels Landing, one of America’s most popular hikes, has long attracted throngs of crowds desperate to get that ‘classic’ photograph. As such, Zion National Park will continue its ticketing scheme in 2024.

Throughout the year, all Angels Landing hikers will need to enter a permit lottery for the hike. A next-day permit lottery will also be available for last-minute hikers, opening at 12am and closing at 3pm on a daily rolling basis. Winners will be emailed at 4pm if they have received a permit.

Permits cost $6 to apply, plus another $3 per person once the permit is confirmed.


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