5 Things to Know About California National Park Travel Amid COVID-19

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National park ranger wearing a face mask and gloves to protect agains COVID-19

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 National 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, on June 18, 2020, Gov. Newsom announced that facemasks will be required in the state. The updated guidance mandates that face coverings be worn statewide in the circumstances like the following: 

  • Inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space;
  • Obtaining services from the healthcare sector in settings including, but not limited to, a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank;
  • Waiting for or riding on public transportation or paratransit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle;
  • Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site
  • Interacting in-person with any member of the public;
  • Working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time;
  • Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others. 
  • Learn more. 

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, Channel Islands is only allowing private boats to land on the islands. Yosemite is still closed. Zion is not running its shuttle service. There are no overnight accommodations open in Grand Canyon.  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. 

Yosemite 

To increase park access while providing the public a reasonable opportunity to comply with health guidelines, Yosemite National Park has implemented a temporary day use reservation system. Passes are to be validated at the park entrance gate on the reservation date and can be used for 7 days of entry. These day use vehicle reservations went on sale through Recreation.gov beginning at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. 

Yosemite National Park will be modifying park operations beginning on November 1, 2020, ending the day use reservation system that has been in place since the park reopened in June.

Day use reservations will be in place through the month of October. To secure a day use reservation, please visit www.recreation.gov. Day use passes will not be required for entrance into Yosemite National Park beginning on November 1, 2020.

“We would like to extend our gratitude to all park visitors and our local communities for their support of our modified operations this summer,” stated Acting Superintendent Cicely Muldoon. “With the health and safety of park visitors and employees guiding our decisions, we were thrilled to welcome thousands of visitors to Yosemite this summer.”

Until Nov, 1, 2020, You must enter the park the first day of your vehicle pass. Failure to will result in your pass being invalid. If you arrive later than your time printed on your pass and no ranger is in the entrance station, you can fill out a self-registration form at the entrance station. Then, in the morning, return to that entrance station, explain that you filled out a self-registration form the evening prior and then get your pass stamped and validated by a ranger. 

Visitors with a camping or concession-operated lodging reservation, wilderness or Half Dome permit, vacation rental inside the park, and visitors entering via the local public transit system (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS buses)) or with a tour from one of the local businesses that have Commercial Use Authorizations (CUA) will not require a day use reservation for park entry and will also have access to the park beginning on June 11. In this initial phase, the park’s target is to allow approximately 50 percent of the average June vehicle entry rate (which equates to 3,600 vehicle entries each day). The park will monitor conditions daily and will make adjustments as needed to maintain safe conditions for visitors.

For more details, please visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/covid19.htm.

Beginning June 11, overnight camping will be available in Yosemite Valley, as well as lodging provided by Yosemite Hospitality. Retail and food and beverage services will be available, and the park’s visitor center services will be moved outdoors to provide information and education programs. Some facilities and services that have been offered in the past will not be possible this year due to the pandemic. Shuttle buses, High Sierra Camps, and Housekeeping Camp will not open this year. Additional services may be available as conditions warrant.

Visitors who already have wilderness permits or Half Dome permits for trips in Yosemite National Park were able to enter the park beginning on Friday, June 5, 2020. Visitors are required to present a physical copy of their wilderness permit at the park entrance gate and are asked to 

To follow additional closures or changes with the status of the park, visit the Yosemite news site. www.nps.gov/yose/learn/news/

For camping reservations, alerts and closures, visit Recreation.gov here: www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2991

Follow the park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YosemiteNPS

In the meanwhile, the park staff is advising travelers to enjoy Yosemite virtually by downloading the park’s free App at www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/app.htm and through the park’s webcams at www.nps.gov/yose/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

 Sequoia National Park reopened at the end of September as the evacuation warning related to the SQF Complex fires was lifted for most of Three Rivers, California. both entrance stations, the Generals Highway, and Highway 180 are open.

The Mineral King area, South Fork area, and some wilderness areas in Sequoia remain closed due to wildfire concerns. Some additional facilities remain closed due to the pandemic.

Sequoia National Forest remains partially closed.

For additional information on the SQF Fire Complex, please visit the fire incident webpage

To get up-to-date news, go to the Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks news site. www.nps.gov/seki/learn/news/

Follow the park on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SequoiaKingsNPS/

For camping or the Crystal Cave Tour in Sequoia National Park go here: www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/2931

Channel Islands National Park

Island Packers, the authorized boat transportation concessionaire to Channel Islands National Park, resumed limited public transportation to the Channel Islands effective June 1, 2020, for all landing and non-landing trips.

