Visiting a US National Park is so incredibly rewarding! Inside these picturesque lands are glaciers, mountains, oceans, alpine lakes, rainforests, seashores, remote islands, lakeshores, wild elk, bears, mountain lions, mountain goats, canyons, caves, sand dunes, and so much more.
What is so amazing about our public lands is the incredible diversity. There are coastlines, deserts, rainforests, glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, oceans, cliffs, and lakes. You can hike, camp, paddle, ski, backpack, sandboard, snowboard, and snowshoe. Sometimes, all within the same state! The possibilities are truly endless.
So if this sounds intriguing to you, and you are planning a visit to one (or many) of the United States National Parks in 2024, this National Parks visitor’s guide is for you.
In this National Parks travel guide, you will learn all of the new changes in 2024 that you need to be aware of. This includes which National Parks are on timed-entry reservations this year and what the free entrance days are. I’ll also share some tips for making the most of your National Parks trip!
PRO TIP: Before heading out on your National Parks adventure, be sure to purchase the America the Beautiful pass! For just $80, this pass gets you free access to over 2,000 public lands, including all 63 National Parks, for an entire year! Get yours from REI now – free shipping for members!
2024 US National Parks Visitor’s Guide
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Which National Parks Require Timed-Entry Reservations in 2024?
Timed entry passes kickstarted in 2020 as a way to tackle the record-shattering crowds and congestion on the roads and trails inside the parks.
To combat the surge in popularity and the skyrocketing visitation numbers, the NPS introduced a pilot timed entry system in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was in addition to the wilderness permits that were already in place for popular trails and backcountry campsites. A handful of other National Parks have followed suit since then as they all continue to see record numbers of visitors each year.
Here are some visitor statistics from 2023:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 13.2 million
- Grand Canyon National Park: 4.7 million
- Zion National Park: 4.6 million
- Yellowstone National Park: 4.5 million
- Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.1 million
- Yosemite National Park: 3.8 million
- Acadia National Park: 3.8 million
- Grand Teton National Park: 3.4 million
- Joshua Tree National Park 3.2 million
- Olympic National Park: 2.9 million
The trial run proved to be a success, achieving its goal of eliminating overcrowding at the gates, trailheads, and other popular areas, but the responses from visitors were mixed.
Some believed it was a good idea to combat the overloaded trails and congested roads while others believed it was simply an inconvenience.
I heard about one family who traveled across the country to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, and they were turned away at the gate because the family didn’t have a permit; they were unaware of the current system.
Very few parks mimic Rocky Mountain’s timed entry system, but it’s important to go online to the NPS website before embarking on your adventure so that there are no unfortunate surprises at the gate.
Acadia National Park
Vehicle reservations are required to drive Cadillac Summit Road from May 22 through October 27, 2024.
30 percent of the Cadillac Summit Road Sunrise and Daytime vehicle reservations will be available for purchase 90 days in advance of the reservation date.
70 percent of the Cadillac Summit Road Sunrise and Daytime vehicle reservations will be available for purchase at 10 am (ET) two days in advance of the reservation date.
You can reserve your timed entry pass on recreation.gov here.
For full details on Acadia’s timed-entry system for 2024, visit the Acadia NPS page.
Arches National Park
In 2024, a timed-entry vehicle reservation is required to enter the park between 7 am and 4 pm from April 1st through October 31st.
Visitors must reserve these $2 tickets in advance on a first-come first-served basis at recreation.gov beginning January 2nd at 8 am MST; tickets will not be available for purchase at the entrance station.
Reservations will be released three months in advance in monthly blocks. For example, on January 2nd, reservations will open for April 1 through April 30. On February 1st, reservations will open for the month of May and any remaining reservations that have not been booked for April. Additional months will continue the same pattern.
If you didn’t get a chance to snag a reservation, a limited number of next-day tickets will be available starting at 7 pm MDT on the day before entry on recreation.gov.
For the full news release of this entry system, visit the Arches NPS page.
Read my Complete Guide to Exploring Arches National Park for the best hikes, best things to do, where to stay, when to go, and more!
Glacier National Park
In 2024, a vehicle reservation is required for three areas of the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road, the North Fork, and Many Glacier. Each location has unique details and requires a separate reservation. According to the NPS, this pilot program is an effort to reduce congestion, improve visitor experience, and protect park resources.
You can reserve your tickets four months in advance. Reservations become available starting on January 25, 2024, at 8 am MST on a daily rolling basis.
