In light of the spread of COVID-19, trying to find out what is open and closed in our national parks is a moving target these days. The National Park Service is coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local public health authorities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make its decisions on what to keep open or to close on a daily basis.
How to Be an Informed and Mindful Traveler
While the national parks reopening have made us cautiously optimistic about summer travel, we’ve identified 5 essential factors you should consider before you hit the road. And one last thing. Throw your propensity to assume out the window. As we’ve seen during this spring, there are no guarantees that businesses will stay open, virus cases will go down or stay-at-home orders will be a thing of the past.
1. Every state has its own rules that vary dramatically.
Each state has different quarantine orders that vary dramatically from state to state. Within states, orders can even vary from county to county or town to town. For instance, Gunnison County is currently under Public Health Orders that restrict travel to "essential" and visitors to Gunnison County are prohibited, even though Black Canyon of the Gunnsion National Park has reopened.
2. Not everything in the parks will be open.
Just because a national park reopens does not mean everything within the park is open. For instance, Great Sand Dunes' visitor center is closed. Zion is not running its shuttle service. Yellowstone may not open its full-service restaurants. Be sure to check each park website to ensure that the services you need are available. Lastly, avoiding crowds and practicing Leave No Trace principles in the park are more essential now than ever with reduced park staff.
3. Every town and local business is operating differently in this new normal.
Do advance research on what hotels and restaurants are open and what they are doing to keep customers and employees safe. Some restaurants may only offer take out. Others might have a long waiting list because they have fewer tables to keep people physically distanced. Some rafting and tour companies may not offer trips this summer while others may be doing business as usual, with added safety measures. If you have a choice between local businesses and a national chain, consider supporting the local business.
4. Be mindful that you’re a visitor in someone’s hometown.
While you may feel footloose and fancy free after being cooped up for two months, don’t throw caution to the wind. Yes, wearing masks is awkward. No, you cannot throw yours out. People live in the towns you’re traveling through and they want to feel safe as they open up their economies. Many have tiny medical centers and are miles from the nearest full-service hospital. If a store posts a sign asking all customers to wear face masks, put on your face mask. Be the traveler you’d want to see visiting your town.
5. If you’re sick, stay home.
We’ve all done too much work staying at home and following health and safety precautions to have a COVID-19 resurgence take foot in our country. No one wants to get sick, so if you’re not feeling well or have signs of COVID-19, stay at home or if you’re on the road, head home immediately. Travel when you’re healthy.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park started a phased reopening on May 27, with limited services including basic park road and trail access. Visitor centers will remain closed. Many outlying areas will reopen. However the Wild Basin area will remain closed to all public access during this initial phase.
Trail Ridge Road will be open to Rainbow Curve on the east side and Colorado River Trailhead on the west side. Park snowplow operators continue to plow snow along the roadways and parking lots of Trail Ridge Road, and the full roadway will open as soon as that is completed, weather conditions permitting. Fall River Road will be not be open to motorized vehicles during this phase but will open to bicyclists and pedestrians. While much of the park will be accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services will be limited. Park visitor’s actions will help determine if areas remain open.
To increase park access while providing the public a reasonable opportunity to comply with health guidelines, the park will temporarily implement a timed entry system effective at the beginning of Phase Two on June 4. The park will cease using this system in later phases of the reopening.
Reservations to enter the park will go on sale through www.recreation.gov at 8 a.m. Mountain Time on Thursday, May 28. Reservations will be available to enter the park from June 4 through July 31. The next release will be on July 1, for the month of August and any remaining days that have not been booked for July. On August 1, reservations will be available for the month of September and any remaining days that have not been booked for August. On September 1, reservations will be available for the month of October and any remaining days in September that have not been booked.
Permits issued using the reservation system will allow park visitors to enter the park within two-hour windows of availability between 6 a.m. through 5 p.m. This process will facilitate advance payment of entrance fees, minimize contact between park entrance station staff and visitors and limit congestion in parking lots. The permit system will apply to all areas of the park.
In the initial opening phase, the park will open approximately 60 percent of the park’s maximum parking capacity or 4,800 vehicles (13,500 visitors) per day.
Rocky Mountain Conservancy continues to offer Rocky-themed merchandise available on their website at www.rmconservancy.org
Portions of Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds will open on June 4.
The park’s three reservation campgrounds; Moraine Park, Glacier Basin and Aspenglen Campgrounds were originally scheduled to open Memorial Day Weekend. Park staff have contacted those campers to cancel those reservations.
Only Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds will partially open on June 4, with approximately half of the campsites available for reservations. Aspenglen, Timber Creek and Longs Peak Campgrounds will remain closed.
Wilderness Backcountry Campsites:
Wilderness camping permits will be issued beginning May 27 through the autumn. In early May, park staff began contacting wilderness campers who had existing permits for the month of May to reschedule, if possible, their wilderness camping permits for later in the summer.
Shuttle Bus Operations:
Shuttle bus operations within the Bear Lake Road corridor will begin on May 27. It is unknown at this time whether the Hiker Shuttle from the Estes Park Visitor Center will be operating this summer. In order to practice proper social distancing to minimize community spread of Covid-19, the capacity of the shuttle buses in the Bear Lake Corridor will be limited to 15 passengers per trip.
Park staff are still determining the feasibility and timing of park visitor center operations as well as other services.
For further information on Rocky Mountain National Park, please visit www.nps.gov/romo or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.
