Visiting America’s National Parks in 2021

International travel is mostly on pause, however, many Americans flocked to our nation’s national parks this past year. But with many cities and states asking residents to stay home and new coronavirus cases still being reported, especially in areas in which these parks are located, is it responsible for travelers to visit?

The CDC continues to warn that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading Covid-19 and staying at home is the safest way to protect yourself and others.

Many health experts agree that if you do travel always wear a mask when in public, wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, maintain a distance of 6 feet or more between you and others, and only visit relatively uncrowded spots that are fairly low risk.

State or city-mandated travel restrictions change frequently and keeping up with the latest rules can be a challenge. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut now require visitors from 36 states plus Puerto Rico and Guam) with high rates of Covid-19 cases to self-quarantine for 14 days. Puerto Rico requires a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. Be sure to check the particular guidelines for the state that you will be traveling into and what is required upon return to your home state.

According to National Park Service data, Yellowstone National Park saw record numbers with a 20 percent increase in visits in September 2020 compared to 2019. Overall visitor numbers are still down across most parks, but the trend of traveling to America's national parks is expected to be popular well into 2021.

The good news is that the National Parks Service is continuing its tradition of offering six free days in 2021 for visitors across all 108 national parks, monuments, historic sites, and preserves.

The entrance fee to most parks is usually around $35 per car. Visitors still have to pay activity and amenity fees for things like camping, in-park transportation, and boat launches.

The free dates for 2021 are as follows:

January 18

April 17

August 4

August 25

September 25

November 11

If those dates don’t fit your itinerary or you are worried about crowds, consider purchasing a Lifetime Senior Pass for $80 if you’re age 62 and above. Available from the National Park Service, it is a great way to support the good work they perform taking care of our national parks and it makes a great gift too! I just bought a membership for my husband for his birthday.

For anyone under the age of 62,  the America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs just $80 and covers all entrance fees at the national parks and national wildlife refuges, plus standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands. It’s good for up to four adults in a car.

Covid-19 is a serious health risk and should be given significant consideration when deciding to travel to any of our national parks. If you don’t feel safe traveling, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your wanderlust without leaving home as highlighted in this article.

Since studies show that Covid-19 can be spread by people who don’t exhibit any symptoms, I feel that it’s always a good idea to self-quarantine for 14 days or get a COVID-19 test before you travel any distance from your own home. After all, it’s the responsible thing to do for others as well as yourself and your family.