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National Parks In The U.S. Are So Crowded, They All May Become Reservation Only

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As more Americans are traveling domestically and embracing the outdoors, National Parks in the United States have never been so popular. They are seeing a record number of visitors, which has led to traffic jams, increased trash, and vandalism.

In an effort to protect the parks from the negative impacts of overtourism, congress is stepping in and looking at various efforts including reservations only.

National Parks In The U.S. Are So Crowded Congress Is Stepping In

Congress Met Today To Discuss Overtourism In The Parks

Overtourism happens when more than a manageable amount of visitors come to a park, leading to environmental impacts.

June and July 2021 set monthly attendance records in many parks, leading to multi-hour waits for popular trails, increased trash, wildlife disruption, and defacement of American Indian artifacts, according to Kristen Brengel, senior vice president at the National Parks Conservation Association.

tourists grand canyon

“The growth in visitation is posing one of the greatest challenges NPS has ever faced,” she said.

Today, the USA Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a meeting to discuss solutions to help curb overtourism at national parks. 

“It's great to see so many Americans are taking advantage of these parks,” said Sen. Angus King of Maine, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.

 “That is, after all, why we protect these lands in the first place. However, at the same time, we must recognize that overcrowding at the parks itself can degrade the natural resources and wildlife that these units are designed to protect.”

crowds yosemite

One solution is a reservation system implemented by Glacier National Park in Montana and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado this summer.

Although this system has improved the situation at Glacier National Park, it has frustrated those without tickets.

glacier national park

Other parks have restricted private vehicles and provided shuttle services in certain areas to alleviate parking and traffic bottlenecks. However, in Zion, waiting times for shuttles have gotten to as high as four hours.

While it’s unclear what actions the committee will take on the issue, the discussion is open, and all parties agreed something must be done.

“I know there is a path forward that we can build through collaboration and input from the local level,” King said. “We don't have a predetermined solution … we're starting this hearing with a predetermined problem that we want to address on behalf of the American people.”

Zion national park

 In the meantime, travelers should expect busy crowds and long wait times at the most popular parks, as visitation rates show no sign of slowing down.

“There is no reason to believe increased visitation will let up anytime soon,” said Brengel. 

“The changing nature of visits and visitors to parks due to the pandemic, increasing types of recreation, climate change, extended shoulder seasons and shrinking off-seasons, and the increase in remote work opportunities mean many parks are likely to continue to see increasing visitation in the coming years.”

Morning Glory pool, Yellowstone National Park

How Can Travelers Help?

Visitors can play a role in reducing crowds and protecting parks by following the outdoor code of Leave No Trace. 

Christine Hoyer, a backcountry management specialist with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said leave no trace boils down to respecting the land and resources, respecting the things that live on the land, and respecting other visitors.

giant sequoia tree

“It's real easy to think … ‘That's not a big deal. It's just me,'” Hoyer said of seemingly harmless actions like wandering off designated trails.

“As soon as one person steps off a trail and follows a path somewhere, then compaction happens on the ground, and not only do other people see that and follow it, but water follows it.” 


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