These U.S. Parks Require Winning the Lottery to Visit
Many of us may be feeling the itch to travel after staying home for almost a year as we continue living through a pandemic. When it is safe to travel again, it’s possible that our travel priorities have shifted. Maybe you prefer to spend more time outdoors. If you're wanting to get out more in nature and visit specific parks or recreation areas, you’re going to need to do some extra planning. Several U.S. parks require entering and winning a lottery to have the opportunity to visit, such as reaching the summit of Half Dome or rafting down the San Juan River. Implementing a lottery is one way to minimize human impact on fragile ecosystems by reducing crowds and traffic.
Please make sure you check for any COVID-19 pandemic restrictions before you plan or depart on any trip.
San Juan River, Utah
Floating or rafting down the San Juan River in southeast Utah may be high on your list, especially if you want to traverse through splendid red rock canyons full of history and wildlife. A permit is required between Montezuma Creek and Clay Hills Crossing, comprising 102 miles of the river. Some sections of the river are known for being calm and mellow, while other parts of the river require boating and rafting skills to navigate Class II to III rapids.
How to enter: Lottery opens from December to the end of January for trips launching April 15 - July 15. Applicants will be informed on February 16. Any cancelled or unclaimed trips are released to reserve online starting March 16. Trips from July 16- December 31 also become available for advanced reservation.
Costs: A $6 non-refundable fee for lottery or advanced reservations. There are additional permit fees with varying prices, depending on the river segment, as well as if you camp or hike within the Navajo Nation section of the river.
Snake River in Hells Canyon Oregon, Washington and Idaho
The majestic Snake River ebbs and flows through the deepest river-carved gorge in North America, known as Hells Canyon. Nestled between eastern Oregon and Washington and western Idaho, Hell’s Canyon is popular for braving rapids from Class II to Class V. There are also sections of the river for relaxing float trips. With the help of binoculars, you can often spot the great blue heron or bighorn sheep. Three private launches are allowed per day with no more than 24 people per group or launch (depending on type of watercraft), as well as two commercial launches during the primary season, from the end of May through September 10th each year.
How to enter: Lottery opens in December and the application closes at the end of January. On March 16, any permits unclaimed or cancelled are released to the public and are available to reserve online.
Costs: A non-refundable $6 fee to enter the lottery. If awarded a permit, there are no (additional) entrance fees.
Half Dome Cables, Yosemite California
The striking granite dome that rises about 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley is a symbol of this National park. For many hikers and mountain climbers, reaching the top is a rite of passage. But this 10-12 hour hike isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s a strenuous trail and requires hikers to be in good physical health. The last 400 feet may seem to be the hardest part requiring the famous cables to ascend to the summit but it’s only one of the many challenges.
How to enter: The preseason lottery is open from March 1-March 31 with around 225 permits offered each day. Daily lotteries occur from May 31- October 13 (though dates subject to change) with a two day advanced window. So if you want to hike on a Tuesday, you need to apply on Sunday and hope you get lucky. Fifty permits are usually allotted per day.
Costs: There is a $10 non-refundable fee to partake in the lottery. If selected, you will incur a $10 permit fee per person for a specific day.
Grand Canyon Rafting, Arizona
Rafting down the Colorado River through the incredible Grand Canyon may be a dream come true. But you’re definitely going to need to plan in advance to have a chance at the unique view from the water. Self-guided tours, often referred to as private rafting, are available via the weighted lottery.
Because the river is challenging and technical, the National Park Service requires that at least one person in the group has whitewater rafting experience and skills to navigate the river.
How to enter: The lottery takes place for three weeks in February for the opportunity to choose up to 5 specific dates for the following year. If there are cancellations by winners or unclaimed trips, applicants can partake in additional lotteries. But hopefuls will need to be attentive to their email as extra lotteries have a super short window, usually two days, to enter.
Costs: Applying to the lottery incurs a non-refundable $25 fee. If you win a launch date, you’ll be required to pay a deposit confirming your spot and will go towards covering additional expenses, including a park entrance fee and river permit per person.
