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

Yosemite National Park reopened June 11.  The park has opened all the primary attractions to some extent and visitors will be able to enter Yosemite in a multitude of ways. Visitors will be able to access 800 miles of park trails and popular destinations including Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Meadows and Hetch Hetchy.

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. In the initial opening phase, the system will offer 1,700 vehicle passes each day. 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. 

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 and Kings Canyon National Parks are temporarily closed until June 4, 2020. 

During the earliest phase of increased access, roads, trails, restrooms, and picnic areas in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will be open.

Facilities, services, and features that will be open:

  • Entrance stations for distribution of the park newspaper and map.
  • Roads and parking lots throughout both parks, including in the Cedar Grove and Mineral King areas. Please park only in designated parking spaces, and if a parking lot is full, refer to the park newspaper for other options.
  • Trails in developed areas and designated wilderness; if a trail is congested, please consider visiting another location with less people.
  • Overnight wilderness access with reservations only. No walk-up permits will be available this summer. Existing confirmed wilderness permit reservations for trips beginning June 5 or later are still valid.
  • Restrooms and picnic areas. Please practice proper food storage, and per CDC guidance practice social distancing and frequent hand washing.

Facilities, services, and features that will remain closed until later phases:

  • Overnight campground accommodations. Please check the 2020 campground information page for the most recent updates.
  • Visitor centers, bookstores, ranger stations and wilderness permit stations.
  • Overnight lodging, restaurants, markets, and gift shops operated by the concessioner, Delaware North. Please refer to www.visitsequoia.com for more information.
  • Guided horseback rides at Cedar Grove and Grant Grove operated by the concessioner, Cedar Grove Pack Station. Please refer to www.cedargrovepackstation.com or www.grantgrovestables.com for more information.

Key Changes to 2020 Summer Season:

  • The Sequoia Shuttle will not be in operation this summer.
  • Camping reservations through www.recreation.gov will be required. No walk-up camp sites will be available this summer.
  • Reservations for overnight wilderness permits will be required ahead of park entry, no walk-up permits will be available this summer. Existing wilderness permit reservations are not cancelled. No wilderness permit stations will be open. Bear canister rentals may not be available in the parks but continue to be required in many areas.
  • Lodgepole Visitor Center will not be open this summer season due to renovation project delays.
  • Crystal Cave will not be open for tours.
  • The 2020 Dark Sky Festival has been cancelled.

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


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