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 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, up until June 1, Montana requires travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days when they enter the state, and none of the entrances to Yellowstone on the Montana side are open. If your vacation is only 10 days, you may want to plan your route according to which states will make it easiest for you to travel through to get to your destination.
2. Not everything in the park will be open.
Just because a national park reopens does not mean everything within the park is open. For instance, Zion is not running its shuttle service. Major hotels in Grand Teton and Glacier national parks most likely will not open. 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 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.
Yellowstone National Park
Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local public health authorities, Yellowstone National Park reopened on a limited basis on May 18. The park has been closed to visitors since March 24, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yellowstone National Park opened its Montana entrances on Monday, June 1 at 10 a.m. The Montana entrances include West Entrance (near West Yellowstone), North Entrance (near Gardiner), and Northeast Entrance (near Cooke City). The opening of Montana’s entrances coincides with the Governor’s lifting of out-of-state travel restrictions and will provide visitor access to all five entrances of Yellowstone National Park (the Wyoming entrances opened on May 18).
The entire Grand Loop Road will be accessible for day use, excluding the segment between Canyon and Tower, which is closed for road construction (see attached map).
On June 1, in line with the park’s three-phased reopening plan, visitors will be able to access Phase 1 services/facilities (including restrooms, self-service gas stations, trails/boardwalks, limited stores, entrance stations, medical clinics, approved tours) and a few services/facilities as outlined in Phase 2 (including takeout food service, boating, and fishing). The park will remain day-use only. Limited overnight accommodations will begin reopening later in June. Campgrounds, visitor centers, and other facilities are still closed until health conditions allow for reopening.
Increasing Mitigation Efforts
The park has implemented significant mitigation efforts including: providing additional protective barriers where needed, encouraging the use of masks or facial coverings in high density areas, metering visitor access in certain locations, increasing cleaning frequency of facilities, adding signage on boardwalks and other public spaces, and messaging to visitors through a variety of methods.
Substantial investments have been made in mitigation measures by the park’s business partners including Xanterra, Delaware North, Yellowstone Park Service Stations, Medcor, and Yellowstone Forever. To date, the park has also approved 126 commercial use authorizations (CUAs) for local businesses to operate inside the park after reviewing individual COVID-19 mitigation plans submitted by each company.
Yellowstone is partnering with surrounding states, counties, and businesses (like Medcor, the company that runs the in-park clinics) to increase testing capacity. In addition to building capacity to test people with COVID-19 symptoms, the park has agreed to participate in a COVID-19 surveillance testing pilot project. Park County, Montana health officials have begun testing frontline employees and partners with 50 tests this week (viral, not antibody tests). Surveillance testing helps to identify COVID-19 transmission early and allows mitigation actions to be taken before a widespread outbreak occurs.
Visitors should come prepared and follow all CDC and local health guidance by practicing good hygiene and social distancing. Face coverings are recommended where social distancing is not possible. People who are sick should stay home and not visit the park. The CDC has provided specific guidance on visiting parks and recreational facilities at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html.
The park’s hotel and restaurant concessionaire was aiming for a June 15 opening with limited services available but is now opening some locations earlier because the park’s Montana side entrances have opened.
At this time, only cabins with private bath are scheduled to open at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (June 1), Old Faithful Lodge (June 8), Old Faithful Snow Lodge: (June 8), Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17), Lake Lodge (June 17), Canyon Lodge (June 19). Old Faithful Inn, Grant Village, and Roosevelt Lodge are closed but may reopen in 2020 if conditions allow.
Campgrounds will reopen at: Madison (June 15), Bridge Bay (June 17), Grant Village (June 17)m Canyon (June 19). Fishing Bridge RV Park will remain closed through fall of 2021.
Hotels and sit-down restaurants most likely will not open in the park this summer or may have a later opening date, if they do open. You can learn more about hotel, restaurants and so on at Yellowstone National Park Lodges: www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/health-and-safety/
To get up-to-date news and “alerts,” go to the Yellowstone news site. www.nps.gov/yell/learn/news/
Follow the park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YellowstoneNPS
In the meanwhile, the park staff is advising travelers to enjoy Yellowstone virtually via webcams, virtual tours, photo galleries, apps, videos, and other digital content at www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/ and www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/app.htm.
Grand Teton National Park
Beginning May 18, Grand Teton National Park will have recreational access with limited services available to the public, including primary road access (Teton Park Road, Moose-Wilson Road and North Park Road), public restrooms in some area, day-use hiking on seasonally-accessible trails, riverbank and lakeshore fishing, multi-use pathway system (where free from snow), limited commercial-use authorization tours (biking, wildlife, etc.) and several viewpoints continue to be accessible along US Hwy. 89/26/191
With public health in mind, the following facilities remain closed or services are unavailable at this time: park visitor center, overnight lodging, food service, boating/floating on river and lakes, marinas, backcountry permits, special-use permits and campgrounds.
In terms of lodging in the park for summer 2020, Jenny Lake Lodge and Jackson Lake Lodge are not expected to operate in 2020. Campgrounds are opening at varying times and you can check for updates and a detailed schedule at www.gtlc.com/coronavirus.
For specific park service information about openings and closures in Grand Teton National Park and to see “alerts,” you can visit the official Grand Teton National Park news page www.nps.gov/grte/learn/news/.
Follow the park on Facebook, you can go to the Official Grand Teton National Park Facebook page www.facebook.com/GrandTetonNPS/.
Campsite information is available on Recreation.gov: www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/13525
Other 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
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