Visiting a national park in 2021 is a completely different experience. Some national parks require reservations or entry permits, while others may have limited services. And then there are the crowds. People are being turned away from Arches National Park at 8 AM because the entrance line backs up to the highway, and when we visited Glacier National Park last week there was no parking at Logan Pass at 8 AM. Usually getting to a national park early in the morning will give you the edge, but that’s not always the case in 2021.
And then there’s the food issue. Most national parks have limited food options to begin with, but in 2021 there are even fewer restaurants open. And with more people visiting national parks this year, this means one thing — long lines for food.
So what’s a traveler to do? Plan ahead. Take along some meals and snacks. Pack up the camp stove and prepare lunch or dinner at a national park picnic area (double check to make sure that camp stoves are allowed). Stop at one of the gateway cities and pick up a sandwich at a deli. And if the deli is busy, pop in to a grocery store to see what they have on hand.
And if you’re staying in a gateway city, you’ll also need to plan ahead for your meals. Resources are strained in these small communities, and some restaurants are closed, while others have limited hours. And with the increased national park visitation, they just can’t handle the crowds. Last week in Whitefish, Montana (a Glacier National Park gateway city) the shortest wait for dinner was 1.5 hours. Even the fast food restaurants were suffering. The McDonalds dining room was closed and it took at least a half-hour to snake through the Whitefish drive-through.
On the plus side, most hotel rooms have microwaves and refrigerators, so bring along some frozen entrees and dine in your room. Granted, it’s not very sexy, but it will save you a lot of time, and maybe even a little money. And to be honest it’s what Charles and I do when we are on the road working.
Advance planning is essential for any 2021 National Park visit.
Here are a few resources to help.
2021 National Park Restrictions
2021 National Park Shuttles Adjusted for COVID-19