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.
On Feb. 2, 2021, the National Park Service announced an across-the-board mask requirement for all parks and federal buildings, commenting that the mandate is to “protect the health of those who live, work and visit our national parks and facilities,” in a statement.
“Wearing a mask around others, physical distancing, and washing your hands are the simplest and most effective public health measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said NPS Office of Public Health Director Captain Sara Newman.
Under the order released Feb.2, face masks are required at all times in all National Park Service buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on park service-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails. Additional public health measures may be in place at individual parks.
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. We’ve teamed up with organizations and brands across the outdoor industry to help you make smart decisions on recreating to keep yourself and others healthy and to keep access to our beloved public places open. You can read more about how to #RecreateResponsibly.
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
Following a summer implementing a timed-entry system at Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors will no longer need reservations to enter starting Tuesday, Oct. 12. The park will cease using this system in later phases of the reopening.
Timed entry reservations are still required through Monday, Oct. 11 and can be bought at recreation.gov. Visitors must still purchase entrance passes, which are $25 per vehicle, or hold an annual pass to enter the park.
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 opened 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 partially opened 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 began being issued May 27 through the autumn.
Shuttle Bus Operations:
Shuttle bus operations within the Bear Lake Road corridor began 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 is limited to 15 passengers per trip.
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
On June 3, Great Sand Dunes reopened 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.
Great Sand Dunes reopened the Pinon Flats Campground and began 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
Facilities and Services That are Open
- Online Virtual Ranger Station
a virtual ranger station is available in the outdoor area of the Visitor & Research Center, near the park entrance.
- Mesa Verde Museum Association Store at the Visitor & Research Center
open daily, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Online store available at www.mesaverde.org/store
- Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe and Gift Shop
For details, please visit www.visitmesaverde.com.
- Morefield Campground, Off-Season Limited Camping Only (no services, but comfort stations available)
Closes for the season Oct. 12, 2020. For details, please visit www.visitmesaverde.com
- Chapin Mesa Picnic Area
Most food locations in the park are currently take-out, so this is a great place to enjoy a picnic.
- Public Restrooms
You may experience temporary closures during times of cleaning and sanitation.
- Trash collection
Custodial staff is currently limited, so if can take out what you bring in, it would be appreciated.
Roads and Recreational Areas That are Open
- Main Park Road
All overlooks including Montezuma Overlook, Park Point, and Geologic Overlook
- Far View Archeological Sites
This 0.75-mile (1.2 km) hiking trail leads you through six mesa top sites.
- Mesa Top Loop Road
6-mile (10 km) driving tour through 700 years of Ancestral Pueblo History
- Cliff Palace/Balcony House Loop Drive
All stops and overlooks
- Spruce Tree House Overlook
Views of the third-largest and best-preserved cliff dwelling
- Hiking Trails
Chapin Mesa and Morefield hiking trails
- Online Virtual Ranger Station
What is Closed?
- Mesa Verde Visitor & Research Center
- Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
- Far View Terrace Café and Gift Shop
- Far View Lodge
- All cliff dwellings and ranger-guided cliff dwelling tours
This includes continued closures of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Long House, and Step House. Many cliff dwellings can be viewed from overlooks along the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace/Balcony House Loop Roads.
- Wetherill Mesa
- Wetherill Mesa Road, sites, and trails
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
As of August 2020, visitors at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park have access to:
- South Rim: Open, reservations strongly recommended. Water is available.
- North Rim: Open and water is available.
- East Portal: Open and water is available.
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
The following areas are accessible to the public, including:
- Rim Rock Drive and overlooks along the road
- All hiking trails
- Saddlehorn Visitor Center – The giftshop inside the visitor center will be open 9 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily. Information from NPS staff will be available. The exhibit area and theater will remain closed.
- Saddlehorn Campground Loops A & B. All spaces are available for reservation on www.recreation.gov. Any spaces not reserved 24 hours in advance are open on a first-come-first-served basis for one night only. Loop C will open on June 19, 2020. The spots are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Loop C has smaller parking spots and tight corners. Not suitable for towed or large vehicles.
- All Restrooms.
- Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area and Parking – The Devil’s Kitchen Picnic area is open.
- Saddlehorn Picnic Area.
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
Based on local, state, and federal public health guidelines, the number of people entering the Quarry Exhibit Hall has been reduced from normal visitation levels for public safety. The timed ticket reservation system is a temporary system that has been created to address public health concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The timed ticket system only applies to access for the shuttle and Quarry Exhibit Hall. All other parts of the monument will be open for recreation as they have in the past, and tickets will not be necessary for anyone river rafting, hiking, camping, scenic driving, stargazing or other park activities. Additionally, Dinosaur National Monument will terminate the ticketing system once the park is able to safely resume normal operations based on state and local public health and Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Due to decreasing visitation during the late fall, beginning on Monday, October 19, 2020, the requirement for acquiring timed tickets through Recreation.gov to access the Quarry Exhibit Hall will be suspended. The requirment for timed entry may be reinstated if visitation increases and/or guidance regarding COVID-19 changes.
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