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Guide To Visiting National Parks in 2021

Are you thinking of visiting the National parks in 2021? National Parks are one of our favorite places to visit, especially in the summer. But now, with all the new rules, closures, and crowds post-covid, visiting the national parks isn’t as easy or enjoyable as it used to be.

Does that mean we won’t be visiting the national parks in 2021? Certainly not! However, I am making some adjustments to our travel plans this summer and thought it was a good opportunity to share those with you too.

The #1 Reason You Should Visit a National Park in Summer 2021

Ummm…It’s the National Park, duh 😜?! The US National Parks are in some of the most gorgeous locations! For me, hiking and camping in the national parks are some of the best things on Earth.

National Parks are so easy too! With well-marked trails and infrastructure either inside the park or very close by, you don’t have to be a hardcore adventurer to enjoy nature and the outdoors.

If you’re a national park newbie, be sure to read all the way to the bottom where I give you some great tips on visiting the national parks.

The #1 Reason You Might Not Want to Visit the National Parks in 2021

They are going to be super crowded! Our family has been visiting a lot of national parks over the past decade and I was shocked at how crowded everything was last summer. Plus, a lot of the usual amenities require reservations ahead of time.

Reserving a Day-Use Access Pass To Visit Some National Parks

Reservations to Visit Yosemite National Park in 2021

If you are planning on visiting Yosemite National Park between May 21 and Sept 30, 2021, advanced reservations will be required for day-use access even if you have an annual or lifetime pass. The good thing is that once you reserve a pass, it’s good for 3 days so you’ll have plenty of time to see a lot of this beautiful park.

Click here to read about our favorite hike in Yosemite and why we prefer camping in Tuolumne Meadows.

Reservations to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in 2021

Rocky Mountain NP follows a similar protocol to that of Yosemite except that your reservation is only good for 1 day and you reserve for a two-hour arrival window, however, you can re-enter throughout the day after that. Reservations are required for Rocky Mountain from May 28 to Oct. 11, 2021, and will be available to reserve about 1 month in advance. 

In addition, Rocky Mountain has two different permits this year, one for Bear Lake Road corridor and one for the rest of the park. It’s a little confusing so you should read the exact details here before planning your trip.

Related BlogBest hikes from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain NP

Dream Lake, Best Day Hikes from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park + Camping Tips
Dream Lake is beautiful, but head to Emerald for a truly spectacular view

Reservations to Visit Glacier National Park in 2021

Glacier National Park also requires an entry ticket starting on May 31st but only if you plan on driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road (but why would you visit and not drive this?!). Entry tickets will be available for sale beginning at 6 a.m. on April 29, 2021. The nice thing is that once you get a reservation it is good for 7 days. For exact details click here.

Related Blogs:

Reservations to Visit Acadia National Park in 2021

Tickets will also be required for Acadia National Park from May 26 through Oct 19 for Cadillac Summit Road between sunrise and sunset. Click here if you plan on visiting Acadia.

Related Blog: Best Hike in Acadia, plus 10 more epic East Coast Hikes you should add to your bucket list

Note: If you have camping or lodging reservations inside any of these parks then you will not be required to buy an additional day-use access pass.

Mount Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota
Showing our respects to Mount Rushmore

Shuttle Reservations to Visit Zion National Park in 2021

Zion doesn’t require a reservation to enter but it does require tickets to use the shuttles. You can reserve tickets 2-4 weeks ahead of time and up to 8 tickets per day. The nice thing is that children age two and under do not need a ticket, but must sit on an adult’s lap.

Note that it will be hard to see Zion and get to the trailheads without using the shuttles. However, if I were going to Zion this summer and didn’t want to deal with the shuttle, I would just ride my bike or rent an e-bike to get to the trailheads.

Views from the best hike in Zion, Angels Landing
Views from the summit of the best hike in Zion National Park

National Parks We Are Visiting in 2021

We plan on visiting Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Glacier, Zion, Mount Rushmore, North Cascades, and maybe Mount Rainier this year, and while I usually love camping in the National Park, I will be looking to camp outside the parks this year with the exception of Grand Teton (since we happened to score reservations for an entire week!)

Our family loves to hike and there are so many bucket list hikes we want to do that when we visit in 2021, I will likely camp as close as I can outside the national parks and then drive to the trailheads early.

Summit STOKE

If I wasn’t so obsessed with hiking mountain peaks, I’d probably look into spending more time in the less popular national parks. However, I must say, the popular ones are popular for a reason and if this is your first trip to a national park you probably want to see the most epic ones!

Also, I’ll be taking my class C instead of my big fifth wheel for most of the national park trips only because it’s much easier to boondock in. This way I don’t have to worry about not finding a campground or campsites being full.

