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Don’t Let a $2 Fee Ruin Your National Park Trip Plans!

Don’t Let a $2 Fee Ruin Your National Park Trip Plans!

If you’re planning to visit some of our magnificent national parks this summer, knowing what national parks require reservations is important.

In certain locations, if you show up without a national park reservation, your plans may be ruined when you’re turned away from the park, and you’re forced to move to Plan B.

So, we’re here to let you know where you’ll need national park reservations as of this writing, and how much those reservations will cost, so you’ll be well prepared.

Why Do National Parks Require Reservations?

As you might imagine, national parks that require reservations are generally the most popular parks where large crowds are anticipated.

But required reservations for national parks have increased substantially since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In many ways, this is a good thing. The need for reservations at national parks stems from the vast increase in the number of people RVing, camping, and just getting outside to take in the beauty of nature.

Because of the increase in traffic, the National Park Service instituted a vehicle reservation system to ensure that visitors had a pleasant experience instead of being jammed up in traffic.

Visitors needed to pay to pre-book a time slot for arriving at certain, heavily-trafficked national parks so that the NPS can control the volume of vehicles and people.

For the most popular parks, the permits are for entry to the park itself.

When you make a reservation at a national park, you’re reserving one of a limited number of entry spots (not parking spots) allotted for the number of vehicles to be in the park at any one time.

In other instances, permits are required for access only to specific parts of the park.

In almost all cases, though, the permitting/reservations system is only active during the busiest times for the park, for example, Memorial Day through Labor Day.

What National Parks Require Reservations?

The good news is that of the 63 national parks open as of this writing only 9 require some type of reservation. Note that these reservations are at an additional cost beyond the regular park entrance fee.

The fees for national park reservations /vehicle entry permits may be as low as $2, but again, they’re charged on top of the entry fee. So, if we mention a fee for a reservation at a particular park, please keep in mind that this fee is in addition to the entrance fee.

If interested, you can currently buy an annual pass to all of the national parks for $80. Annual passes can be purchased either in person at park visitor centers & entrance stations, by calling 1-888-ASK USGS (1-888-275-8747) between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM Mountain time, or from the USGS store online.

In alphabetical order, let’s take a look at the national parks that currently require reservations.

Acadia National Park – Maine

Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, but it’s also one of the smallest parks.

Sunrise at Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is among the most popular and the smallest national parks in the United States. (Photo source: National Park Service)

Acadia is breathtaking, so well worth visiting. Still, its understandable popularity has created congestion in certain areas, especially along the windy road to Cadillac Mountain. (It’s considered the first place to see the sunrise in the continental United States.)

For this reason, the National Park Service established a vehicle reservation system only for Cadillac Summit Road, the road to the peak of Cadillac Mountain.

From June 23 to Oct 22, 2023, you’ll need a reservation to drive the Cadillac Summit Road.

Cadillac Summit Road is a 3-mile scenic drive that takes you to the top of the highest peak in Acadia National Park. (Parking, restrooms, and overlooks connected by a paved walk are available at the summit.)

No reservations are required if you’re climbing the mountain by foot, of course, or if you’re traveling by bicycle or taxi.

Note that in addition to purchasing a vehicle reservation for Cadillac Summit Road, all vehicles are required to display a park entrance pass through the windshield. Park entrance passes are available online at Recreation.gov. For information on when vehicle reservations will be available for purchase, click on the Seasons & Booking tab.

These are timed entries, so vehicles must enter the reservation area during the time period shown on the reservation. However, you’re not required to leave until 10:00 PM, which is when Cadillac Summit Road closes to all vehicles. (We featured Acadia National Park in our post on Northern Lights camping.)

Reservations don’t permit re-entry and are per vehicle — not per person.

Important: Vehicles over 21 feet long (including bike racks and hitch attachments), RVs, and trailers are prohibited on Cadillac Summit Road.

Pro Tip: Although you can choose to print your timed entry ticket or use the QR code provided digitally, you may want to print your reservation or screenshot your code because cell coverage is spotty in many areas of Acadia National Park.

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Arches National Park – Utah

Featured in our post on the 5 national parks in Utah, Arches National Park is among our favorite parks, and we’ve visited repeatedly during our 20+ years on the road full-time.

Arches National Park scenery

Arches National Park, one of the top-rated national parks in the country, is home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches. (Photo source: National Park Service)

Arches National Park is home to more than 2,000 arches within 73,000+ acres of sandstone, balanced rocks, hoodoos, and more.

