Should reservations be required to enter popular national parks?

Crowds wait for Zion’s shuttle bus in March, which was once the off-season.

Our national parks are getting loved to death. Crowds are often so big that it’s no fun for visitors who came to enjoy nature but end up spending more time fighting crowds.

Utah’s Zion National Park was the first to propose requiring reservations to enter the park (not just camp, but to ENTER). Other popular parks are considering the same thing. Park officials theorize that reservations can  even out the traffic, and making visiting our historic and beauty spots a better experience for everyone.

What do you think? Is this a good or bad idea?

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Reservations at National and State Parks. The best situation we have experienced is: A certain number of sites are set aside as ‘reservation only’ sites and an equal number are set aside as ‘first come, first served’. Of course sites that are not ‘reserved’ can be made available to a single night stay. This addresses the need of those that must/choose to plan in advance and those that travel with no plans/plan as they travel. Having reservation only eliminates any spontaneous travel/camping which is the only way many families/individuals can ‘get away’ and/or seek camping site opportunities. This is especially true of State Parks.


I think reservations are going to be the norm to control the crowds to make sure of a quality experience. Go to the Vatican and it is tickets and controlled entrance. Tour buses should be via reservation only.


Definitely YES FOR RESERVATIONS for around 75 % of the sites. Best scenario is that you can book out 365 days or less at anytime. (or M-F) Then you eliminate the panic on a single opening day system and/or server crashes. Stays probably should be limited to somewhere between 7 and 14 days. Perhaps 7 during peak months. It is such a more enjoyable experience to go to a waiting site. Especially after a day of traveling. Many folks have had the opposite experience… drive for miles to find no sites available, no room to park and wait and maybe get caught in a traffic jam, spending hours and still have to drive somewhere else to find an open campground. Also, if you can reserve a campsite, you can choose one that fits your rig.

Jack in Texas.

I am sorry. I have no answer for this question.


Split up allocations, pick a percentage – say 25% reservations, 75% FIFO (first in-first out), max stay during peak or busy holiday seasons limited to 7 maybe max at 10 days.

Traveling Man

Paul above mentioned using higher prices to regulate the population in the parks…

OK…What if prices go to $200 a spot during peak seasons? When will YOU go? ONLY during the off peak periods. That’s when… It will be cold, rainy, the trees will have lost all of their leaves.

For some, this can be enjoyable as well, but I like the ability to go year round (spring, summer, fall and winter). I won’t pay higher prices just to go in the summer. I’ll just go somewhere else (as many will do). So….It will be an entitlement for the rich. I don’t like that idea. The parks are for everybody.

Len nicholas

Have reservations available.But not required.Solves it all…

Dann G.

Absolutely NOT. The outcome would be to bring in only a certain group of RV’ers and exclude all others.
All those “living” for many months or full-time would be the first go tie up the sites and exclude those of us that do not live on the road. The best way is to serve all campers and RV’ers eqaually without regard for special interests.


Some reservations and some first come first served.

Mike Clifford d

My wife and I have volunteered in the National Parks for 13 years. I am retired law enforcement and worked with law enforcement Rangers both in Yosemite and the “Smokies” on both sides as well as in the campground office one year. The term “Loving our Parks to death. The Smokies is the most heavily used with some 10 million visitors a year Cades Cove 11 mile loop road can take 2-3 hours,or more,often. Bumper to bumper idling cars,blowing horns, long lines at restrooms eally takes away from the beautiful experience have no answers except RESERVATIONS in the campgrounds is a must!


What happened to the days of overflow parking with no reservations. Learn from the cruise ships in crowd handling. They post the volume of participants so you know ahead of time how crowded things are. I’m all for priority access with reservations, but it would be nice to find a way to accomadate the freestyler.


They should just raise the price during peak times. Particularly since the parks need the money.

Gene Bjerke

It depends on season, I suppose, reservations required during busy seasons, not at other times. Since we try to avoid traveling on a schedule, we generally don’t get reservations. If reservations are required, we assume the place would be over-crowded and simply go elsewhere.


Phew! This is a hard one.

Reservations or shutting the gates & using barcodes are great ideas
– reservations may create a situation in which tour operators and travelers must wait for the reservation window to open. Then, bam! the phone and computer lines are tied up and reservations gone in seconds,as we saw in parks in the Eclipse 2017 path of totality.
– reservations may create an elite access only situation. Those without connection or computers won’t have access to reservations.
If something isn’t done soon, the parks will be damaged and need to be closed to protect them from further human caused damage.

You can see that I am for a reservation system that has no opening day or window, that allows reservations to be made on space available basis 365 days a year, and that automatically suggests the next available time to users. Also, reservation systems would need a program of outreach to poor communities so that the rich won’t be the only ones in the parks.

Phil & Peggy Smith

No, just keep the cars out. The buses at Zion work just fine moving everyone around.

Terry P

Some type of reservations or restrictions during popular seasons makes sense, to me. A limit to the number of tour buses, small and large, is definitely needed. We were in Yellowstone NP in the fall of 2016 and couldn’t see or stop at the popular sites due to the unavailability of parking, the multiple groups taking multiple selfies, blocking the pathways, and I won’t go into the filth of the pit toilets! (NOT due to the lack of effort by the staff).


Difficult but I agree probably during the peak seasons. We have been to DC a couple times. We had to make reservations to go up the Washington Monument and even the Holocaust Museum. You had to be there at 8 in the morning to guarantee to get in which often will not be until that afternoon.


During the highest use times would probably benefit from requiring reservations. I’ve been to National Parks where it is so crowded in spots that you can’t actually see any of the sites or do any activities. I personally like traveling to parks in off times just for this reason.

Michael Buckley

Yes, but only at times of overcrowding.


The parks aren’t getting any bigger, but the number of visitors is growing every year. There is a point where too many visitors puts a strain on everything, the eco system, facilities, noise, and the overall experience. As on person mentioned, Disney has a model where they cut off entrance when they reach a capacity that they can meet visitor expectations for a great experience. It has gotten to this point with the parks, at least during certain time periods. I would think folks planning a trip to a park would want it to be a great experience and would make a reservation to ensure that experience. Could you imagine driving 1000 miles to Disney only to pull up to the gate and seeing “capacity reached, no admittance.” Showing up to Yellowstone and not having a reservation means you have to drive a hundred or more miles to maybe find a campground or motel with vacancies. During high periods of visitors to the parks they run out of places to park just to see things and then people just start parking in places they shouldn’t or stop in the middle of the road backing up traffic.