When will our National Parks re-open?

This morning I received a coronavirus update for Rocky Mountain National Park from the concessions manager. The italics are mine:

In accordance with guidance from the White House, CDC, state and local public health authorities, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are working to gradually resume operations and access to national parks in a safe manner. The National Park Service will continue to work with state and local officials as these changes are implemented.

The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners continues to be paramount. Our operational approach will be to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance.

Park staff are going through that decision and planning process now. At this time, it is unknown when the exact date of a phased reopening of Rocky Mountain National Park will occur.

Last week I received a similarly vague update from Yosemite, as well as a request for feedback from organizations with Commercial Use Authorizations (CUA’s). Again, italics are mine:

We are working on plans for a phased reopening. There is no start date as of yet.

I’m asking a few of our CUA holders to email me with information about what you plan to do when the park is re-opened to commercial use. As you know, [when] facilities and businesses begin to [re-open] they will be operating differently due to continued requirements to protect the public from exposure to Covid-19.

We are looking at ways to allow visitors to enjoy the park but keep exposure to a minimum. If you could take a few minutes to reply I’d appreciate it.

I’ve read news articles about the re-opening of other National Parks (e.g. Glacier), and all accounts seem consistent. Essentially, NPS is saying, “We’re figuring it out, but we’re not there yet, and your National Parks experience in 2020 will probably be different than what you’re used to.”

A lush wildflower-filled meadow in upper East Inlet.

For the iconic parks in the Mountain West, the coronavirus outbreak has so far been inconvenient but not catastrophic — the start of peak summer traffic is still 6-8 weeks away. But like every organization, each park unit must rethink all its systems before it can reopen, including employee housing, entry fee collection, food and retail service, and backcountry permit pickup. And what will be done about high-use attractions like Bear Lake and the Mist Trail, where social distancing would ordinarily be impractical?

A lot of summer fun is dependent on the reopening of our parks — and a lot of livelihoods, too, including my own. I hope they figure it out soon, and figure it out right.

Posted in on April 28, 2020


  1. Allison Gonzalez on April 28, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you for the update. I’ve been watching the Grand Canyon since before it closed mostly out of curiosity since I was on the AZT in March. I won’t lie, I’m happy to see all the creatures feeling free to roam without humans around but there are still a lot of parks I want to hike and backpack. I can wait. 🙂

  2. bcap on April 29, 2020 at 6:59 am

    The guidance I am getting from my federal agency in Boulder (not NPS) is similar. This is the message I received (paraphrased): ‘We will do a phased reopening when certain poorly defined metrics are achieved. When we reopen things will still be far from normal. If you have any questions please ask — but don’t expect me to have answers.’

    I don’t necessarily fault anyone for things being poorly defined right now. But I wish they’d stop issuing ‘guidance’ and having meeting to discuss until they have somewhat concrete information…

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