Reservations anxiety the new norm at US national parks as beauty spots battle crowding

national parks overcrowding
national parks overcrowding

Welcome to Yosemite — do you have a booking?

Travelers to the legendary California beauty spot and other popular national parks from coast to coast will need to remember to snag a reservation before hitting the road this summer — or risk being denied entry upon arrival.

The gate-keeping system, which for a number of years has been the norm during peak season for hotspots like Montana’s Glacier National Park, continues to expand in 2024, as park officials say record levels of visitation threaten too many of our pristine natural habitats.

Utah’s Arches National Park now requires a timed-entry reservation to get through the gates. Josemaria Toscano –
Utah’s Arches National Park now requires a timed-entry reservation to get through the gates. Josemaria Toscano –
Mount Rainier National Park is trying out a new road reservation system for 2024 after dealing with extreme crowds during recent summers. Janice –
Mount Rainier National Park is trying out a new road reservation system for 2024 after dealing with extreme crowds during recent summers. Janice –

“The timed entry system reservation system is not to limit visitation but to spread it out more equitably throughout the day,” Mount Rainier National Park ranger Terry Wildly told USA Today.

But while park officials might be tempted to downplay the changes, the extra step can turn into a giant hurdle — or even force road-trippers to strike a park from their wishlist, if they can’t squeeze a timed-entry visit into an already delicately-balanced itinerary.

Then again, said Wildly, without the timed tickets, visitors were waiting up to three, delay-causing hours to enter the popular park near Seattle and Portland — leading to all sorts of problems.

Rainier is just one of the parks signing up to take advance bookings this year — some are requiring tickets to get in, while others are offering limited numbers of permits for popular activities.

For those looking to plan ahead, here’s the complete list for 2024. In all listed instances, visitors will pay the regular park access charge of $30 or $35 per visit, on top of their entry fee or permit. (The annual passes, at $80 per vehicle load, are a great value for those who plan to visit more than one or two parks per year. You can buy online, or at any national park gate.)

Acadia National Park

Maine’s crown jewel requires timed-entry reservations for cars looking to drive Cadillac Mountain between May 24-Oct. 22. Reservations are available for both Sunrise drives and Daytime drives, each with their own set of rules. Drivers will pay $6 per vehicle and must buy the passes online ahead of time.

Arches National Park

The iconic Utah site requires timed reservations for all vehicles that wish to enter park gates between 7-4 daily, until Oct. 31. The bookings cost $2 per vehicle.

Glacier National Park

Entering the popular park from either side between May 24-Sept. 8 requires a timed-entry booking between 6am and 3pm — and passes do sell out. The rule applies to Many Glacier Road as well in 2024, between Jul. 1 and Sep. 8. It does not apply for visitors to Two Medicine, which has previously required bookings. All reservations cost $2 per vehicle.

Haleakalā National Park

Reservations are required year-round for the popular sunrise summit drive — there’s a $1 fee per vehicle. Rules apply between 3am-7am.

Mount Rainier National Park

Two popular areas will now require timed-entry reservations — the Paradise Corridor, from May 24-Sep. 2, and the Sunrise corridor beween Jul. 3-Sep. 2. In both cases, the rules will apply between 7am-3pm. There’s a $2 fee for each booking.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Most park roads will require a timed pass between 9am-2pm from May 24-Oct. 14. Those wishing to visit popular Bear Lake, however, will require another booking — both carry a $2 fee. Purchasing a Timed Entry+ pass, also sold May-Oct., grants access to all park roads.

Shenandoah National Park

Visitors can still drive the scenic parkway uninhibited, however, day-use permits are now required for the popular Old Rag Mountain hike, from now until Nov. 30. The pass is $2 and can be reserved between 30 and 5 days ahead of time.

Yosemite National Park

The long drive from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas hasn’t stopped this epic park from turning into a traffic nightmare on popular days — officials are hoping that requiring vehicles to reserve a park entry time during peak periods will bring the problem to a halt. The rule will be in effect 5am-4pm on weekends and holidays between Jun. 30 and Oct. 27; from Jul. 1-Aug. 16 the restriction will be in place all seven days. Permits are $2.

Zion National Park

Besides ditching your car at the bottom of the valley for a required shuttle ride, this special park — one of the best day trips from Las Vegas you’re probably forgetting about — has been piloting a new permit program for the oversubscribed Angels Landing hiking trail. Permits are available via lottery at Lottery registrations cost $6 per party of up to six people, and permits are $3 per person.

Where to make national park reservations

All of the parks use, which will also provide further details about the seasonal restrictions.