Next Day vehicle reservations will be available at 7 pm MDT for next-day entry starting on May 23, 2024 on a daily rolling basis.
Visitors will need both a park pass and a vehicle timed-entry pass to enter these three roads during the date and time windows. I’ll share more about each road and its specific requirements below!
Going-to-the-Sun Road Reservation Requirements
From May 24th through September 8th, vehicle reservations are required for the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road between the hours of 6 am to 3 pm.
North Fork Reservation Requirements
From May 24th through September 8th, vehicle reservations are required for the North Fork between the hours of 6 am to 3 pm.
Many Glacier Reservation Requirements
From July 1 through September 8, vehicle reservations are required for Many Glacier between the hours of 6 am to 3 pm.
NOTE: You can enter the park before 6 AM or after 3 PM during these dates without a timed-entry reservation!
Haleakala National Park
Since observing sunrise from Haleakala Summit is so popular, anyone entering the park in a vehicle between 3 AM and 7 AM must have an advanced reservation. You only need one reservation per vehicle, and you will be guaranteed a parking spot at one of the four sunrise viewing areas at the summit.
For full details, visit the Haleakala NPS page.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Timed entry reservations are required to enter the park between May 24th and October 20th, 2024. Similar to last year, there are two types of permits: Bear Lake Corridor and “rest of the park.”
Two Types of Rocky Mountain Reservations in 2024:
- Park Access With Bear Lake Road Corridor. This permit will be for the Bear Lake Road Corridor, which includes the entire corridor, as well as access to the rest of the park. This reservation period will be from 5 AM to 6 PM.
- Park Access excluding Bear Lake Road Corridor. This permit will be for the “rest of the park,” excluding the Bear Lake Road corridor. This “rest of park” reservation period will be from 9 AM to 2 PM.
Reservations will go on sale May 1st at 8 AM MDT for May 24-June 30 dates at recreation.gov. The remaining reservations will go on sale the 1st of the month prior to the month you’re going. Permits issued using the reservation system will allow park visitors to enter the park within two-hour windows of availability, with no set time for departure. The reservation system will apply to all areas of the park. Unlike last year, 40% of all reservations will be made available the day prior at 5 pm through recreation.gov.
Yosemite National Park
Due to the popularity of the “firefall,” that happens annually in Yosemite, visitors are required to reserve a timed-entry pass to enter the park on the weekends in February.
Even if you won’t be viewing Horsetail Fall, reservations are required to enter the park on the following dates for all 24 hours:
- February 10-11, 2023
- February 17-19, 2023
- February 24-25, 2023
50% of day-use reservations will be available for all dates via Recreation.gov on December 1, 2023. And beginning at 8 AM PST two days prior to a day-use reservation date, the remaining 50% of reservations will be available. For example, on February 23 at 8 am, day-use reservations for February 25 will be available.
Fees are $2 and each user can make one reservation per day. You only need one reservation per vehicle regardless of how many people will be inside.
REMEMBER: A timed reservation ticket isn’t the same as an entrance pass. You must pay the entrance fee or show your America the Beautiful Pass or other valid pass to enter the park.
IMPORTANT: If you have lodging or camping reservations or a wilderness permit at one of these parks that require a timed-entry ticket, you do not need to reserve a timed-entry ticket to enter the park. Your reservations are your ticket. You just need to pay the entrance fee or show your entrance pass at the gate. Also, if you enter the parks on foot or by bicycle, you don’t need a timed reservation ticket.
National Parks Fee-Free Entrance Days in 2024
Each year the NPS announces a handful of free entrance days to celebrate various holidays and encourage everyone to get outdoors and explore our beautiful public lands!
Here are the NPS fee-free days in 2024:
- January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 20: First day of National Park Week
- June 19: Juneteenth National Independence Day
- August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 28: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
NOTE: Ironically, crowds are a real concern on these free entrance days. If you have an annual pass, it’s best to skip the parks on these days to allow those who don’t have the pass to enjoy them instead.
Don’t Forget Your America the Beautiful Pass
If you’re a “National Park-aholic” or are planning on visiting many of these public lands this year, then I’d highly recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass.
The park pass is honored by over 2,000 sites managed by the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Currently, 106 out of the 429 National Park sites charge an entrance fee, ranging from $5-$35. The $80 pass quickly pays for itself, so bring it along on your next adventure to avoid paying at the gates!
