It’s official. We are loving our national parks to death.
The National Park Service announced last week that the 15 most popular national parks in the U.S. will set visitation records in 2021.
“It’s no secret that this summer has been one of our busiest summers ever,” said NPS chief spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles.
Timed tickets – yea or nay?
This summer, park managers got pretty creative in their efforts to stem the tide of vacationers parked at the gates. They instituted timed tickets for popular national parks like Glacier in Montana and Muir Woods in California, hoping to both control surging park traffic and preserve a small bit of the experience all of those visitors came for in the first place.
The reviews on the timed tickets – which were available on the Recreation.gov reservation site – were mixed. Some folks opposed to the practice of timed entry actually created a petition to fight the practice, saying it was “unfair, unnecessary and undemocratic.”
The truth is hard to hear, especially for RVers who adore these places. America’s crown jewels just don’t have enough space for the backed-up masses who want in.
Apps pointing visitors other directions
It’s likely we’ll see park managers pulling out all of the stops to use everything at their disposal to deflect the hordes of tourists they are dealing with now. Expect to see things like predictive technology that would be used to anticipate where the crowds will appear next. Recreation.gov’s site is already using an app that points people toward other public lands that might not be seeing the pressure being placed on the more popular spots. After all, the National Park Service is responsible for 423 different places in the U.S. Many are monuments and seashores off the beaten path. They can’t all be overflowing at the same time (or can they?).
Selfie platforms are here to stay
Another tool might be to better educate the masses before they show up at the parks. The “selfie crowd” has gotten so dense (pun intended) that national parks like Grand Teton and Grand Canyon had to build special “selfie platforms” in popular scenic places to keep folks from backing up into a very long-but-quick trip to the bottom. Grand Teton rangers have even been begging tourists not to geotag their photos, in hopes of keeping like-minded selfie snappers from seeking out those beautiful-but-dangerous spots.
This summer, they also tried out no-driver, autonomous buses to move people from here to there at Yellowstone and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina. Expect to see more mass transit in the parks in coming years.
What’s the answer?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, it might be the right time to check out those lesser-known national park wonders like Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park, Pinnacles National Park in California, or maybe Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
Here’s a great story from Travel+Leisure to get you started.