The Best Guide to National Parks Reservations 2021

This year, several popular National Parks are requiring reservations in an effort to manage crowds, particularly in regard to the COVID pandemic.  This article will give you the when, what, and how of National Parks Reservations 2021.  Prior to visiting these destinations, check the park’s website for any recent updates.  

Granite rocks forms a U-shaped valley filled with greenery.  Yosemite's scenery make it a sought after National Parks Reservation 2021.
The stunning glacier-carved views of Yosemite Valley as seen from Glacier Point.

All reservations are made through Recreation.gov.  The reservation fee is separate from the regular park entrance fee that is charged at the gate.  Annual or lifetime National Park passes can be used to pay for park entrance fees but not for reservation fees. 

Acadia

Acadia National Park is a coastal treasure, located in Maine.  This gem is known for rocky beaches, scenic mountain views, and iconic lighthouses.  Cadillac Mountain is part of Mount Desert Island.  At 1,530 feet tall, it is the first place to experience sunrise on the East Coast from October to March.

  • National Park Reservations 2021: May 26 to October 19
  • Details:  Reservations required to drive a private vehicle to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. If you are visiting the mountain on foot or bicycle, you do not need a reservation.  There are two types of passes available – a Sunrise Pass (for entry from 3:30AM to 5:30AM) or Daytime Pass (for timed entry from 6:30AM to 8:30PM).   Tickets are by vehicle.

Carlsbad Caverns

These extraordinary caverns are located in Southeastern New Mexico, just over two hours from El Paso, Texas.  Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to 120 caves! This number can and does grow as park exploration continues.  The largest of these caves is Lechuguilla Cave at 140 miles deep. There is no public access to this cave. It is primarily accessed for scientific research.  Public visitors can access Carlsbad Cavern which is 30 miles deep.  Visitation is currently only available as a self-guided tour. Ranger-led tours are on hold.  Keep an eye out for bats.  17 species live on park grounds, three of which live in the caverns themselves!

  • National Park Reservations 2021: Ongoing
  • Details: Reservations are required to enter the caverns. Visitors must purchase reservations in advance.  There are no options to purchase tickets at the park.  Entry is available in designated time-slots.  Once inside, there is no time limit.  Tickets are per person.

Glacier

A dirt path meanders through green grass dotted with bear grass.  Mountain peaks line the horizon speckled with snow.
One of many scenic trails off of Going to the Sun Road.

The “Crown of the Continent” is a breathtaking mountain paradise located in Northeastern Montana.  This gorgeous park is a hikers paradise, full of endless opportunities to explore trails of all levels.  Glacier is also perfect for wildlife viewing.  Grizzly bears, moose, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and many other iconic species all reside here.  You can observe wildlife, mountain views, and even waterfalls from your car on some of the iconic park drives – the most famous of which is Going to the Sun Road.  Permits are required to enter Going to the Sun Road during peak times but are not required in other areas.

  • National Park Reservations 2021: May 28 to September 5
  • Details:  Entry Reservations are required to enter Going to the Sun Road during core hours (6AM to 5PM) from either entrance – West Glacier or St. Mary’s.  No reservations required for other sections of the park or for this section outside core hours. You can also enter if you have a Service Reservation (for lodging, camping, or an activity such as guided hike or horseback ride).  If visiting the Many Glacier section of the park, you do not need a reservation but should expect potential road construction delays.

Haleakelā

This otherworldly park is located on Maui, Hawai’i.  It’s name translates to “house of sun.” Take in a sunrise at Haleakelā Crater and you will have no doubt why.  This park offers incredible views of the volcanic crater, rare opportunities to observe native Hawai’ian wildlife, and vantage points to take in the famed spectacular sunrises.  If visiting for sunrise, be aware that it does get cold overnight. The park website recommends bringing extra layers.

  • National Park Reservations 2021: Ongoing, 3AM to 7AM
  • Details:  Reservations are necessary to view sunrise from the Summit District of the park.  This is the busiest time in the park. The limit is 50 vehicles per day for sunrise. Tickets are by vehicle.  Construction is underway on the Summit Road through the end of August (Monday – Friday, 7AM to 5PM).  Allow extra time if this is part of your plan.

Rocky Mountain

A female hiker in a coat, snowboots, and hat sits on a rock by a frozen lake surrounded by pine trees.  A tall mountain peak dominates the background. National Park Reservations 2021 are needed to visit Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Enjoying the view of Long’s Peak from Bear Lake.

This alpine oasis is located in Colorado, approximately an hour and a half outside of Denver.  Rocky Mountain National Park offers a unique opportunity to experience high-elevation ecosystems while exploring Trail Ridge Road.  On this road, visitors spend several miles above 11,000 feet and have an opportunity to view well-adapted wildlife that live in this tundra landscape.  In the southern portion of the park, the Bear Lake area is popular for its family friendly hiking options.

  • National Park Reservations 2021: May 28 to October 11
  • Details: Reservations are based on entry for assigned time-slots.  There are two types:
    • General:  Includes entry to all of RMNP between 9AM to 3PM except the Bear Lake section.   
    • Bear Lake Road:  Includes entry to this area as well as the entire park between 5AM and 6PM.

Yosemite

Granite cliffs frame a valley filled with a mixed of conifers.  A waterfall cascades over one of the cliffs on the right into the valley below.
Tunnel View offers a glimpse of Yosemite’s most iconic landmarks.

Located in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite has something for everyone.  Stunning waterfalls, hiking trails tailored to various abilities and crowd levels, majestic sequoias, and views that will stay with you long after you’ve returned home.  With so much to offer, it is no wonder that it is a popular place.  I may be a little biased since I used to live close by and know how much it has to offer.  

  • National Park Reservations 2021: May 21 to September 30
  • Details:  Reservations required to enter the park through all entrances. The amount of reservations available vary by the state of California’s official COVID-emergency status. Entry is valid for three consecutive days (between 5AM and 11PM) with a Recreation.gov daily pass or for the length of your stay if you have an in-park reservation, camping, or wilderness reservation.  Half Dome hiking permits allow day-of entry only.

National Parks Reservations 2021 Highlights

Conservation Considerations

If stuck in long lines in your vehicle or enjoying the view at a scenic roadside pullout, help reduce carbon emissions by turning your car off.  Glacier National Park is promoting a “Turn the Key, Be Idle Free” campaign this summer to raise awareness on this issue, including how the increase in carbon emissions impacts glaciers.

Useful URLs

Expeditions with Evelyn Exclusive (EEE)

  • The previous ticket requirements for the Zion Canyon Shuttle at Zion National Park are discontinued.  Access to the shuttle has returned to the regular in-park purchase system.

National Parks Reservations 2021 – What’s Next?

Do you have plans to visit any of these parks this year?  Let me know in the comments below!

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