As a result, it’s one of the top-rated national parks in the country and is considered one of America’s scenic wonders. For this reason, the park becomes very crowded, especially during its busiest season.

So, visitors to Arches arriving by automobile or motorcycle require a timed entry reservation from April 1 – October 31, 2023 during the hours between 7:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

There are some exceptions to the timed entry requirements. You do not need to reserve a timed entry ticket for Arches National Park are traveling on foot or bicycle, or if you have one of the following permits:

  • Devils Garden campground permit
  • Backcountry camping permit
  • Fiery Furnace permit
  • Special Use permit
  • Commercial Use Authorization
  • Concessions Contract with the park

All of the above exceptions must present their valid permit or authorization at the entrance station for verification.

Reservations for Timed Entry Tickets become available on the 1st day of the month for 3 months later. So, for example, if you’re planning to travel to Arches in September, you’ll want to reserve your timed entry ticket on June 1st.

Your timed entry ticket will cost you $2 per vehicle, and again that’s in addition to your park entrance fee.

Glacier National Park – Montana

Glacier National Park is a paradise of magnificent lakes, alpine meadows, glorious valleys, and of course, glaciers, with more than 700 miles of hiking trails.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park has been called the “Switzerland of America” and the “Crown of the Continent.” (Photo source: National Park Service)

Among the most popular national parks in the country, Glacier National Park will be requiring Vehicle Reservations for four specific areas of the park beginning in the summer of 2023.

The areas requiring vehicle registrations are:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road (3-day vehicle registration)
  • Many Glacier (1-day vehicle registration)
  • North Fork (1-day vehicle registration)
  • Two Medicine (1-day vehicle registration)

Here are the details:

From May 26 through September 10, reservations are required for Going-to-the-Sun Road westside entrances and the North Fork from 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

From July 1 through September 10, reservations are required for east side entrances, including Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and Going-to-the-Sun Road from Rising Sun between the hours of 6:00 AM and 3:00 PM.

Note that during the dates noted above, visitors traveling to the park in a vehicle or on a motorcycle need to have the two following items:

  1. A vehicle reservation
  2. Park Entrance Fee OR a valid park pass (includes Annual, Senior, Access, Military, or Volunteer passes)

At Glacier, your vehicle registration will cost $2 for each of the above-named areas, in addition to the cost of your park pass.

A portion of vehicle reservations for each area was released 4 months in advance. However, 24-hour advance reservations become available on a rolling basis starting May 25, 2023 at 8 am MDT.

Here again, although you can choose to print your timed entry ticket or use the QR code provided digitally, you may want to print your reservation or screenshot your code because cell coverage is non-existent in many areas of Glacier National Park.

Haleakalā National Park – Hawaii

Haleakalā National Park is the location of Maui’s highest peak. (Haleakalā means “house of the sun.”)

Haleakala National Park at sunrise

Viewing the sunrise at Haleakalā National Park has been a popular activity since the 1800s.

The Summit District of Haleakalā National Park begins at 7,000 ft and reaches 10,023 ft. Due to its high elevation, lack of light & environmental pollution, and its amazing weather patterns, this park is an understandably popular place to visit.

Since the late 1800s, sunrise at the summit of Haleakala has been a main attraction, and it remains so to this day. But there’s limited parking in the area, so sunrise reservations have become necessary.

Therefore, due to its increasing popularity, in the spring of 2021 Haleakala National Park began requiring reservations for each vehicle entering the park before sunrise, from 3:00 AM to 7:00 AM.

You can book a reservation from 60 days to 2 days before your arrival date.

Tickets are per vehicle, not per person, and are limited to one per customer every three days.

The reservation fee is $1, and a reservation ensures that you’ll have a parking space at one of the four sunrise viewing locations at the summit.

Muir Woods National Monument – California

At Muir Woods National Monument you’ll walk in the splendor of the redwoods and rest beside the water of Redwood Creek. To do so, however, you’ll need reservations no matter what time of year you visit.

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument offers splendor among the redwoods.

Muir Woods has been federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, and the redwoods beckon more visitors every year. In fact, Muir Woods has used a reservation system since 2018.

This not only offers a better experience for visitors but also protects the ecosystem.

There are two types of reservations available for purchase here:

  • Parking Reservation
  • Shuttle Reservation

A parking reservation currently costs $9.00 for a standard vehicle, $30.00 for a medium vehicle, or $45.00 large vehicle.