Coyote Buttes North (The Wave), Utah
Coyote Buttes North is most well-known for the The Wave, an impressive geological sandstone formation, located within the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Permits are required to access this undeveloped area and is considered the backcountry—there are no designated trails or bathrooms. Permit-holders should be in good physical health to hike the challenging 6.4 round-trip trail. A maximum of 64 people are allowed to enter the park each day and in groups of up to six people.
How to enter: The lottery opens on the first of each month for the chance to get a day use permit four months later. For example, if you apply during the month of April, if you “win” a permit, you’ll be given a date in August. There are two lottery systems: advanced online and walk-in. The advanced lottery awards permits for forty-eight people or 12 groups per day and up to sixteen people can get lucky in the walk-in lottery. Each person must be listed on the permit, including babies, and pay an entrance fee.
Cost: The lottery costs a non-refundable $9 application fee. If you are granted a permit, the cost per person is $7.
Havasupai Falls, Arizona
Havasupai Falls is part of the Grand Canyon system in Arizona but it is technically outside the park in tribal land that belongs to the Havasupai tribe. It is a known bucket-list hike for hikers and campers who want to experience the beautiful blue water falling over the canyon. In order to hike the canyon, people are required to have a reservation of at least 3 nights, so people should be comfortable with distance hiking.
How to enter: The lottery closes on February 1 each year, though it is closed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Welcome to America's newest National Park: New River Gorge!
America's Best Idea is welcoming a new park to the National Park system. New River Gorge National Park was designated as the United State's 63rd National Park. New River Gorge is the first National Park in the great state of West Virginia. It sits on the southeast corner of the state. Despite its name, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world. It has carved beautiful canyons out of the Appalachian Mountains, and is a prime spot for adventure travelers. It boasts some of the best whitewater rafting in the USA, and offers some prime climbing and hiking trails. New River Gorge also offers plenty of wildlife, as it offers some of the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world. The nearest major cities to New River Gorge are Roanoke Va, Knoxville Tn, and Cincinnati Ohio. For more information, visit the NPS site.
Yosemite National Park is open for day-use only
Yosemite National Park has announced that "In support of California Regional Stay-at- Home order, as of noon on Monday, Dec 7, Yosemite is open 8 am to 5 pm for day-use activities only. Lodging and campgrounds are currently closed. Visit https://go.nps.gov/covid for more information and updates."
The short daylight hours and cold temperature invite us to stay indoors but venturing out to a National Park in the midst of winter has its own benefits—less people. The swarming crowds of summer are gone, offering a chance to see these splendid parks at your leisure and appreciate the landscape, often blanketed in snow. There are plenty of winter activities inviting you to enjoy the snow, such as hiking, tubing, sledding or cross-country skiing. Visiting in winter requires being extra prepared with proper hiking shoes and adequate clothing for freezing or below zero temperatures so make sure to pack your gloves, scarves, ear muffs and rain gear. Big Bend National, Texas Big Bend National Park, located in the western region of Texas and bordering Mexico, encompasses part of the Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande. The park was created in 1944 and there are fossils dating over 130 million years ago that highlight the expansive geological diversity. The Chiso Mountains are a special part of this park because the entire mountain range—spanning 40 square miles—is within the confines of the park and formed from volcanic activity in the Eocene epoch. Snow isn’t common in the winter and day time temperatures are often in the 70’s, making it great weather for hiking. Though be prepared for near or below zero weather as the cold sets in as soon as the sun goes down. Hop in the car and enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that leads to Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500-foot vertical chasm made of limestone and is along the border between Mexico and Texas. Stop frequently on this 30 mile road, where there are plenty of overlooks and monuments or turn off and hike on one of the many well-marked trails. