Staff and visitors must now wear masks in federal buildings and facilities, as well as at outdoor attractions where distancing isn't possible.
Earlier today, the Department of the Interior officially announced it will require masks for employees, visitors, partners and contractors at national park sites. This policy complies with President Joe Biden’s January 20 executive order requiring masks and physical distancing on federal lands and in federal buildings.
Today’s announcement means that parks have a uniform level of protection for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. NPCA urges potential visitors to travel responsibly and to remember that it is still important to take precautions.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown just how much people value their public lands and waters. Some parks have seen record numbers of visitors this year as people have sought opportunities for solace and recreation in the outdoors. COVID-19 has also significantly changed how the National Park Service operates, as superintendents and other park managers have sought to keep staff and communities safe in the face of rising infections. Experiencing national parks now is unlike any other time in history, and it is critical we remain vigilant in our efforts to keep workers and vulnerable populations safe, in addition to ourselves and our families.
Visitors should keep in mind that they might not have the same full park experience they could have had before the pandemic. Many historic sites and indoor locations remain closed completely. Some parks have closed entrances to help protect surrounding communities such as Native American nations that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Ranger tours may be limited or cancelled, especially in enclosed areas such as buildings and caves. Expect — and respect — trail, viewpoint, restroom, visitor center and other facility closures and be as flexible as possible to accommodate these changes.
With planning and preparation, visitors can still find ways to adventure responsibly in our parks.
Protect Yourself and Others
Face masks are now required in all National Park Service buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on National Park Service-managed lands where physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as narrow or busy trails, overlooks and historic homes. Some public health experts even recommend wearing two masks at once to increase protection from new variants of COVID-19 that are more easily spread. Bring extra masks with you and keep your face covered to help protect yourself, park staff, fellow park visitors and surrounding communities.
Maintain physical distances of at least six feet with anyone who is not in your household.
Be sure to discard disposable masks in appropriately marked trash bins.
Know Before You Go
The National Park Service implemented timed and ticketed entry and reservation systems last year at some of the most heavily visited parks, including Rocky Mountain and Yosemite National Parks, to address crowding during the pandemic. Other parks such as Zion have implemented timed access to its shuttle system. Visit recreation.gov or the website for the national park you plan to visit to see if your next destination has a timed entry system in place.
Many national park lodgings, restaurants and concessions aren’t running at full capacity, which means there may be limited in-park food options. Consider bringing in your own food and drinks, particularly at more remote parks — and don’t forget to take your trash with you when you leave! Parks are becoming overrun with waste from takeout and other food containers.
Many national parks are in remote areas with limited health care facilities to handle serious COVID outbreaks. Any strain on local hospitals could have serious consequences for community health care. Check local health guidelines and warnings before visiting a park outside your state or county.
Find the Hidden Gems
Park roads, trails, overlooks and other features are designed to connect visitors to specific attractions like rivers, waterfalls, cultural artifacts and historical sites, which naturally leads to crowding at some parks’ most popular spots. This could make social distancing difficult. Consider seeking out less traveled roads and trails. You will have a better chance of experiencing the solitude you may be seeking and might even increase your chances of spotting wildlife.
Better yet, visit a less popular park! There are more than 400 national park sites across the country, from battlefields and monuments to historic sites and lakeshores. Find the full list at nps.gov.
- From what to pack to what kind of sunscreen to wear, do your homework to learn how to help protect parks during your next visit. See NPCA’s list of 10 ways you can adventure responsibly.
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About the author
Amy Hagovsky Senior Vice President, Communications
As Senior Vice President of Communications, Amy Hagovsky leads NPCA’s media and outreach efforts including earned media, social media and online advocacy.