A shuttle reservation costs $3.50 per adult round-trip ticket (16 years and older). The shuttle is free for children 15 years and younger, but you still need to reserve a spot.

Again, park entrance fees are separate from parking and shuttle reservations. (The park entrance fee is $15.00 for visitors age 16 years and older, and free for children age 15 and under.)

One additional note for those traveling to Muir Woods National Monument between July and November of 2023:

It’s possible that you’ll experience some noise, dust, and/or detours at the park entrance and on certain trails as they’re working to rehabilitate the creek habitats for endangered salmon.

Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise with more than 300 miles of trails, and panoramic vistas as far as the eye can see.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise with more than 300 miles of trails.

This makes Rocky Mountain a pretty popular park, so there are some vehicle entry permits required at certain times of the year and certain times of the day.

Here’s how it’ll work:

Beginning on May 26 through October 22, 2023 there will be two different timed entry permit options available, and you’ll have to choose one of the two:

  • Park Access
  • Park Access+

Park Access timed entry permits are for those who want to visit any area of the park located outside of Bear Lake Road Corridor between the hours of 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM.

So, if you’d like to drive over Trail Ridge Road, visit the Alpine Visitor Center, explore the Kawuneeche Valley, or hike at Wild Basin, for example, you’ll want to get a Park Access timed entry permit.

The important thing to remember here is that the Park Access permits don’t give you access to the Bear Lake Road Corridor.

Park Access+ timed entry permits include access to all destinations located along the Bear Lake Road Corridor, as well as all other areas of the park. These permits are required to enter the Bear Lake Road Corridor from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Note that if you have a Park Access+ timed entry permit and you enter Bear Lake Road Corridor and then want to leave and return later in the day, you’ll be able to re-enter Bear Lake Road Corridor anytime after 2:00 PM.

In short, between May 26 and October 22, 2023, you’ll need a timed entry permit to visit the park between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM anywhere outside of the Bear Lake Road Corridor.

To visit any area along the Bear Lake Road Corridor, you’ll need a timed entry permit anytime between 5:00 AM and 6:00 PM.

Both the Park Access and Park Access+ permits will cost you $2, beyond the regular park entrance fee.

For answers to any additional questions you may have regarding timed entry permits for Rocky Mountain National Park, here’s a timed entry FAQ for the park.

Shenandoah National Park – Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is another very popular national park with many visitors from far away, as well as people taking day trips from around Virginia and Washington, DC.

Shenandoah offers lots of hiking trails, (many of them strenuous, so prepare accordingly), as well as magnificent waterfalls, and the very popular 105-mile Skyline Drive.

In 2023, you’ll be required to purchase an Old Rag Mountain day-use ticket in advance, in addition to a Park entrance pass. This includes hikers on the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails.

This requirement is a continuance of the 2022 pilot program put in place to enhance the visitor experience, address public safety concerns, and better protect the rare ecological gems found on Old Rag.

The cost of the day-use ticket is $1.00.

For more information, including a video explaining the requirement, head to the Old Rag Mountain FAQ page of the National Park Service website.

Yosemite National Park – California

Yosemite National Park was first protected in 1864, and is best known for its waterfalls, including the tallest waterfall in North America.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is home to North America’s tallest waterfall.

The park is nearly 1,200 square miles of deep valleys, meadows, giant sequoias, and an immense wilderness area.

Yosemite National Park is among the most popular national parks in the United States. Still, in the spring, summer, and fall of 2023, Yosemite does NOT have a managed access system in place.

However, Horsetail Fall does require a reservation on certain dates in February, and here’s why:

When it’s backlit by the sunset, Horsetail Fall glows bright orange and can appear to be on fire. It’s quite a sight to see, but it only happens on clear-skied evenings when the waterfall is flowing, and the sun is at just the right angle.

This occurs in mid to late February, and it attracts huge crowds, which causes parking, traffic, and safety concerns as well as concerns for natural and cultural resources in the area.

For this reason, reservations were required to enter Yosemite National Park on the weekends of February 10–12, February 17–19, and February 24–26, 2023, even for those not visiting Horsetail Fall.

Visitors who first arrived on Mondays through Thursdays didn’t need a reservation.

We kept Yosemite on our list despite February of 2023 having passed at the time we’re writing this because the same system will likely be in place in February of 2024, so heads up!

