Blog Post Theresa Pierno Mar 20, 2020

NPCA Urges Park Visitors to Take Precautions as Pandemic Worsens in the U.S.

Help keep staff and the public safe by enjoying parks from afar.

As some states impose new restrictions ordering residents to stay home, NPCA is urging the public to take precautions to keep themselves — and national park staff — safe during the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

Many national park sites have already partially or completely closed in response to safety concerns as confirmed coronavirus infection rates continue to increase. All parks have waived entrance fees, which will minimize contact between park staff and visitors at entrance gates, but this step could also send the wrong message at a time when social distancing is crucial for containing the virus.

Press Release

Waive National Park Fees to Protect Staff and Visitors, Not Promote Accessibility

Waiving fees prevents park staff and visitors from having close interactions during this ongoing pandemic.

See more ›

NPCA supports park superintendents as they make difficult decisions to close visitor centers, historic buildings, restrooms and, in some cases, entire parks. During what is typically Joshua Tree National Park’s peak visitation period, park officials shuttered all visitor centers and canceled all park programs. Many remote parks are long distances from limited medical facilities, posing additional dangers to travelers and local residents who may come into contact with the virus and require respirators and specialized attention.

Many iconic national parks draw large crowds where social distancing best practices may prove difficult or impossible, even outdoors. In Moab, Utah, a gateway community near the entrance to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, health officials have warned travelers to cancel and reschedule their trips to avoid putting undue strain on limited local medical resources.

This is a confusing, turbulent time for people seeking solace, as well as National Park Service staff. If you or a loved one are thinking about a trip to a national park, consider:

1. Is the park open? Every day, park superintendents must determine how to prioritize the health of their staff and local communities, as well comply with directives from governments at all levels fighting to contain the spread of COVID-19. The park you want to visit may very well be closed or could close by the time you travel there.

2. How many people will you come into contact with at the park? Some parks see thousands of visitors a day. Be sure to think of all scenarios in which you may struggle to maintain social distancing best practices. You might not be able to stay 6 feet away from other park visitors on the most popular trails – and certainly not in crowded buses, lodges or park restrooms.

3. What happens if you get sick while visiting the park? Will you be close to well-equipped hospitals with intensive care units? How long would it take you to get to the hospital from a trail or remote location in the park? Are park staff or local authorities able to assist you in a timely manner?

If you believe a park trip will put you or park staff at risk, consider rescheduling your trip. Parks have limited staff and facilities available right now. If you reschedule when parks are fully staffed and programs are running again, you’re likely to have a better experience.

If you choose to visit the parks that are open during the pandemic, be especially mindful of your surroundings. Pack out your trash. Bring reusable water bottles and bags. Respect park resources and leave everything as you found it. Keep a safe distance from people and wildlife and set a good example for others.

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For more information on the Park Service response to COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, see the agency’s public health update. For more on specific park closures, the Park Service is urging the public to visit individual park websites. For guidance on protecting yourself and your family during the pandemic, see recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

About the author

  • Theresa Pierno President and CEO

    Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.