A number of national parks across the US are gradually opening following weeks of shutdowns, but much remains to be decided on how to avoid crowds and keep everyone safe.

Some state parks reopened as early as 2 May under the Executive Order No. 133, which allowed for county governments to determine whether parks and forests could to open to the public for passive recreation, including boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, biking and horseback riding, among others. With national parks the rules have been different. The decisions aren't unilateral. Each park is opening under its own timeframe and many of the plans remain vague for now. Some of the major parks began to welcome the first wave of visitors on Memorial Day weekend, though with limited access and facilities such as accommodation, visitors centres, restrooms and shops closed to the public. 

Yellowstone opened three entrances in Wyoming on 18 May and plans to open the remaining access points in Montana on 1 June but camping is prohibited. Acadia National Park will reopen on 1 June but some access points will only be available to pedestrians. Grand Canyon, which reopened briefly on Memorial Day weekend before closing again, will reopen daily from 5 June, and the South Rim’s Mather campground will be open for campers, while the North Rim campground is expected to open 1 July, according to the LA Times. From 14 June, commercial and noncommercial Colorado River trips through Grand Canyon National Park will resume in phases.

Kayak and canoe on the Buffalo National River
Kayakers and canoers on the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, as seen from Steel Creek Campground. ©Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

Zion National Park is accepting visitors now but all but one of its campgrounds remain off limits. Rocky Mountain National Park will reopen on 4 June through an online ticketed system so officials can manage crowds. Visitors can reserve their time slot online, with roughly 13,500 visitors allowed in per day, according to the park. Two of its campgrounds, Moraine Park and Glacier Basin, will be available for bookings.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore, as well as Everglades National Parks, Bryce Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains National Park all reopened some of their trails to the public from as early as 9 May.

Fall Color in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened on 9 May © Pat Canova / Alamy Stock Photo

On its website, the National Park Service has asked the public to recreate safely and responsibly and to “park only in designated areas, pack out everything you bring into a park, plan a visit at times other than busiest of the day, maintain social distance from other visitors, and if you encounter a crowded trail-head or overlook, seek another location to recreate.”

Information on each National Park opening will be available on a case by case basis, with resources available at the NPS website.

This article was first published on 7 May and updated on 29 May, 2020.

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This article was first published May 7, 2020 and updated May 29, 2020.

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