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

Author:
Publish date:
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. 

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 

In support of the California Regional Stay-at- Home order in the San Joaquin Valley region, beginning at noon on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, Yosemite National Park is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for day-use activities only. Lodging and campgrounds are currently closed. Some services and facilities are limited, and shuttles are not operating. Consistent with the state’s regional stay at home order, day use limits will be in place until local conditions change. Please refer to California’s regional Stay-at-Home order (https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/) for the current timeline of these restrictions.

Yosemite National Park will be closed daily to all visitors from 5 pm to 8 am and park gates will be locked overnight.

All in-park overnight lodging will be closed for incoming arrivals beginning on Monday, December 7, 2020 and will remain closed until further notice. All overnight camping within Yosemite National Park will be prohibited beginning on Monday, December 7, 2020 until further notice. This includes all park campgrounds, wilderness camping, and overnight use along climbing routes. Overnight backpacking trips into Yosemite’s wilderness will also be prohibited.

All visitors planning trips to Yosemite are asked to be our partner in recreating responsibly. Yosemite National Park conducts thousands of search and rescue missions each year, many of which could be avoided with visitors planning and making responsible decisions. During the ongoing health crisis, it’s critical that we make wise choices to keep our park rangers and volunteers who serve as emergency responders out of harm’s way.

Please follow these #RecreateResponsibly tips:

-Adopt social distancing practices and stay at least 6 feet from people

outside your household unit

-Wear a face covering when social distancing cannot be maintained.

-Stay on the trail, for your safety and the safety of others

-Stay within your limits. Yosemite is a great place to find outdoor adventure, but please don’t push your self beyond your physical limits.

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

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

Because of a regional stay-at-home order issued by the State of California for the San Joaquin Valley region, all park lodges and restaurants are currently closed as of Dec. 7, 2020. Park campgrounds will close at noon on Tuesday, December 8 through at least December 28.


In Sequoia National Park, all visitor services at Wuksachi Lodge are closed through December 26, including the lodge, the restaurant, gift shop, and restrooms. There will be no food service in Sequoia until the lodge reopens, and travelers are advised to bring food from outside the parks.

In Kings Canyon National Park, Grant Grove Market remains open with limits on occupancy. John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Restaurant are closed.

For more information about lodging and other commercial services, please visit Delaware North's website or contact their reservations number: (866) 807-3598.

Reservations for Potwisha Campground in Sequoia National Park have been canceled and fully refunded through December 28. Reservation holders for dates beyond December 28 will be notified at least 48 hours in advance if the closure is extended, though we will provide this information with as much advance notice as possible. No first-come, first-served sites will be available at Azalea or any other park campgrounds through at least December 28.

Campgrounds That Are Open by Reservation Only

  • Potwisha will be closed from noon on Tuesday, December 8 through at least December 28 due to a regional stay-at-home order issued by the State of California for the San Joaquin Valley region. Reservation holders will be contacted and reservations will be fully refunded. Reservation holders for dates beyond December 28 will be notified at least 48 hours in advance if the closure is extended, though we will provide this information with as much advance notice as possible.

Reservations may be booked on the same day of your trip (no advance necessary), but can't be booked more than three months in advance of future trips. No first-come, first served camping will be available at these campgrounds.

Campgrounds That Are First-Come First-Served Only

  • Azalea Campground will be closed from noon on Tuesday, December 8 through at least December 28 due to a regional stay-at-home order issued by the State of California for the San Joaquin Valley region. No campsites will be available at any campground during this time period, whether by reservation or as walk-up sites.

Campgrounds Currently Closed

  • South Fork, Cold Springs, Atwell Mill, Buckeye Flat, Dorst, Crystal Springs, Sentinel, Sheep Creek, Moraine, Lodgepole, Sunset, and Canyon View campgrounds.

Major Changes Associated with COVID-19 and Public Health and Safety

  • In order to ensure that public health guidelines are met, some campgrounds will not open. Also, some individual campsites within campgrounds will remain closed for the season to allow for proper social distancing.
  • Group campsites are closed until further notice.

Self-contained Roadside Camping

No self-contained roadside camping is permitted within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Camping off the side of the road or in parking areas is not permitted at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions

If my reservation is cancelled by the parks due to COVID-19, will processing fees be refunded?
If your reservation is cancelled by the National Park Service, your refund will be automatic and will include your processing fee in the refund.

What if I cancel my reservation, anticipating a park closure? Will I be refunded my processing fee?
If you choose to cancel your reservation at any time, you will not be refunded the processing fee.

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

Due to the State of California's Regional Stay at Home Order issued in December 2020, the mainland and island visitor centers and the park's campgrounds are temporarily closed until further notice. The five park islands are still open for day visitation.

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:

All Island Packer employees will be health screened before every shift All Island Packer employees will wear appropriate PPE for public interactions. All passengers will be asked a short health inquiry before stepping inside the office. Crew and passengers 3 years and older will be required to wear a face covering. Under 3 years are exempt

Only one member of each party will be allowed into the office for checking in. Customers in the Ventura office will be limited to a maximum of 5 at a time, Oxnard max. No consumption of personal food and beverage items in the office or in retail spaces. 

Boat capacities have been limited to facilitate social distancing. All Crew and passengers 3 years of age and older are required to wear a face covering, under three years (infants) are not required to wear a mask.Passengers will be assigned a seating area by an Island Packer crew member. Passenger seating preference will be accommodated as best as possible. Vessels are sanitized throughout the day. Hand sanitizers stations available on board. All boarding passes will be sanitized before and after use. Social Distancing will be encouraged while passengers are waiting to board vessels. All passengers for each trip will board at the same time. No consumption of personal food and beverage items on board the vessels. The Galley will be closed except for  take away only to have on the island.

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

In support of the State of California's Regional Stay at Home Order, the park will close campgrounds by noon Dec. 7, 2020. Lodging also closes with these orders. Roads, trails, and overlooks remain open.

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

CLOSED: In support of the State of California's Regional Stay at Home Order, campgrounds are temporarily closed until further notice. This includes developed campgrounds and backcountry sites.

Visitor Centers

OPEN: The Furnace Creek features outdoor pass sales and information provided daily 8:30 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. Park film and exhibits are not available.

Resorts: Fuel and Amenities

The State of California's Regional Stay at Home Orders closes hotels/lodging, campgrounds, and indoor dining. Gas stations remain available.

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) as of Dec. 7, 2020.

Cancellations and Closures

  • Campgrounds are closing the week of Dec. 7, 2020. A section of Indian Cove and Black Rock Campgrounds will remain open to hikers, but not to campers.
  • All park ranger programs
  • All fires including campfires are prohibited at this time
  • Special Use Permits: limited
  • Commercial Services: essential services only
  • 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

Open

  • Park entrances and entrance booths: reduce exposure by purchasing your entrance pass ahead of time on recreation.gov
  • Roads and parking lots
  • Trails
  • Most bathroom facilities
  • Wilderness backpacking
  • Visitor center bookstores and information desks

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