Many believe the pandemic created a surge in visits to national parks. This isn’t entirely true.
Although there have been many new visitors in the last couple of years, visitors have actually decreased. The uptick in numbers and the problems heavy traffic has caused have just become more advertised as Americans seek to get outdoors.
Let’s take a look at what the National Park Service is doing in 2022 to alleviate some of these problems.
What Is a National Park?
The National Park Service, a bureau of the US Department of the Interior, is entrusted with the care of over 423 units covering over 85 million acres across America. These 423 units fall within designated areas like the National Battlefield Park, national monuments, and national scenic trails.
These units, often called parks, preserve America’s history, culture, and natural beauty for the enjoyment and education of past, present, and future generations. The natural and cultural resources within the boundaries of these designated areas are protected.
One group of these 423 designated areas is called national parks. Currently, there are 63 with this designation.
All 423 units got their designations because of their historical, cultural, or natural significance. To receive national park status, a unit must meet four standards.
- First, it must be an outstanding example of a specific resource. This could include geological features or fossil preservation.
- Secondly, the area must illustrate the natural or cultural themes of our country’s heritage.For example, landforms tell a geological story of millions of years. Archeological sites tell of prehistoric people and ancient native tribes.
- Thirdly, for a unit to receive national park status, it must offer recreational opportunities. This could be pure enjoyment for guests or an outdoor classroom for scientific research.
- Finally, it must be unspoiled. This means the unit must have a high degree of integrity, showcasing a pristine and undisturbed area as best as possible.
Are National Parks Overpopulated?
Over 318 million people visit national parks each year. In 2020, this number decreased by 28% to 237 million guests, largely due to park closures and restrictions. However, a large percentage of these visitors were new to the national park system.
In fact, 15 parks actually set new recreation visitation records. The Blue Ridge Parkway was the most visited site, while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park claimed the number one visited position, one it has held since 1944.
The national parks have been growing in popularity for a decade. Many of their current structures cannot maintain continued increases in visitation. Built decades ago, the facilities need repairs.
The roads, also constructed decades ago, are experiencing increased traffic year after year. Many of them aren’t holding up well and are also in need of repair.
Although some parks saw a decline in 2020, the general consensus is that national park visits will continue to increase. The 20,000 employees and volunteers who work for the National Park Service won’t be able to keep up.
How Do Tourists Damage National Parks?
The tourists who do the most damage often don’t follow the rules. They leave their campsites trashed, they don’t dispose of waste properly, or they step off the designated paths to make their own trail through the wilderness. They ignore the Leave No Trace techniques, and the national parks suffer.
Hot Tip: Here are the quickest ways to get fined at a national park.
How Are National Parks Changing in 2022?
There are a few important changes all visitors will want to become informed about before taking any trips to national parks in 2022. It would be a terrible way to begin a vacation if you show up at a campground thinking it’s first-come, first-served, to find out that it’s now reservation-only.
Check out the price increases, reserved entry systems, camping changes, mask requirements, and construction projects all coming to National Parks in 2022.
Across the national park system, you’ll find increased fees. For example, the $15 per person entrance fee at Walnut Canyon National Monument will change to $25 per vehicle in 2022. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore will start charging entrance fees for the first time.
In many locations, parks will no longer accept cash. January 17, April 16, August 4, September 24, and November 11 will be fee-free days in the national park system.
Several parks began a reserved entry system in 2020 and 2021. This implementation will continue in other parks in 2022.
For example, Glacier National Parks has already instituted a reserved entry system for guests who want to travel Going to the Sun Road and will add a reserved entry system for the North Fork area of the park.
Arches National Park will also begin implementing a reserved entry system in 2022. These tickets are free, but Recreation.gov does charge a $2 fee when claiming your reservations.
Zion National Park is avoiding this reserved entry system. However, the Angels Landing hike will require an advanced permit and reservation beginning in April 2022.
Fewer first-come, first-served campsites will be available in 2022 as the National Park Service moves to more reservations-required sites. On May 27, 2022, the popular Fishing Bridge campground will reopen at Yellowstone National Park.
It has been closed since the end of the 2019 season. It features larger sites, a bigger parking lot, more showers, and additional laundry facilities. The upper loop will have 172 sites designed for larger RVs.
All campgrounds at Grand Teton National Park are now reservation only. These will become available on a six-month rolling basis. A limited number of sites will be available on a 14-day rolling basis, and you can only reserve on Recreation.gov.
Dozens of other campgrounds across the national park system have moved to a reservation-only system, so do your research before just showing up at a location in 2022.
Guests must wear masks indoors at all federal locations, regardless of vaccination status. This includes visitor centers, bathroom facilities, and museums. Visitors must also wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces and on public and commercial transportation like shuttle buses and tour buses.
Visitor centers, campgrounds, and roadways will undergo construction projects across the National Park system. The Great American Outdoors Act was passed last year, and additional funding facilitated much-needed repairs to various facilities.
For example, at Saratoga National Historical Park, a $6.6 million project to repair the self-guided battlefield tour road will begin in 2022. Independence National Historical Park will spend $14 million replacing the HVAC system in most buildings.
Before planning your visit to any National Park location, make sure to check hours and availability.
Is Visiting a National Park in 2022 Worth It?
The national parks are catching up to modern times through construction projects that will enable better accessibility and safer conditions for all visitors. The National Park Service wants all guests to enjoy the great outdoors, but changes need to be made for this to happen.
The price increases will help fund maintenance projects, the reserved entry systems will help alleviate crowded parks, and mask requirements will keep all visitors safe.
These changes help the National Park Service live out its mission to preserve “the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Let’s do our part by following these new guidelines.
Which National Park will you visit in 2022? Better yet, how many National Parks will you visit?
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