The reservation fee is $2, which is in addition to the $35 car entrance fee (which is valid for entry for seven days, regardless of the day of arrival).  There are no reservations required to visit or pass through the park.

Zion National Park – Utah

Zion National Park is one of our favorite places on the planet. Zion was Peter’s very first national park, and the love affair it sparked for the great outdoors was a big factor in our decision to RV in the first place.

Zion has become overwhelmingly popular in recent years. The hikes, some of which take you through rivers surrounded by canyon walls, are pretty much indescribable.

We love hiking Angels Landing, but so do many other people, which is why Zion is on the list of national parks with areas requiring reservations.

While the park itself doesn’t require a reservation to enter, if you want to hike Angel’s Landing, you’ll need a permit.

Anyone who wants to hike from Scout Lookout to Angels Landing along the steep half-mile section of trail with chains needs to have a permit. This applies to all times of day and all times of year.

You can obtain a permit by applying to a Seasonal Lottery (available quarterly) or by applying for their Day-Before Lottery.

Hikes during the spring, March 1 to May 31, 2023 can be found on this page, as can additional permit information. (Hiking on the West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout doesn’t require a permit.)

Note that a permit is an opportunity, but not a guarantee that conditions will allow you to hike on the date and time on your permit.

Sometimes, environmental or trail conditions require the NPS to close the trail. If that happens, you won’t be able to do the hike.

Also, if you arrive when parking is full, you may have to park at a trailhead nearby, or wait until parking is available. On a related note, most private vehicles are prohibited from driving up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive during the peak season. That’s where the Angels Landing hike starts.

Instead, you must ride the Zion Canyon Shuttle System. Not only is the shuttle free, but the lack of cars on the scenic drive makes any slight inconvenience well worth it.

On our last visit, we rode our bikes up into the scenic canyon to go hiking every day. It’s the most awesome way to see it!

If you’re fortunate enough to get a permit, print or download it because you’ll need to bring it with you on your hike. Cell/data coverage in the park is not good at all, so be sure to do this before you arrive at Zion.

Remember – you need a permit to hike any portion of Angels Landing beyond Scout Lookout every day and at all times.

For additional information, see how to apply for a permit to hike Angel’s Landing.

Thinking about summiting Angel’s Landing? Come along with us on one of our recent trips in this video:

Have You Visited a National Park that Requires Reservations?

If you’ve had to obtain a reservation or vehicle permit for any part of the national parks system, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Meanwhile, if you prefer to avoid crowds, see our post on less crowded national parks.

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Sabine Kirstein

Saturday 27th of May 2023

Carlsbad Caverns requires a $1 reservation to see the caverns.

Rich G

Friday 26th of May 2023

Hello, my name is Rich. My question today and I hope it’s not a stupid one but if you go to a national park that requires a timed entry reservation ticket and it’s from 7 AM until 4 PM. Can you enter the park after 4 PM without a reservation ticket?

TheRVgeeks

Saturday 27th of May 2023

Hi Rich. Not a stupid question at all. Unfortunately, there's not one answer, as the rules can be different per park. For some, the daily period that reservations are required is the same as the operating hours (i.e. at the end of them, there's no more access allowed), while for others the reservation period is just the busiest time... and entering prior or after is OK without a reservation. So you need to check each park's rules/requirements explicitly.

John S.

Friday 26th of May 2023

Glad I clicked on the link today. Very glad.

I did not know that the reservation for Glacier Park's Going to the Sun Road is also needed for motorcycles. I've been on that road a half dozen times over the years always by motorcycle.

Just checked and every day this summer is already fully booked.

We are going for a 13 day ride with friends this year and will now stay out of Glacier NP, a normal route for the first section of a ride to Montana.

TheRVgeeks

Friday 26th of May 2023

Oh wow, John. That would've been a real disappointment to get to the park entrance and be turned away! UGH!

It's both a blessing and a curse that the national parks are as popular as they are... great that so many people are out enjoying them... but all those bodies take a toll, that's for sure. While inconvenient, at least the permitting system is trying to help stem the human tide! ????

Looking deeper at the specifics for Glacier's vehicle reservations (https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/vehicle-reservations.htm), there MAY be a wee loophole you could take advantage of: west side entrances require reservations from May 26 through September 10... but EAST SIDE entrances don't begin requiring them until July 1 (through September 10). So if you can plan your trip to go through the park from East to West, you may be able to do it without a reservation.

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