To follow additional closures or changes with the status of the park, visit the Rocky Mountain National Park news site here www.nps.gov/romo/learn/news/
For camping reservations, alerts and closures for Moraine Park, Glacier Basin and Aspen Glen, visit Recreation.gov here: www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2907
Follow Rocky Mountain National Park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RockyNPS/
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Beginning June 3, Great Sand Dunes will implement Phase 1 and reopen access to the main park road, dunes parking area and dunefield, Medano Pass Primitive Road (if road conditions allow), including established campsites on a first-come, first-served basis, all trails: Mosca Pass, Montville Nature, Sand Sheet Loop, Wellington Ditch, Dunes Overlook, Sand Ramp, Medano Lake, and Music Pass, all picnic areas: Mosca Creek, Sand Pit, and Castle Creek and the Entrance Station, including the collection of fees if authorized.
With public health in mind, the following facilities or areas remain closed until further notice: the Visitor Center, South Ramada group picnic site in the Mosca Creek Picnic Area, Pinon Flats Campground, and overnight backcountry access in the National Park, including the dune field and sites along the Sand Ramp Trail
While the visitor center remains closed, the park will provide limited visitor services outside at the visitor center, including park information.
Great Sand Dunes plans to reopen the Pinon Flats Campground and begin issuing backcountry permits for both the Park and Preserve in mid-June as part of Phase 2. But Phase 2 is contingent upon successful implementation of Phase 1, sufficient staff capacity and supplies and local and state guidance.
To get up-to-date news on Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, go to www.nps.gov/grsa/learn/news/
Follow Great Sand Dunes on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greatsanddunesnpp/
For camping reservations, alerts and closures, visit www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2738
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park remains closed temporarily.
To get up-to-date news on Mesa Verde National Park, go to www.nps.gov/meve/learn/news/
Follow Mesa Verde National Park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mesaverdenps/
Refunds for Cliff Palace tours will take place automatically, but those who had reservations should confirm this by checking recreation.gov. For these tours and other plus tickets alerts and purchases, visit www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/233362.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area
As of May 15, 2020, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park will reopen access to:
- South Rim Drive
- North Rim – Day Use Only
- Inner Canyon Routes – Day Use Only – Permits Required
- Red Rock Canyon to Permit Holders Only
Entry fees are waived.
The following facilities remain closed at this time:
- South Rim and North Rim Campgrounds
- South Rim Visitor Center
Beginning May 15, Curecanti National Recreation Area will reopen access to:
- Blue Mesa Reservoir for boating and on-shore recreation
- Elk Creek Boat Ramp and Inspection Station 5:30 am to 9 pm daily
- Lake Fork Boat Ramp and Inspection Station 5:30 am to 9 pm daily
- Iola Boat Ramp and Inspection Station 6 am to 4 pm daily
- Boat-In dispersed camping at least 1/2 mile from developed areas including paved roads
- Gunnison River from Riverway to Blue Mesa Reservoir with extreme caution advised for changing water conditions, strainers, and other hazards.
Due to an anticipated high number of vessel decontaminations, please be prepared to use any of the three open ramps/inspection stations to avoid crowding and delays in getting on the water. Decontaminations will be done 8 am to 4 pm daily.
With public health in mind, the following facilities remain closed at this time:
- All campgrounds
- Elk Creek Visitor Center
Keep in mind that Gunnison County is currently under Public Health Orders that restrict travel to "essential" and visitors to Gunnison County are prohibited.
Please refer to Montrose County for further information on local response to COVID-19 www.montrosecounty.net/957/Corona-Virus-COVID-19
Follow Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/blackcanyonnps/
For information, alerts and reservation for the South Rim Campground visit Recreation.gov here: www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2592
Colorado National Monument
Where it is possible to adhere to the latest federal, state, and local health guidance, outdoor spaces and some restrooms are accessible to the public, including Rim Rock Drive and overlooks along the road, All hiking trails and restrooms at the Visitor Center and Upper Liberty Cap Trailhead.
Starting Thursday, May 21, 2020, the following areas are open or partially open: Saddlehorn Visitor Center (the giftshop inside the visitor center will be open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily) and information from NPS staff will be available outside the visitor center. The exhibit area and theater will remain closed. The Devil’s Kitchen Picnic area parking will be open for trailhead access. The picnic area will remain closed to use.
Saddlehorn Campground is closed. Devil's Kitchen Picnic Area is closed and Saddlehorn Picnic Area is closed.
Park staff ask those who would like to visit the monument to pay your entrance fee online at www.recreation.gov/sitepass/72448.
For up-to-the-date information, visit the Colorado National Monument website at www.nps.gov/colm/learn/news/newsreleases.htm
Follow Colorado National Monument on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ColoradoNM
Dinosaur National Monument
Beginning May 13, 2020, all monument roads and trails will be open.
Dinosaur National Monument’s Quarry Visitor Center and the Quarry Exhibit Hall are closed until further notice. The monument bookstore operated by Intermountain Natural History Association inside the Quarry Visitor Center is also closed. The online store can be found here: futuresite.inhaweb.com.
All river trips/operations in Dinosaur National Monument are canceled until further notice. All monument campgrounds are closed. All backcountry camping is suspended including camping at the Ely Creek designated backcountry sites in Jones Hole.
Drinking water will not be available at this time and access to restrooms may be limited in some areas.
While the listed areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased, and services may be limited. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders including the practice of social distancing, avoid crowding, wearing masks, if appropriate, and avoid high-risk outdoor activities. Also, please practice Leave No Trace principles, and avoid crowding and high-risk outdoor activities.
For up-to-date information, visit www.nps.gov/dino/learn/news/
Follow Dinosaur National Monument on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DinosaurNPS
Other National Parks and National Park Sites
The National Park Service has been updating its COVID-19 page daily with information about individual parks. You can visit it here: www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/public-health-update.htm
Updates about nationwide NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.
National Park Service to Temporarily Suspend Park Entrance Fees: www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/national-park-service-to-temporarily-suspend-park-entrance-fees.htm
National Park Service Is Modifying Operations to Implement Latest Health Guidance www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/statmentonparkopscovid19.htm