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, California's restrictions may be in effect longer than your state's.  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, 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.

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

In order to maintain the safety of park visitors, employees, and residents while allowing management and administrative operations to continue, Yosemite National Park is closed to all but residents and authorized employees of the National Park Service (NPS), park concessioners, and partners. This order remains in effect until further notice.

As of April 1, the South Entrance is closed overnight. Entry into the park will not be permitted at that entrance during the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The entrance is being staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. During that period employees, residents, and property owners with proof of residency/employment can enter the park.

All lodging and tour reservations are cancelled through May 22, 2020. Impacted guests will receive a full refund.

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 and Kings Canyon National Parks are temporarily closed until further notice. 

Most park highways and roads are closed, with the exception of roads that lead to national forest and the park areas that remain open. 

All lodging and dining facilities managed by Delaware North Companies (DNC) is closed. Staff will announce our re-opening date when timing is appropriate.

  • Wuksachi Lodge
  • John Muir Lodge
  • Cedar Grove Lodge
  • Grant Grove Cabins
  • Bearpaw High Sierra Camp (re-opening date TBD)
  • The Peaks Restaurant
  • Grant Grove Restaurant
  • Wuksachi Pizza Deck
  • Lodgepole Cafe
  • Cedar Grove Grill

Guests with current reservations:

If you have a reservation arriving before June 1, your reservation has been canceled and the deposit is in the process of being refunded.

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

The park’s mainland visitor center in Ventura Harbor is closed until further notice. The five remote islands that comprise Channel Islands National Park remain open to public visitation. However, current access will only be via private vessel.

The park’s boat transportation concessioner Island Packers has halted its public transportation services as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The cancellation in boat services includes all landing and non-landing trips.

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


All areas of the park are closed, including: trails, roads, viewpoints, visitor centers, restrooms, and campgrounds.

The park will remain closed until after California enters Stage 3. We are working with national, state, and local health officials to plan what the steps of a phased reopening will look like, and will share specific dates as soon as these plans are finalized. Updates will be posted on this website and on social media channels.

All park roads are closed. Highway 190 and Daylight Pass Road remain open to through traffic only for those on essential travel. All NPS campgrounds are closed, including front-country and back-country campgrounds. Panamint Springs Resort's campground is open. www.panamintsprings.com

Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells airports are closed. The Oasis at Death Valley (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com) is completely closed, except for the pay-at-the-pump gas station. Stovepipe Wells Resort (deathvalleyhotels.com) is closed, except for pay-at-the-pump gas station and the general store (open 7 days a week, 8am-8pm). Panamint Springs Resort has a pay-at-the-pump gas station and some limited 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

During the first phase of reopening, which the park began on May 17, visitors will have full access to all trails, roads and most of the campsites in the park. Commercial permit holders may also begin limited operations in the park in accordance with county, state, and CDC guidelines.

Closed

  • Visitor centers
  • Group campsites

Cancellations

  • All programs
  • All permits for special use activities through May 31, 2020

Open

  • Park entrances. Entrance stations will be staffed regularly but will not be collecting fees.
  • 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
  • Please make sure you can maintain social distancing at the locations you select to operate per the CDC guidelines
  • There are 10 or less people in your group
  • You wear face masks when near other people
  • Use proper wash stations and hand sanitizer while operating in the park 

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