It seems we’ve entered the golden age of national park travel. While national parks in the United States have always been among the best family vacation spots for Americans and especially popular after the 2016 centennial, the coronavirus pandemic has sparked a whole new wave of travelers seeking the natural social distancing of the great outdoors.
Recreation.gov makes booking campsites (or other types of reservations, like permits) within the national park system a bit easier. It has booking capabilities for 280 campgrounds within national parks, including three campgrounds at Yellowstone National Park that were just added to the reservation system in March. For reference, there are roughly 3,600 bookable campsites on the platform, a sign of just how many options travelers have when it comes to camping beyond the boundaries of national parks, too.
In the past year and a half, the National Park Service, which lists all of its 423 units (ranging from national parks to historical sites) on Recreation.gov, added 1,800 campsites across 130 park units for advanced reservation access, said Tamara Delaplane, a project manager with the park service, during a recent virtual webinar.
Over the years, the park service has received some criticism for not maintaining park facilities because of a lack of funding and resources. This year, though, with money from the Great American Outdoors Act, campgrounds at parks like Yosemite National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks will be getting improvements. And Grand Teton National Park, Everglades National Park and many of Alaska’s national and state parks offer family glamping style accommodations in canvas tents or cabins, diversifying their camping options.
Private campsites and RV resorts tend to be plentiful around national parks, and an estimated 50,000 campground sites are being added in 2021, according to Al Johnson, an executive at Recreational Adventures Co., KOA’s largest franchisee. If traditional camping isn’t for you, glamping brands like Autocamp and Under Canvas announced new location openings for 2021 and 2022 near national parks including Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Zion.
New scenic byways near national parks
Even with new air routes, you still need a car to visit most national parks. The Federal Highway Administration added 49 new designations to America’s Byways collection, including 15 All-American Roads and 34 National Scenic Byways throughout 28 states. This is the first year since 2009 that new designations were added. Some are close to national parks, including the Zion Scenic Byway in Utah and the Cascades Loop in Washington.
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