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Bryce Canyon is magical in winter with layers of snow set against the red rock hoodoos and spires. Located in south central Utah and established as a park in 1923, ponderosa pines and fir-spruce forests thrive along with plenty of wildlife in this amphitheater shape of plateaus and meadows. The park has 56 square miles to explore. Some roads, including Fairyland Road and Paria View Road are left unplowed where you can traverse the expansive snow with snowshoes or cross-country skis. Sections of the Rim Trail are open as well where you can enjoy the vistas of the Main Amphitheater and the Bristlecone Loop Trail. You can also opt for sledding above the rim, one of the few areas where this is possible. If you want a break from the snow, hop in your warm car and stop along at some of the main vista points to take in the views. Bryce Canyon in winter. Credit: Mike Nielsen, Flickr creative commons Glacier National Park, Montana Glacier National Park, created in 1910, has over a million acres with an ecosystem that has been protected and mostly undisturbed. Snow blankets the mountain peaks and glaciers and the coniferous forest of larch, firs and spruce trees serve as a backdrop for Lake McDonald. Mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, beavers, nine species of bats, as well as Grizzly Bears are just some of the 71 different types of mammals that live in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the highlights—spanning 50 miles with challenging, hairpin curves. This is the only road that crosses the park and passes through the Continental Divide, though during the snow filled months only certain parts of the road are accessible. Upper Lake McDonald is a popular snow area where you can ski up to McDonald Falls or Sacred Dancing Cascade. Visit Marias Pass, known by the locals as the “summit,” where skiing and snow activities are often ideal. There are plenty of routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoe fans who want to experience the solitude in this vast oasis. Olympic National Park, Washington Covering almost a million acres and spanning from sandy beaches to mountain peaks to lush fir and cedar tree rainforests, the geography of this park is unique. Created in 1938, it is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as an International Biosphere Reserve. In the colder months, Olympic National Park is beautifully draped in snow with a myriad of activities to partake in. Hurricane Ridge is a haven for snow lovers, offering downhill skiing and snowboarding and an area for tubing and sledding or just playing in the snow. There are several trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who prefer to head into the backcountry or connect with nature as they traverse the white powdery snow. There are frequent storms on the Pacific coast in winter so being attentive to weather conditions is fundamental. Between bouts of harsh weather, low tide is an optimal moment to take a stroll along the sandy beach. Visit the Hoh rainforest in the north of the park where you can surround yourself among a variety of trees, including Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Douglas Fir or go towards the southwestern area of the park and hike in the Quinault rainforest with a distinct geography of alpine meadows, lakes and peaks carved by ice. Because of the geography of this park, the weather can change at a moment’s notice so keep this in mind when planning your trip and once you arrive with your day to day plans. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park. Credit: Steve FUNG, Flickr creative commons Yosemite National Park, California Waterfalls, meadows and the granite wall of half dome makes Yosemite famous. The park was first protected in 1864 and became part of the National park service in 1890. The beauty of visiting in the colder months is experiencing this 1,200 square mile park when crowds have dissipated, offering plenty of solitude.Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible year-round by car but many roads close due to the snowy terrain, making traversing by foot one of the best ways to enjoy the park. Many trails are open with various options from easy and low-key hikes to more challenging ones where you can navigate through coniferous forests filled with ponderosa and sugar pine, incense cedar, white and Douglas fir trees or stare up at Giant Sequoias. Yosemite in Winter. Credit: Yūgen, Flickr Creative Commons Temperatures can be mild during the day, although freezing temperatures and snow are common. If you time your visit when there is snowfall, typically between December- March, winter wonderland options abound from sledding, tubing, snowshoeing or snowboarding and skiing down the oldest slope in California on Badger Pass. Curious about snowshoeing? Take a ranger-led snowshoe walk where you’ll be in a good company while you learn about the sights, although be prepared for sore muscles afterwards because it’s more challenging than it appears. Disclaimer: Make sure to check the park website to ensure the activities and areas of the park you wish to visit are open and accessible. Some roads and park areas have been closed due to Covid and/or to inclement weather. Please also respect measures to prevent the spread of Covid, including passing through towns en route to your destination.
Rocky Mountain National Park closes due to fires
Strong winds in Colorado this morning sent the East Troublesome fire exploding across 1000s of acres on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. RMNP announced its closure due to fire. The fire has jumped across the Continental Divide, prompting closures and evacuations of Grand Lake. An evacuation order has also been issued for Estes Park, Colorado. The Colorado National Guard has been activated to respond to the crisis. Latest satellite info shows increased fire intensity on the #EastTroublesomeFire early this afternoon. The fire has jumped the Continental Divide and is now burning in the upper reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park. #COwx pic.twitter.com/6onPKwCfi4— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) October 22, 2020