When Will Our National Parks Open?

This Month Many National Parks Will Open in Phases

I know every landscape and wildlife photographer is itching to ‘get out there’ and start shooting again in their favorite national park. So are the backpackers, hikers, campers, and those day visitors who want to visit pristine wildernesses and Mother Natures’ incredible scenery. However, before you pack up and head out to a chosen park, there are several things you need to know and consider.

First off, take time out to salute the men and women who manage and staff our national parks. They have endured the Stay Home, Stay Safe Shutdowns, and now they are doing a great job of safely reopening our parks. This is not an easy task, and each national park has a specific schedule and process, which is governed by a variety of rules from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as State and local Health Department Regulations. Given the many unknowns of the Covid-19 pandemic, our national parks are opening in phases, testing the results of each phase, and you should check which phase your park is in before you go.

A Four-Phase Approach

The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. All national park functions will continue to be monitored to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19 and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.

Most parks are using four phases to restart operations and services for park visitors. The timing of each phase is park dependent, and here are some general guidelines:

Phase One-

In many parks, you can expect limited day use, and depending upon the park’s restricted access. In most instances, visitor services are limited or not available in this phase. Most parks will also issue wilderness permits during this phase.

Phase Two-

This phase will be dependent upon how well phase one goes, and during this phase, access to wilderness locations, campgrounds, and the opening of visitor centers may occur.

Phase Three-

During this phase, visitor lodges, concession stores, campgrounds, and eating facilities may open. However, many eating facilities may be limited to grab and go lunch boxes in this phase.

Phase Four-

In this phase, most Park Supervisors expect their parks to be fully functional within CDC guidelines and social distancing awareness.

How to Plan and What to Expect

Before you decide to head out there, you should visit a specific park’s website for more information. This will be your best resource during phase one, as you may not be able to reach anyone by phone until phase two or possibly three. You can expect that social distancing regulations and face masks will be necessary in the early phases at most parks as well as group size limitations for camping and picnic areas.

What About Park Wildlife?

Broken Bow Arch, Grand Staircase National Monument. Photo Credit: Bob Killen

Park wildlife reclaimed many open spaces during the shutdowns and have been enjoying peace and quiet— no traffic jams, or noisy hikers that have overcrowded our parks across the country. Bears are grazing in meadows; elk have enjoyed an undisturbed spring calving season in Yellowstone, and other parks as the absence of humans have given the park ecologies a moment to breathe.

As the parks reintroduce, human intervention wildlife may respond differently. Check with your park rangers about changes in wildlife distancing and Bear Aware Regulations.


The world has changed with the detection of Covid-19, and for now, so has our relationship with our national parks. Getting out there will be a phased process, one that measures risk and results but one that allows us to enjoy our national parks by applying common sense and adherence to disease safety protocols.

About Author

Bob Killen is a nationally recognized Fine Art Photographer, Landscape Photography instructor, and artist. He is the Director of the National Park Photography Expeditions, President of the Mojave National Preserve Artists Foundation, a National Park Service Friends Group, a national speaker on landscape photography and an Adobe Certified Instructor. His thematic work explores Western Americana landscapes with a focus on man’s obsession to abandon structures, places, and things across a shared American landscape. His work is owned by collectors in 20 countries.

(3) Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Thank you, Bob, for keeping us informed in these turbulent times.

  2. Robbie Kaye

    This is great info Bob. I hope everyone will respect the nature… of nature. Thank you!

  3. Ted Rigoni

    Thank you for this update Bob and for helping give us hope that we will soon be visiting and enjoying many of our national treasurers.

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