We have a blog How to Find Free Camping in the U.S. and also a YouTube video on Tips for Dry Camping in an RV. We also just published a video Which National Park is Best For You that might help you decide where to go this year.

Things to do Badlands South Dakota
Rockin the Patagonia Down Jackets in Badlands, SD

Pack List For The National Parks

12 Things I Love About Visiting National Parks

Hiking Paradise Mount Rainier NP

1 | Hiking is safe and easy

We love that the trails in national parks are so well marked and even labeled beginner, intermediate and advanced to ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. 

2 | Camping in the parks is so much fun

I personally think it’s the campgrounds inside the national parks that make visiting a national park the most memorable.While they often don’t have hookups, they do have water, toilets, and a camp host to help you. The only downside to camping in the national parks is that, because they are so wonderful, it’s often hard to get a campsite at them. Some are reservable but you often need to book 6 months in advance.

Best campground Zion, Utah, Watchman
Sleep right under the towering red rocks of Zion, Utah at Watchman Campground

3 | Ranger talks are so informative

In the summer, the campgrounds often have ranger presentations in the amphitheater and my kids absolutely love attending these. One year, at Kalalau campground in Olympic National Park, a ranger gave a one-hour PowerPoint presentation that taught me more than I had learned in all my high school science classes.

4 | My younger kids love earning junior ranger badges

If you’ve never been to a national park and have kids, be sure to go straight to the visitor center (assuming it’s open this summer) and get a junior ranger book. After they complete the book, you take it back to the ranger and they receive a badge and will be sworn in as “junior rangers”. My kids loved doing this when they were younger and in Denali NP, they give the kids full backpacks filled with science projects for free!

Junior Rangers, Denali National Park, Hiking and Camping, Alaska
Tati and Jiraiya getting initiated as Junior Rangers in Denali

5 | No cell service

This may be a downside, however, I definitely see it as an upside considering how much time I spend working on my computer. There is rarely cell service inside the national parks which means I get to disconnect and chill out.

6 | Wildlife Viewing

One of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself and your family is to see the animals inside these parks. We have been to some pretty amazing places and have had the opportunity to share space with bears, bison, raptors, elk, fox, wolf, and moose.

Be smart. These are wild animals, give them their space and I highly recommend to mind by the rules the park recommends about the distance you give each animal.

Invest in a good pair of binoculars or many places you can rent. When we went to Lamar Valley to view the wolf packs we learned you can rent high-powered viewing equipment to see the animals from 1/4 mile away. Thankfully some kind strangers allowed the kids to take a peek through their lenses so they could see the wolves and the pups.  

Wildlife in Denali National Park, Hiking and Camping, Alaska
Walking past a lone Caribou while hiking a river bed in Denali

7 | It’s easy for RV’s to get around

If you are traveling in an RV, know that most of the major attractions and popular trailheads have parking lots for RV’s. Now, I wouldn’t tow my 5th wheel into these parking lots, but if you are traveling in a 35 ft class C or smaller, you’ll probably be fine.

Winter in Bryce Canyon
Winter hiking on the Rim Trail in Bryce Canyon

A Few Final Tips About Visiting National Parks

Journal the memories

If I knew back then how much I was going to love the national parks and how often I would be visiting them, I would’ve been better at documenting the memories. We did buy the National Park Passport book and that has been fun, but I wish I had bought a vest or something like this to save all the kid’s badges on.

There are amazing adventures just outside the National Park boundaries

While I love the national parks, there are a lot of great hikes and camping spots just outside the parks too. If crowds aren’t your thing and you are going to visit during the peak of summer, you might want to plan your trip so that you can go early in the morning or late in the evening and do something else during the day. 

For instance, you can hike Angel’s Landing In Zion by starting before sunrise ad then go spend the day exploring all the great hikes in St George or drive Kolob Canyon. 

Owens Loop trail, downtown St George
Owens Loop trail on the edge of downtown St George

An early start can make all the difference

 I know you’re on vacation but crowds and noise tend to scare off animal life so if you can, get up early to explore. Plus early morning provides the best photo ops, trails are less crowded, and you will have better luck getting parking.

Visit during the shoulder season

If you want nice weather with fewer crowds, try to plan your trip for May, early June, September, or early October. 

Leave no “emotional” trace

While yes, everyone wants to protect the outdoors and you should absolutely pack out what you pack in and stay on the trail, I want to end this blog post with a mindfulness message. Hey! Emotions are hot these days, when you go to a national park, you see people from all walks of life which means you are guaranteed to see or talk to you with different opinions. The Golden Rule still applies post-Covid, ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.’ Enjoy your national trip vacation and tag us on IG @nomadswithapurpose✌️

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