As the travel season begins to ramp up, national parks across the U.S. prepare for yet another busy year filled with visitors. While timed entries, advance reservations, hiking permits, and heavy crowds have become the standard at some of the most popular national parks, there are a few changes taking place in 2023 that park visitors should know about before planning their trips.
Here’s an overview of changes happening at popular National Park Service (NPS) sites this year.
Parking Fees and Payment Changes
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
This year, visitors will pay for parking at the most-visited national park in the U.S. The park is adopting its “Park It Forward” system, requiring visitors to purchase a tag for vehicles parked within the park’s boundaries—this includes campgrounds. The tags must be displayed on your vehicle. Prices are $5 for a daily pass, $15 for a 7-day pass, and $40 for an annual parking pass. Visitors will also pay more for campgrounds and backcountry permits this year.
The fees will be used for park improvements and operational costs to continue to make Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which doesn’t charge an entrance fee, an enjoyable experience for all.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
At the start of the year, Crater Lake turned to a cashless payment system for all entrance and permit fees. Credit cards, debit cards, and mobile payments are accepted, or visitors can make reservations in advance at Recreation.gov.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Beginning on May 26, 2023, Mount Rainier will move to a cashless system for entrance fees and campground reservations. While you can use Recreation.gov to pay prior to your visit, the park is working with outside vendors to sell passes for those needing to pay with cash. Bookstores, restaurants, and other vendors within the park will still accept cash or cashless payments.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Joining the state’s Wind Cave National Park, Badlands also moved to a cashless system for entrance fees and permits. Like other cashless NPS sites, visitors can pre-purchase passes online at Recreation.gov.
The three parks moving to cashless systems hope to reduce the time employees spend handling cash at park entrances and have more available funds to make immediate improvements to the parks.
Reservation Changes and Timed Entries
Continuing where they left off in 2022, these national parks and NPS sites will once again require timed-entry reservations, permits, or other forms of reservations heading into the 2023 travel season.
Acadia National Park, Maine
While you won’t need a reservation to enter the park, if you want to drive the famous Cadillac Summit Road between May 24 and October 22, 3023, you’ll need a vehicle reservation. These can be purchased online at Recreation.gov. This stretch of road will be undergoing construction this summer, so be sure to check the road’s status before planning your trip.
Arches National Park, Utah
From April 1 to October 31, 2023, visitors will need to reserve a timed-entry pass for access to the park. These reservations can be made online at Recreation.gov up to 3 months prior to your visit. Even if you’ve purchased an annual pass, you’ll still need to reserve a time to enter.
Glacier National Park, Montana
This park requires vehicle reservations for certain sections and popular roads. All of these reservations can be made online at Recreation.gov and include:
- Going-to-the-Sun Road: Reservations are required for the west entrance from May 26 to September 10, 2023. For the St. Mary entrance, reservations are required from July 1 to September 10. These reservations are valid for 3 days.
- North Fork: To access the North Fork area of the park, you must have a 1-day vehicle reservation from May 26 to September 10, 2023.
- Many Glacier Valley: One-day vehicle reservations are required for this area of the park from July 1 to September 10, 2023.
- Two Medicine: This section also requires vehicle reservations from July 1 to September 10, 2023, which are valid for 1 day.
It’s also recommended to check for road closures and conditions before planning your visit to Glacier National Park.
Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
While you can enter the park without a reservation most of the day, if you plan to catch the sunrise at this majestic national park, you’ll need to plan in advance. Summit sunrise reservations must be made ahead of time online at Recreation.gov.
Olympic National Park
From July 5 through August 31, visitors planning to camp at the popular Staircase Campground will need to make reservations online at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. You can book a site up to 2 weeks prior to your visit with a maximum stay limit of 7 days. Outside of the summer reservation period, the campground will return to first-come, first-served availability.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Timed-entry reservations are still required at Rocky Mountain from May 26 to October 22, 2023, and can be purchased online at Recreation.gov. You can purchase an entry permit for the Bear Lake Corridor (which also includes the rest of the park) or a standard entry permit that doesn’t include Bear Lake access.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Permits are only required if you plan to visit Old Rag Mountain. You’ll need to purchase a day-use ticket in advance. You can do this online at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.
Yosemite National Park, California
You can enter Yosemite without a timed reservation for the remainder of the 2023 season. However, you should check online for any park closures and other weather-related alerts, as the park received significant rain and snowfall this year. If you plan to hike Half Dome, you’ll need to apply for a permit when the cables are up (May 26 through October 10, 2023, but subject to change), which can be done online at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. There’s also a daily lottery during the hiking season.
Zion National Park, Utah
While you don’t need a permit to enter the park and most of its sections, if you want to hike the infamous Angels Landing trail, you’ll need to plan ahead by applying for a permit online via a seasonal or day-before lottery.
Muir Woods National Monument, California
Whether you’re visiting with a personal vehicle or plan on taking the park’s shuttle, you’ll need to make a reservation to enter Muir Woods. You can easily make a reservation online before your visit.
Before heading to any national park or NPS site, always check the park’s website for any notable road, trail, and attraction closures. From construction detours to weather-related closures, the status at each park can change quickly, especially during winter and spring months as rain, snow, and ice melt can all have an impact on park conditions.
Fee-Free Entrance Days
For the remainder of the year, you can enter any NPS site for free on the following dates:
- April 22: First day of National Park Week
- August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 23: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Note: During fee-free days, permits and timed-entry reservations may still be required—check the specific site for details.
How to Have a Successful Park Visit
Planning ahead is key when it comes to visiting one of the many popular national parks within the U.S. From ensuring you have an entrance reservation to securing a campground site or other lodging accommodations, you’ll need to make your travel arrangements sooner rather than later. Here are a few ways you can make your visit more enjoyable this travel season.
Plan in advance. Book your park entrance, campsites, lodging, hiking permits, etc. as far ahead as you can. Showing up on a whim and expecting to find a place to stay, or even enter the park, could very well end in disappointment.
Buy an annual pass. If you’re planning on visiting multiple NPS sites within a single year, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful pass. For $80, the pass covers entrance fees to all NPS sites for an entire year.
Timing your visit. Try to avoid peak park hours by arriving early in the morning or later in the day. This way, you can visit before the crowds hit or after they’ve subsided. Mid-morning and early afternoon hours will typically be the busiest.
Plan for crowds. If you’re visiting a popular park or NPS site, you should expect to encounter crowds and lines. Have patience, plan your visit accordingly, and remember everybody is there to have an enjoyable experience, including the park staff, so be respectful to those around you.
Choose a less-visited park. If you’re looking to avoid crowded areas, consider visiting one of the less popular parks within the NPS system. There are more than 420 properties managed by the NPS in the U.S. If a visit to a popular park doesn’t work out, chances are there’s another public land nearby that’s worthy of a visit.