The National Park system is easily one of the best things about roadtripping through the U.S. and due to the surge of visitors in the covid and post covid era eight of them now require reservations.
I practically grew up in the National Park system - my dad wanted to see every one so we spent years in the back of a mini van driving through as many as possible. And we accidentally stumbled into this reservation situation myself in 2022 when we drove up to Rocky Mountain NP and were turned away at the gate. Luckily we just had to wait an hour or so to get in. Our trip was last minute but if we had planned a multi day trip here it definitely would've complicated things not knowing this in advance. So I thought I'd write this post because with eight of the parks now require reservations this could easily affect your travel plans this year.
One thing to keep in mind is that only three of the parks require advanced reservations to enter at the gate, the other five allow entry but you will need a reservation for specific drives or hikes. Try not to lose your mind reading these requirements - some of them can be quite confusing but bear in mind these tickets help ensure that we all have a good time when we visit! Be sure to visit the National Parks website for any specific information regarding your visit.
The 8 National Parks Requiring Advance Reservations:
Entire Park Reservations:
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Yosemite National Park, California
Scenic Drive Reservations:
- Acadia National Park in Maine (for Cadillac Summit Road)
- Glacier National Park in Montana (for Going-to-the-Sun Road, North Fork, and Many Glacier scenic drives)
- Haleakalā National Park in Hawai‘i (for sunrise viewing at the summit)
Hiking Specific Reservations:
- Zion National Park in Utah (for Angels Landing Trail)
- Shenandoah National Park (for Old Rag Mountain
Entire Park Reservations:
Arches National Park, Utah
Truly a gem of the National Park system Arches is a can’t miss for many people.
How to get a reservation for Arches National Park:
Tickets are released at different times through the year depending on when you want to visit. They are first come, first serve and you can reserve your tickets at Recreation.gov. Here is the reservation schedule:
- Reservations for April 1–30 open January 2 at 8 a.m. Mountain Time (MT)
- Reservations for May 1–31 open February 1 at 8 a.m. MT
- Reservations for June 1–30 open March 1 at 8 a.m. MT
- Reservations for July 1–31 open April 1 at 8 a.m. MT
- Reservations for August 1–31 open May 1 at 8 a.m. MT
- Reservations for September 1–30 open June 1 at 8 a.m. MT
- Reservations for October 1–31 open July 1 at 8 a.m. MT
Tickets are available in one-hour entry slots from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.—for example you can choose different entry times, 6–7 a.m., 7–8 a.m., etc.
“After entering, visitors may stay in the park for the remainder of the day. Ticket holders may exit and re-enter the park on the same day with a correctly validated ticket,” a release about the 2024 Arches National Park reservation system stated. Timed tickets will cost $2 in addition to your park pass.
A limited number of additional tickets will be released daily at 7 p.m. Mountain Time for visits the next day. According to NPS: "Tickets book up quickly, especially for morning arrival times, so visitors are encouraged to plan ahead.” Tickets are not available for purchase at the park entrance so buy them in advance.
Good news! If you have a camping permit, backcountry permit, Fiery Furnace permit, or a tour ticket the timed entry ticket is not required.
You’ll need to present a photo ID and park pass when you enter for the day.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
How to get a reservation for Rocky Mountain National Park:
You’ll need a reservation for this park if you plan to visit between May 24 - October 20, 20204. Reservations to enter the park will go on sale on recreation.gov at 8 a.m. MT on the following dates:
- Reservations open May 1 to enter the park from May 24 through June 30
- Reservations open June 1 to enter the park during the month of July
- Reservations open July 1 to enter the park during the month of August
- Reservations open August 1 to enter the park during the month of September
- Reservations open September 1 to enter the park during the month of October
The park will set aside a percentage of permits that will be available for purchase the day before at 7 p.m. MT through recreation.gov.
There are two types of reservations to choose from at Rocky Mountain National Park:
One reservation is for the Bear Lake Road corridor, which will include access to Bear Lake as well as the rest of the park for entry between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The other is for all areas of the park except for the Bear Lake Road corridor for entry into the park between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are not required before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. if you choose to forgo the Bear Lake Corridor.
The permits are available in 2-hour entry windows—5–7 a.m. slots, 7–9 a.m. slots, etc. You must enter within that two-hour window but can leave at any time. There is a $2 fee for the reservation in addition to the normal entry fee.
Yosemite National Park, California
How to get a reservation for Yosemite National Park in 2024
Being one of the nation’s most popular parks its understanding that to control the crowds a reservation system is in place for 2024.
You will need a reservation if you plan to visit the park anytime between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. on these dates:
- April 13 to June 30 (weekends and holidays only)
- July 1 to August 16 (every day)
- August 17 to October 27 (weekends and holidays only)
- Feb 10-11, 17-19 & 24-25 (during the Firefall event that lights up Horsetail Falls making it look like it’s on fire)
Reservations for Yosemite National Park are available starting on January 5, 2024, at recreation.gov. You’ll have the choice of a full day admission or an afternoon pass. Both are $2 (in addition to regular entrance fee) and valid for 3 days. Keep in mind there are 6 free days in 2024 at this park where an entrance fee is not required but you still need to make your reservations in advance.
Good News! You won’t need a reservation if you are staying at one of their park hotels, campgrounds or on an organized tour. Travel Hack: If you arrive on public transit you do NOT need an advanced reservation.
Scenic Drive Specific Reservations:
Acadia National Park, Maine
You don’t need a reservation to enter this park but you will need one if you want to drive the 3 mile scenic Cadillac Summit Road from the end of May to the end of October.