Also, all of the money from entrance fees remains in the National Park Service, and at least 80 percent stays in the park where it was collected.
Military, senior, and permanent disability discounts are available, and all fourth graders are eligible for a free pass! Read more about the America the Beautiful pass in my full guide here.
NOTE: If you live close to one particular National Park site and you only plan on visiting that park throughout the course of the year, ask a ranger at the front gate for a park-specific annual pass!
Plan Your National Parks Trip Ahead of Time
Spontaneity is one of the more attractive parts of a road trip. Deciding on a whim to hike a trail or enter a park that is not too far off the route could turn out to be the highlight of your trip.
But before you take off all the way across the country for one or two particular parks, be sure that there are no specific reservations, requirements, or permits that you need to buy or reserve ahead of time. If you drive twelve hours to a park and realize that a timed reservation ticket is required to enter or an advanced online permit is required to hike the most-anticipated trail of your trip, you will be disappointed.
To avoid those unwelcome surprises, glance at the NPS website for up-to-the-minute alerts and updates before heading to the park. Most campgrounds are booked out 6 months in advance and permits to popular trails and park entrances are sold out within minutes of going live.
That being said, adventure is out there. Surprises will pop up, and spontaneous decisions will need to be made; it’s an adventure after all! Just keep your eyes and ears open and be attuned to any and all opportunities that could come your way!
How to Make the Most of Your National Parks Trip This Year
Arrive before sunrise to ensure that you can snag a good parking spot and not be overwhelmed by hundreds of hikers at the trailheads. This is especially important on famous trails like Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or The Narrows in Zion National Park. People are showing up earlier and earlier every year not only to ensure that they can get a parking spot but to enjoy the trail in moderate solitude.
Stay until after sunset. Visitors tend to dwindle in the evening, and after sunset, most people leave. You will get to see the park in a way that few see it, and you will get to experience complete serenity and solitude under the stars.
→ READ NEXT: How to Avoid Crowds When Hiking
Gas Up and Pack Food
Bringing all of the food you’ll need into the park for the day makes it easier to see all of the things you want to see and hike all of the trails you want to hike with no interruptions. Gas up before you enter the park, too.
If you pack all of your food and have enough gas in your tank, you will avoid the unnecessary time that it takes to leave the park, find food or gas somewhere, and drive back. When you come back into the park, there could be a line to get in, or the roads and parking areas could be jammed.
Make the most of your time by bringing everything you need for the entire day: food, water, gas, and gear.
If you’re interested, some parks have food and gas options within their boundaries, so research that before you arrive!
→ READ NEXT: 8 Tips for Visiting National Parks on a Budget
Ask a Ranger For Tips
The first thing you should do upon your arrival at one of the National Parks is to stop by the visitor center and kindly interrogate a ranger. They will grant you valuable information regarding current conditions, possible closures, best trails for your particular skill level, and must-sees and must-dos.
If you’re lucky, they may even spill a secret spot or two!
Visit Lesser-Known Parks
Did you know there are 425 National Parks in the NPS system? While only 63 of them are designated “National Parks,” there are 362 other beautiful parks to see within NPS boundaries with designations like National Monument, National Seashore, National National Recreation Area, etc.
Fewer people visit these because they don’t have one of the coveted 63 National Parks titles. It’s a known fact that when a park transforms from a title like National Monument to a National Park, visitation numbers immediately skyrocket; but nothing’s changed other than the title!
So while there’s a reason people visit the 63 National Parks, and you absolutely SHOULD see them all (even the least-visited ones), consider visiting more of the parks within the NPS system.
Also, expand your National Parks road trip by stopping by state parks; some of these are just as spectacular as National Parks.
- Some lesser-known National Parks to visit: Isle Royale National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Congaree National Park, and Great Basin National Park.
- Some lesser-known NPS sites to visit: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Craters of the Moon National Monument, and Colorado National Monument.
- Some state parks to visit: Dead Horse Point State Park, Valley of Fire State Park, Eldorado Canyon State Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park.
Leave No Trace
As always, recreate responsibly and follow the seven Leave No Trace Principles no matter where in the US you plan on adventuring this year.
- Plan Ahead & Prepare
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
National Park Road Trip Ideas
Ready to go explore the National Parks? Here are some of my road trip recommendations!
- Washington National Parks Road Trip
- Florida National Parks Road Trip
- Utah Mighty Five National Parks Itinerary
- Arizona National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
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