Planning to visit a national park? Here's what to know about reopening

As summer nears and states and businesses are opening back up, eager Americans are looking to get some fresh air and maybe go on a much-needed vacation.

But, as COVID-19 fears continue, many might be preferring to stay close to home and opt for road trips instead of air travel. One of the most popular ways to meet both of these criteria is to visit our national parks. So if you’re one of those planning to hit the old dusty trails this summer, here’s what to know before you go.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE SHARES SAFETY TIPS AS YELLOWSTONE REOPENS

Some states, like Montana, where entrances to Yellowstone are located, have lifted mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers. However, places like Florida still have them in effect.

Some states, like Montana, where entrances to Yellowstone are located, have lifted mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers. However, places like Florida still have them in effect. (iStock)

Research the state’s quarantine policies

National parks across the country may be reopening — but that might mean something different for out-of-state guests.

Some states, like Montana, where entrances to Yellowstone are located, have lifted mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers. However, places like Florida still have one in effect.

If coming from out-of-state, check your destination state’s protocols and plan ahead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently has a directory listing the health departments of each state to help get you started.

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Make sure the park is open

Just because the state is open, it doesn’t mean the national parks within it are, too.

Sites are reopening on a park-by-park basis with “support of NPS and Department of the Interior (DOI) leadership.” Among them are popular places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite (which reopened Thursday), among other high-traffic parks.

The National Park Service (NPS) advises prospective visitors to check NPS.gov to find a specific park’s current conditions.

Most parks that have reopened have only done so in a limited capacity, meaning facilities like bathrooms and places to buy snacks or drinks are still closed to visitors.

Most parks that have reopened have only done so in a limited capacity, meaning facilities like bathrooms and places to buy snacks or drinks are still closed to visitors. (iStock)

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Check what facilities are available

Most parks that have reopened have only done so in a limited capacity, meaning facilities like bathrooms and places to buy snacks or drinks are still closed to visitors.

If that is true of the park you are visiting, plan ahead — use a restroom before coming and carry in your own food and water. However, make sure you carry out everything you carry in, as trash facilities have also been limited due to the pandemic. Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, the NPS does maintain strict pack-in, pack-out rules to keep the parks clean.

Know your limits

According to the NPS website, guests are advised against trying overly challenging hikes or trails at the moment, while first responders and communities are focusing on responding to the pandemic.

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It should go without saying to steer clear of wildlife while visiting national parks. However, due to coronavirus concerns, maintaining a 6-foot (or more) distance from others should also be practiced to keep yourself, and them, safe.

It should go without saying to steer clear of wildlife while visiting national parks. However, due to coronavirus concerns, maintaining a 6-foot (or more) distance from others should also be practiced to keep yourself, and them, safe. (NPS)

Keep good personal hygiene

While visiting the park, you should be prepared with a mask and hand sanitizer or cleaning wipes (which, again, you will need to carry out with you, as bathroom facilities to wash your hands may be closed).

Though the NPS has not made mention of facial coverings being mandatory, its website does advise guests to “be prepared to cover your nose and mouth if you are near others.” If the park is particularly busy — as some have been upon reopening, guests should follow proper sanitary protocols like wearing a mask and maintaining distance.

Stay away from animals — and others

It should go without saying to steer clear of wildlife while visiting national parks. However, due to coronavirus concerns, maintaining a six-foot (or more) distance from others should also be practiced to keep yourself, and them, safe.

And if you need more help visualizing the amount of space you should leave, or just want to lighten up your trip, NPS created some cheeky pictorial guidelines to remind you to social distance.