Over the past few years, several of the most popular national parks in the United States have begun requiring advance reservations—not just for congested drives and hiking trails but in some cases for entering the parks in the first place.
The aim in implementing national park reservations, according to the National Park Service, is to control overcrowding and the negative effects it can have on park resources, public safety, the visitor experience, and vacation pics marred by randos blocking your view of the sunrise on Haleakala (okay, we added that last one).
Not every park has gone the required-reservations route. Not even every busy park has gone the required-reservations route, with notable holdouts including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. After mandating summer reservations starting in 2020, Yosemite National Park later dropped the rule (though reservations made a brief return during Horsetail Fall's "firefall" phenomenon in February 2023).
Note that we're referring here to advance national park reservations for entry or access to drives and trails. No matter the park, separate reservations may be required for stuff like camping and backcountry hiking.
For the parks listed below, travelers hoping to visit in spring, summer, or early autumn of 2023 will need to secure reservations ahead of time—usually way ahead of time—via Recreation.gov.
Though the reservation itself will likely be billed as free, you'll still need to pay the park's entrance fee if it has one and you'll probably also have to pay a small fee ($2 is standard) to Recreation.gov for processing. (According to The Wall Street Journal, Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that runs Recreation.gov, is making millions off those fees, the bulk of which go to Booz Allen and not toward maintaining the parks.)
Pro tip: Well before your vacation, go to the official government website of the park you'd like to visit and read up on the entry requirements. Decide on the dates when you'd like to go, and then create an account at Recreation.gov now so that you can quickly grab a reservation as soon as it becomes available—spots fill up quickly for the busiest parks.
Here are the national parks that require reservations in 2023, along with instructions for snagging a slot.
(View from Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park in Maine | Credit: Anne Kitzman / Shutterstock)
Acadia National Park, Maine
You don't need a reservation to enter the park, but vehicle reservations are required to drive the extremely popular Cadillac Summit Road from May 24 through October 22.
To accommodate the road's repaving project, reservations will only be available 2 days in advance from May 24 through June 30. Starting July 1, 30% of timed tickets can be booked 90 days in advance; the rest will be available starting at 10am ET 2 days in advance of the reservation date.
For more information: nps.gov/acad
For more planning tips: Frommer's Maine Coast
Arches National Park, Utah
To enter the park (pictured at the top of this page) from 7am to 4pm from April 1 through October 31, you'll need a timed entry ticket from Recreation.gov, which charges a $2 processing fee. To enter the park, you'll also have to pay a fee of $30 per vehicle.
On the first of each month, reservations open at 8am MT for dates 3 months in advance—so, for example, reservations for August 2023 become available May 1.
Additionally, a limited number of reservations will be made available each day at Recreation.gov starting at 6pm MT for the following day.
Visitors who have already booked passes for camping, backcountry access, and guided Fiery Furnace activities do not need to make another reservation for park entry.
Another loophole: Entering the park outside of the 7am–4pm window does not require a timed ticket. Not only is Arches less crowded in the early morning and late afternoon, but it's also not as sweltering.
For more information: nps.gov/arch
For more planning tips: Frommer's EasyGuide to Moab, Arches & Canyonlands
(Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana's Glacier National Park | Credit: EdwinM / Shutterstock)
Glacier National Park, Montana
From May 26 through September 10, cars will need tickets to hit the Going-to-the-Sun Road via the park's western entrance or to reach the North Fork area from 6am to 3pm. Starting July 1 and lasting through September 10, accessing the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the east-side entrances and visiting the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas will also require advance reservations, also from 6am to 3pm each day. (Those parts of the park will be reservation-free outside of that daily window.)
As at Arches, visitors who already have passes for camping and other activities will not need additional reservations.
Glacier reservations open at Recreation.gov on the first of the month for 4 months in advance—so September's dates will become available May 1.
Starting May 25, a limited number of next-day reservations will be available at Recreation.gov each day at 8am MT.
Glacier National Park's entrance fee is $35 per vehicle.
For more information: nps.gov/glac
(Sunrise at Halekala National Park in Hawaii | Credit: LUC KOHNEN / Shutterstock)
Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Reservations are only required from 3am to 7am each day.
For more information: nps.gov/hale
For more planning tips: Frommer's Hawaii
(Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado | Credit: Bryce Bradford / Flickr)
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain's reservations system goes into effect this year May 26, lasting through October 22.
Similar to the 2022 program, there will be two types of reservations available. One pass covers the Bear Lake Road Corridor along with the rest of the park from 5am to 6pm; the other is for the "rest of the park" only, minus the Bear Lake Road Corridor, from 9am to 2pm.
Reservations open at Recreation.gov ($2 processing fee required) at 8am MT on the first of each month for the following month's entry dates (dates for June become available on May 1, for instance).
Additionally, some slots will be made available at Recreation.gov each day at 5pm MT for the following day. This year, the park plans to set aside 40% of all reservations for next-day bookings.
Rocky Mountain's 1-day entrance fee is $30 per vehicle.
For more information: nps.gov/romo
(Hiking Old Rag Mountain at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia | Credit: Andrew Gittis / Shutterstock)
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Entering Shenandoah doesn't require an advance booking, but to visit Old Rag Mountain, including via the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access hiking trails, you'll need a day-use ticket from March through November 30.
Old Rag tickets cost $1 apiece, not counting the park's entrance fee of $30 per vehicle.
A total of 800 Old Rag tickets will be issued for each day. Half of them will be made available at Recreation.gov 30 days in advance of each date; the other half will be available 5 days before each date. Bookings open at 10am ET.
For more information: nps.gov/shen
(View from Angels Landing at Zion National Park in Utah | Credit: Tobias Alt [GFDL] / Wikimedia Commons)
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is another park that doesn't require reservations for entry but does now require a permit for a popular hike: the 5.5-mile Angels Landing trail to a narrow ridge with a spectacular view of Zion Canyon.
To apply for a permit, you have to pay a nonrefundable $6 to enter a lottery at Recreation.gov, which unlocks dates on a seasonal basis. Permits for June 1 through August 31 opened April 1; autumn dates will become available July 1.
There's also a lottery for a limited number of next-day permits.
Zion's entrance fee is $35 per vehicle.
For more information: nps.gov/zion
For more planning tips: Frommer's Utah