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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in east-central California, you’ll find Yosemite National Park. The park is home to granite cliffs, waterfalls, and massive redwoods. It is the fourth largest national park in the country and spans over 700,000 acres, an area larger than New York and Los Angeles combined.
Millions of people visit Yosemite each year, and the demand to visit national parks has increased. This has created overcrowding and visits are at record numbers. More than 297 million visits were made to national parks across the country in 2021, and that number could skyrocket in 2022.
As travel restrictions ease and more people hit the road, national parks have adapted to help protect the environment and limit the number of people visiting at one time.
So, for some national parks, you will need to make a reservation in advance.
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Scott Gediman has been a ranger for over three decades. With his country hat and laced hiking boots, he’s ready to teach the park on his next school trip and give directions to tourists from all over the world. He recognizes the challenges the park faces.
“It was just very difficult for us because we had traffic jams and the parking lots are full. So during the pandemic we implemented a reservation system where you had to have a reservation to enter the park” , said Gediman.
The original reservation system for Yosemite National Park worked, to some extent.
“The hardest part was if someone came in and didn’t have a reservation, we just had to turn them around, and that’s disappointing,” Gediman explained. “Can you imagine your family coming from anywhere, you pull up, the kids in the back, and you see the park? ‘Oh sorry, you can’t come in.'”
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To change the process for 2022 and allow more people to visit, Yosemite National Park has implemented a peak-hour reservation system. To enter the park from May 20 to September 30, between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., you need a reservation to enter or you will be turned away. But, this year, if you don’t have a reservation, you can still visit in the late afternoon.
“Our goal is not to limit visits. Our goal is to smooth it out,” Gediman explained.
In some national parks, people had to wait hours to enter before the reservation system.
“Nobody wants to come and sit in the car for two hours,” Gediman said.
“It’s really easy for these parks — especially Yosemite — to get over-loved,” said William Johnson, who was visiting Yosemite with his daughter and wife before the reservation system kicked off. “It’s just crowded. The trails we were on this morning, we started early, and even then it was pretty busy.”
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Other national parks also require reservations this year, including Arches National Park, Zion National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Each park has a similar system that requires visitors to make a reservation for the entire park or certain trails.
This year could be even busier for national parks.
“We’re expecting a busy year just because people have been locked in, and even just me for example being on the trails for the last three days is fun to get out and be with people,” said Gediman.
“I think it’s a good way to try to manage crowds, so it can be fun for everyone,” Johnson added.
The reservation system is also a way to help protect national parks.
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“With 4-5 million visitors a year, we have issues where, for example, bears get hit by cars, people speed up, people park in the meadows. A lot of people will go to the trials, people cut the trails,” Gediman said. mentioned.
“A lot of times it’s not intentional, but people have an impact on the park, and so education is one of our goals. And so with the peak hour system, we want them to experience the park when it is not crowded.”