You will need an advanced vehicle reservation if you plan to visit between:
- May 22 - Sun Oct 27, 2024
- 30% of the tickets are available 90 days in advance, the other 70% are available 2 days ahead of entry
You will need to choose between a sunrise drive (90 minute window for entry) or a daytime drive (30 minute window for entry). You can book a sunrise drive once every 7 days or you can book a daytime drive each day.
Reservations cost $6 and you will need to show the confirmation QR code when you arrive so make sure to download it ahead of time. You can switch dates for free if you need to. You can read more about these reservations on the NPS website.
Like all other parks, make your reservations at recreation.gov and you’ll still need to show your park entrance pass as well.
Glacier National Park, Montana
You don’t need a reservation to enter this park but you do need one if you want to enjoy the scenic drives that the park is so well known for.
Reservations are required:
- May 24 - Sept 8 for Going-To-The-Sun Road & North Fork
- July 1 - Sept 8th for the Many Glacier entrance used to access the Many Glacier Valley
Here’s something cool: For all of the above locations you only need a reservation if you plan to enter between 6am -3pm. If you arrive before and after those times you don’t need a reservation!
Reservations open on Jan 25th at Recreation.gov 120 days in advance at 8am M.T. Additional reservations will be released at 7pm M.T. the day before beginning on May 23rd.
Reservations are $2 and valid for 1 day and you’ll need the standard park pass additionally. Hiking or biking in? The reward for your hard work is you don’t need a reservation! More good news: If you have a lodging or camping reservation or if you are on a bus tour, boat ride, horseback ride or guided hike you won’t need a reservation!
Haleakalā National Park, Hawai‘i
This is the place to catch the sunrise and if you don’t believe me just believe you better have a reservation in advance to watch the sun make its majestic, awakening journey here.
Just when you thought these reservation requirements couldn’t get more whacky or get more mind bendingly specific, Haleakalā National Park comes along to save the day with a blissfully simply solution. Yah!
- Every car that arrives from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. needs a reservation.
Reservations can be made on Recreation.gov 60 days in advance and are released at 7 a.m. Hawai‘i Time.
You can try your luck with last minute reservations too - additional reservations will be released two days prior to each date of entry. No refunds will be given due to weather.
Hiking Specific Reservations:
Zion National Park, Utah - Angel’s Landing Hike
If you plan to hike the stunning Angel’s Landing you’ll need to book a reservation in advance and this reservation involves a lottery. There are a LOT of people who want to hike this trail! Side note: I hiked this around 2009 and it is a stunning and formidable hike. The hike up the landing is very doable and fun, however the summit is quite difficult, in fact I couldn’t complete it - at a certain point you have to traverse the path by holding onto chains and lifting yourself from chain to chain over a large rock face. I simply couldn’t do it - I’m a little short and moving from chain to chain required a little more reaching than I was comfortable with while looking down at what would be my impending death if I missed a chain. After attempting a couple times and being paralyzed with fear I turned back and hung out the chipmunks while waiting for my friends. Don’t let my experience dissuade you though - while I was there I saw kids (shorter than me) and people in dresses easily making their way past the part that was leaving me shaking in my hiking boots!
If you plan to hike:
- March 1 - May 31: Lottery opens 1/1/24 at 8am M.T. and closes Jan 20th. Permits are issued 1/25/24
- June 1 - August 31: Lottery runs from 4/1//24 - 4/20/24 and permits are issues on 4/25/24
- Sept 1 - Nov 30: Lottery runs from 7/1/24 - 7/20/24 with permits issues on 7/25
- Dec 1 - Feb 28 2025: Lottery runs from 10/1/24 - 10/20/24 with permits issued on 10/25
Late to the party? Additional, limited permits will be made available 1 day prior to the hiking date.
Because this is a lottery you aren’t guaranteed a permit just for applying. Keep in mind that busy tourist periods such as weekends and holidays make it harder to get a permit. If going with a group my suggestion would be to pick a less popular time so that each person in the group has a chance at the permit. Also it’s worth remembering that some less popular days will have plenty of permits that aren’t used up so if your first date doesn’t work out try again! Visit recreation.gov to apply.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia - Old Rag Mountain Area
The Old Rag Mountain Saddle has become saddled with visitors! Pardon the pun but in order to protect this mountain you know need an advanced ticket to enjoy it.
You'll need a day use ticket for:
- Old Rag Mountain Saddle, Ridge or Ridge Access trails area
- On any travel dates between March 1 - Nov 30
The roads and trails outside this area do not need a day use ticket so I encourage you to look at this map to see if you are going to an area that requires the additional ticket.
Purchase your $1 day use tickets online at recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Tickets are not sold at the Old Rag entrance station because there is no cell service so be sure to purchase ahead of time. A total of 800 tickets are available each day with 400 being released 30 days in advance (starting at 10am) and then another 400 being released 5 days in advance.
I'd be a liar if I said this new system didn't bum me out - but the good news is that most of parks don't require a reservation! As I've been to 7 of the 8 above parks it's both hard to imagine how busy they must be in peak travel season to warrant this, seeing as they are huge, outdoor spaces. But after being in Yellowstone briefly this August and getting yelled at very aggressively by an angry visitor for not getting out of my parking space fast enough and seeing scores of unhappy park employees I can see why: more visitors = long drive/wait times in the parks = busy trails = unhappy visitors, unhappy employees and unhappy animals.
I anticipate more parks in the future requiring this so here is a guide on how to snag those reservations and stay ahead of the curve this travel season. And I would book as early in advance as you can and remember that all these reservations are taking place on recreation.gov and come with a small fee (in addition to the park entrance fee). It is possible you could get a reservation the day before, if you're lucky, but remember in some of these wild spaces cell service is spotty and wifi is hard to come by making your chances slimmer. So do yourself a favor and plan ahead.