On June 1, Island Packers resumed limited service to Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and Anacapa Islands for both day visitors and campers from Ventura Harbor Village and Oxnard Harbor with three-hour island wildlife trips and six-hour whale watching trips. Although reservations are being accepted, current conditions necessitate that all transportation plans could be subject to change.

In response to legitimate health concerns, Island Packers has revised several procedural protocols designed to keep visitors to the Channel Islands safe and comfortable. These revisions to their office and vessel operations include:

Passenger loads will be limited to under 40% capacity to better facilitate social distancing

• All Island Packer employees will be health screened before every shift

• Passengers will be given a health inquiry before being allowed access to office or boats and require to wear face covering on board vessels

• Office and boat crew will wear appropriate PPE when in contact with the public

• Check-in lines will promote social distancing and appropriate hygiene

• Vessels will be sanitized during stops and between runs

Updated cargo transport protocols limiting exposure of passenger gear

Island Packers will continue to monitor the directives from health officials and to always prioritize the safety and well-being of our customers and crew.  More information is available at www.islandpackers.com or by calling Island Packers at 805-642-1393. The office will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for information and reservations.

The park staff encourage you to visit Channel Islands Live at www.nps.gov/chis/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm where you can experience the kelp forest virtually. It’s one of the richest marine environments in the world.

To get up-to-date news, go to www.nps.gov/chis/learn/news/.

Follow Channel Islands on Facebook at www.facebook.com/channelislandsnps.

Death Valley National Park

Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations from state and local public health in consultation with NPS Public Health Service officers, Death Valley National Park is open, with some facility closures in place. The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working service-wide with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. As of OCt. 8, 2020, this is the latest on the park:

Roads, Trailheads & Overlooks

OPEN: all regularly open park roads, trailheads and overlooks. Examples: Dantes View, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Artist’s Drive, Devils Hole, Ubehebe Crater, Racetrack, Mesquite Dunes, Salt Creek, Devil’s Golf Course, Harmony Borax, 20 Mule Team Canyon, Darwin Falls, Father Crowley Vista, Emigrant, Wildrose, Telescope Peak, and all unpaved roads.

CLOSED: Bonnie Claire road and Scotty’s Castle remain closed due to 2015 flood damage. The Saline Valley Warm Spring soaking tubs remain closed to entry.

Camping

OPEN: Furnace Creek, Emigrant, Mesquite Spring, Saline, Eureka, Homestake, Wildrose, Thorndike, and Mahogany campgrounds are open. Dispersed camping is available where permitted.

CLOSED: Group campsites are closed through the end of the year. Texas Springs, Sunset, and Stovepipe Wells campgrounds are closed for the summer.

Fire Restrictions

All campfires and most other uses of open flame are PROHIBITED due to high fire danger. This restriction includes all campgrounds. More information can be found in the order notification.

Visitor Centers

PARTIALLY OPEN: The Furnace Creek is partially open, with outdoor pass sales and information provided during certain weekend hours (usually Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Bookstore items are available for purchase in the multi-purpose room adjacent to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center daily.

Note: entrance fees are required and can be paid by debit/credit card at automated pay kiosks or at Recreation.gov. You may also purchase your entrance fees at the Furnace Creek Campground Kiosk on any Friday through Sunday in September, 9 am to 4:30 pm.

Resorts: Fuel and Amenities

Visitors can continue to enjoy Death Valley National Park online through videos, including the series “Death Valley Explorer.” These can be found at the park website at www.nps.gov/deva/learn/photosmultimedia/.

Get Death Valley’s most up-to-date alerts at www.nps.gov/deva/learn/news/.

Follow the park on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/DeathValleyNPS

Only Furnace Creek Campground takes advanced campground reservations. Find out updates on it at Recreation.gov here www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232496

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is modifying operations to support federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We are working to increase access to the park in a phased approach.

Open

  • Park entrances and entrance booths
  • Roads and parking lots
  • Trails
  • Family campsites, aka individual sites. Campers should pay for their campsite as normal, following instructions at each campground.
  • Most bathroom facilities
  • Visitor center bookstores and information desks
  • Group campsites

Cancellations and Closures

  • Museum and exhibit portions will be temporarily closed in the following facilities
    • Oasis of Mara Visitor Center, bookstore and information desk remain open
    • Joshua Tree Visitor Center, bookstore and information desk remain open
    • Cottonwood Visitor Center, bookstore and information desk remain open
    • Black Rock Nature Center, bookstore and information desk remain open
  • All park ranger programs
  • Campsite reservations on recreation.gov. All campsites are first-come, first-served until Sept. 4, 2020.

Get Joshua Tree's most up-to-date information at www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/conditions.htm

Other National Parks and 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

Updates about nationwide NPS operations are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

Related Stories

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