The U.S. National Parks have waived their entrance fees, however, many have shut down to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While some are closing in entirety and many are shuttering visitor centers and interpretive programs, there are still some where you can enjoy some fresh air and a scenic hike. As things are changing daily, keep in mind that it’s important to double-check before you go in case of any last-minute changes.
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Zion National Park, Utah
One of the best national parks to visit in spring, Zion brings roaring waterfalls due to the rapidly melting snow while the vast canyon walls soar into the sky and the endless miles of trails to hike bring views of the colorful pink and orange canyons and sandstone cliffs. Glimpses of green offer a striking contrast against the orange rock that glistens in the sun, and wildflowers brighten the landscape even further. While shuttle operations are on hold, the park itself remains open, including the West Rim Trail, and visitors will be allowed to drive up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive until the parking area in the main canyon is full.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Located near Tuscon, Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor. While restrooms are closed, visitors can come if they “pack it in and pack it out,” with outdoor spaces, like trails and campsites, remaining open. Provided you practice social distancing, this is the time of year you’ll not only see the cacti but lots of colorful wildflowers in bloom like desert marigolds, gold Mexican poppy and red penstemons. There are also prehistoric petroglyphs to explore, historic sites and wildlife to watch for like coyotes, desert tortoises and javelinas in the lower elevations, and the Mexican spotted owl, deer and black bear in the park’s upper elevations.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is closed to vehicle traffic, but bikers and hikers can still enjoy it. There are open camping areas on public lands adjacent to the park as well as local private RV parks available for parking. This is a favorite time of year in Joshua Tree with lots of sun and idyllic temperatures with afternoons ranging from 80 to 85 degrees, while wildflowers create a kaleidoscope of color across the region. The higher elevations typically bring blooms in March and April, while plants in lower areas may bloom as late as June. When there’s enough spring rain, you’ll see the tall, spindly vine cacti bust with gorgeous crimson flowers. The park’s 18 species of lizards are often out and about now too, basking in the sunshine on the boulders.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Death Valley National Park, California
In the spring, Death Valley is filled with life, often displaying spectacularly vibrant wildflowers that include gold, purple, pink or white flowers during a good year. Visitors can also check out the sailing stones that weigh around 700 pounds and mysteriously move across the sandy surface of the playa on their own – sometimes at a distance of more than 650 feet, leaving visible tracks in their wake. During the coronavirus, visitor centers are restrooms are closed but the park is open on a pack-in and pack-out basis to keep outdoor spaces safe and healthy.
Denali National Park, Alaska
The visitor centers at Denali National Park are closed until further notice, including the Winter Visitor Center, Sled Dog Kennels, and Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station; however, public spaces throughout the park remain open including trails. The Denali Park Road is currently open to Mile 3 at the Park Headquarters as wintry conditions beyond that prevent vehicle travel, although pedestrian travel is permitted.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Restrooms, facilities and some campgrounds have been closed at North Cascades National Park, however, trails remain open. One of the best national parks in the U.S., it’s just three hours north of Seattle and boasts some of the most pristine wilderness areas in the country outside of Alaska. It’s home to the largest concentration of glaciers with more than 300 and offers many beautiful trails like Boston Basin, a rocky, un-maintained route ascends directly onto the Quien Sabe Glacier. Abundant wildlife can be spotted along the way like bald eagles, moose, black and grizzly bear, gray wolf and cougar.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Located some 300 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Great Basin National Park lies along the eastern border of Nevada. Its isolation and desert air results in some of the darkest night skies in the nation, complete with meteors, countless stars and all five planets. While Lower Lehman Creek Campground, restrooms, Lehman Caves Visitor Center and Lehman caves and tours are closed, outdoor spaces and park trails will remain open provided proper social distancing is maintained. The scenic routes here lead to pristine mountain lakes and ancient pine forests where you can walk for hours without seeing another soul.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
The deepest lake in the country at nearly 2,000 feet deep, sits within one of the parks that will stay open without entrance fees for the foreseeable future; however, guided walks have been canceled. It is still possible to see the lake with its gloriously tranquil waters reflecting the mountain peaks like a massive dark blue mirror. Until the snow melts, enjoy a snowshoe walk or cross-country ski on your own. The Rim Cafe and Gift Shop are also open, although food will be take-out only and can’t be eaten inside.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Lassen National Park, California
A miniature version of Yellowstone National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park has been called “The West’s most beautiful, least visited wonderland,” as one of the few spots in the world that boasts incredible hydrothermal features along with four types of volcanos. Several groups of hot springs and fumaroles are remnants of former volcanic activity, and there are also jagged peaks, clear alpine lakes and lush wildflower-filled meadows. While the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center is closed and ranger-led programs are canceled, all outdoor areas of the park remain open. Be aware that snow often closes Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, but it’s usually open around the start of summer.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
While campgrounds and restrooms are closed, this park is home to the largest expanse of old-growth forest in the country and some of the tallest trees in the east, providing more than 25 miles of trails for viewing them. Visitors can also marvel at the trees along waterways in a kayak or canoe. Much of the park becomes submerged underwater after heavy rain – nearly 90 percent of it in fact. When there’s flooding between mid-May and mid-June, a remarkable spectacle of synchronous fireflies can be witnessed as well.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park is open and entrance fees have been waived, however, visitor centers are closed and shuttle operations have been suspended. There are some open campgrounds and trails that can be hiked, allowing you to enjoy various perspectives of the massive canyon that measures in at an average width of 10 miles, a depth of one mile and length of 277 miles. Expect river trips and other attractions to be closed, by stargazing will be just as impressive as ever.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
While facilities and restrooms at Badlands National Park are closed, the park and its trails are open. Drive one of America’s most scenic routes, the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, which stretches for 31 miles along Highway 240, passing through dramatic cliffs, buttes and multi-colored spires in a labyrinth of the other-worldly-like landscape. There are eight trails for exploring more in-depth along with 15 overlooks. Just west of this park is Custer State Park where you can take a drive along a wildlife loop to view beautiful scenery and spot all sorts of animals like bison, bighorn sheep, wild donkeys, antelope, wild turkey, bald eagles and more.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
While visitor centers and entrance stations are closed, Shenandoah National Park’s more than 500 miles of trails and all 105 miles of Skyline Drive are open and entrance fees are temporarily suspended. Picnicking and hiking is still on, provided people keep social distancing rules in mind. Enjoy breathtaking scenery that includes awe-inspiring mountain vistas and magnificent waterfalls practically all to yourself.