Lines of cars more than a mile long with a wait time more than an hour greeted visitors to Southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park last weekend. In 2017, Joshua Tree had 2.6 million visitors and this year that number is expected to climb. If you’ve recently visited a national park, you’re probably aware of how overcrowded they’ve become. Campgrounds are now booked years in advance, and popular landmarks are almost unreachable. Utah’s Zion National Park had 4.4 million visitors in 2017 – another example of how popular parks have become.
At Joshua Tree, George Land, a park spokesperson, suggests that GPSs may be to blame for the long entrance lines. The devices may be directing visitors to the most popular entrances off the main roads. He suggests using less-popular entrances to avoid the mile-long lines, though he adds not to expect smooth sailing once inside the park. “There is a ‘solid stream’ of cars on many [park] roads,” he says.
To make the best out of your park visit, whether at Joshua Tree or another, Land suggests following these tips:
- Meeting friends and family outside the park and carpooling in. That saves time and money, as park entry fees cover everyone in the vehicle.
- Arriving at the park before 8 a.m.
- Using an alternate entrance.
- Visiting other natural attractions such as Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve.
- Camping at private campgrounds outside the park. Officials said the Bureau of Land Management offers free dispersed camping to the north and south.
The National Parks Service has announced a proposal to raise entrance fees to $70 per vehicle in 2018. Camping prices will likely rise too. The parks are in need of restoration, construction and road repairs, and campgrounds are in need of updating and expanding. Will this reduce entrance wait times at popular parks like Joshua Tree?
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