One of the few delightful byproducts of the novel coronavirus pandemic has been relatively empty national parks. To avoid overcrowding, a few of them implemented advance reservation systems earlier this year.
In a typical summer, Yosemite National Park can be so overstuffed with tourists that it can be difficult to find a parking spot just to look at a distant mountain. In 2019, the park's facilities groaned under the weight of 4.59 million visitors. But in 2020, the National Park Service capped daily ticketing at just 1,700 vehicles in the Yosemite Valley—and it was heaven.
The photo above, which was taken in mid-July this year, was the result of those crowd control measures. It shows a beautifully uncluttered Merced River beneath Half Dome, at a spot that's normally jammed with families, shutterbugs, and RVs.
Securing tickets was not so heavenly. Would-be hikers and campers had to remember to log onto Recreation.gov on the first day of the month ahead of their hoped-for trips, and then they had to pray slots had not been snapped up for the chosen day. Only a few tickets were available for drive-up traffic.
Now that summer has passed and peak interest has crested, Yosemite is now losing the reservation requirement. As the northern California winter begins to creep into the national park, Yosemite will no longer require advance bookings for day use. Starting November 1, anyone can drive up, pay the admission fee ($35 per car, good for a week), and enjoy Yosemite without pre-arranging a slot. (Of course, in deepest winter, you might need to pre-plan the installation of tire chains.)
Mariposa County, which includes Yosemite and the surrounding towns, has logged 75 cases of Covid-19 since late April, with two fatalities.
If Covid-19 sticks around until summer 2021, we can probably expect the reservation system to return for another season. And that part, at least, might not be so bad, because thinning attendance made seeing one of America's most spectacular parks so pleasant that we'll be speaking fondly of the experience in future years—something we definitely can't say for most of what we've endured in 2020.