Everything You Need to Know About National Park Reservations

January 15, 2024

Imagine you’re gearing up for an epic RV trip to those mind-blowing national parks everyone’s raving about. But snagging a spot isn’t just about rolling up and claiming your slice of nature anymore. It is all about reservations these days.

With 312 million folks flooding these natural beauties for a dose of adventure, it’s like a frenzy out there. You’ve gotta plan ahead, reserve your spot, or risk missing out on the fun.

In this blog, we’re diving into the nitty-gritty of National Park reservations. Yep, the lowdown on why they’re a must and how cracking this code can supercharge your experience amidst those jaw-dropping landscapes.

The Rising Need for Reservations

As each year more people are excited to visit national parks, it’s clear we’ve got to do our part in protecting these natural gems. While you and others soak in the beauty, the ecosystems and unique biodiversity are feeling the pressure. That’s why snagging reservations is key to keeping the balance between tourism and keeping Mother Nature happy.

A fearless hiker is standing on an overhanging rock enjoying the view towards famous Half Dome at Glacier Point overlook in beautiful evening twilight, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Why Do National Parks Need Reservations?

With more and more folks itching to see these natural wonders, reservations act as a balancing act. They’re not just about avoiding the Disneyland-like lines; they’re the secret to keeping those habitats intact and the wildlife undisturbed. Otherwise, a herd of tourists can accidentally trample on rare flowers or scare off the local critters.

As no one wants to spend vacation time stuck in line, reservations ensure you can enjoy the beautiful sites without wasting time in long queues.

Sustainable Tourism Management and Ecosystem Preservation

By controlling the flow, parks can prevent overcrowding chaos that can wreck the vibe of both nature and visitors.

And hey, it’s not just about protecting the behind-the-scenes magic; it’s about making sure you have the best time possible. No one wants to visit a park that’s bursting at the seams or where the wildlife is playing hide-and-seek. Reservations? They’re the wizards making sure the park stays pristine, and you get that zen, awe-inspiring experience you came for.

Wildlife Protection

Reservations play a big role in looking out for the wildlife in national parks. Keeping a handle on visitor numbers helps give animals their space and eases the pressure on their homes. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where humans and the awesome creatures here can live side by side without stepping on each other’s toes.

Infrastructure and Resource Management

With reservations, it’s all about managing the flow, making sure there’s enough room for everyone, and keeping things in tip-top shape.

From parking spaces to visitor centers, it’s all about allocating resources efficiently. Reservations ensure a great experience for everyone without straining the park’s facilities.

It’s all about that balance: giving visitors a fantastic time while keeping the park’s infrastructure happy and thriving.

Visitor Experience Enhancement

By controlling the numbers, reservations make sure you’re not elbowing your way through crowds. It’s like having the whole park to yourself (well, almost), giving you that serene, immersive experience where you can truly connect with nature.

A woman walks through North Window Arch with Turret Arch in the background

Which National Parks Require Reservations?

Currently, some national parks have implemented reservation systems or specific requirements for certain activities. However, these policies can change over time due to various factors, including visitor patterns, environmental concerns, or park management decisions.

Here are a few national parks that use reservation systems or specific requirements that you must adhere to before a visitation:

The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park, Maine

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Nestled on Maine’s picturesque coast, Acadia National Park is a canvas of breathtaking landscapes, pristine lakes, and lush forests. To gaze upon the wonders of Acadia, here’s what you need to know:

Reservation Details

To traverse the iconic Cadillac Summit Road—a gateway to unparalleled vistas—between late May and late October, snagging a reservation is the golden ticket. Picture yourself winding through fall foliage or scaling cliffs along the coast for a thrilling experience.

The reservation system operates like clockwork, and you can secure a $6 timed entry slot, with 30% of passes available 90 days ahead and the rest released two days before your visit.

Key Attractions

This treasure trove offers more than meets the eye. The Cadillac Summit Road allows you to drive up to the highest point on the eastern seaboard and behold the glaciated coastal and island landscape. You can also trek the Precipice Trail or savor the tranquility of Jordan Pond with the towering mountains in the background.

Depending on your visitation timing, you get to capture the serenity of sunrise or sunset at Cadillac Mountain and marvel at the rugged beauty of Sand Beach, which boasts almost 300 yards of sandy shoreline. Acadia is not just a park; it’s an anthology of adventures waiting to be explored.

KOAs nearby:
Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA Holiday

The famous Sand Dune Arch in the Arches National Park, Utah. A red rock arch under a blue sky with wispy clouds.

2. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park, a geological wonderland boasting over 2,000 natural stone arches, including the iconic Delicate Arch, invites adventurers into its mesmerizing landscapes.

Reservation Details

To experience the wonders of this otherworldly realm, you’ve got to snag a reservation between April 1 and October 31. If you’re rolling in with your vehicle or RV camper, you’ve got access from 7 am to 4 pm. But here’s the catch: you’ve got just a one-hour window to secure your spot, or it’s gone in a flash.

Now, for those trail-blazing adventurers, grab your timed entry tickets. These tickets are up for grabs on the first day of every month, three months ahead of your planned visit.

Key Attractions

You can stand beneath Delicate Arch, its grandeur leaving you awe-struck, or traverse the Devil’s Garden trail, an exhilarating journey through surreal landscapes.

During this exploration, you can feel the whisper of ancient stones at the Fiery Furnace or witness the breathtaking North Window Arch at sunset. Each arch, each trail, weaves a story of natural artistry and endless exploration.

KOAs nearby:
Moab KOA Holiday
Green River KOA Journey
Grand Junction KOA Holiday

3. Glacier National Park, Montana

Montana’s crown jewel – Glacier National Park! Prepare to have your breath stolen by nature’s gallery showcasing its finest artwork.

Reservation Details

Embracing this natural wonderland requires some planning, especially for areas like Going-to-the-Sun Road, North Fork, and Many Glacier during specific periods. To tread the Going-to-the-Sun Road, secure a vehicle reservation valid for three consecutive days.

These coveted slots, released 120 days in advance, warrant an early morning booking frenzy. This allows you to savor the unparalleled beauty of Glacier National Park. Plus, additional spots open up each day, and the winners are selected through the lucky draw, adding an element of excitement to the journey.

Key Attractions

Imagine driving along the legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road, a marvel weaving through breathtaking scenery or relishing a sunrise spectacle at Two Medicine Lake. Lose yourself amidst glacier-carved peaks and lush valleys, with nature’s serenity as your constant companion.

Explore the captivating trails that lead to hidden gems like the turquoise Cracker Lake or witness the ethereal beauty of the Northern Lights at Many Glacier. Glacier National Park is about chasing the untamed essence of nature and discovering its serene secrets.

KOAs nearby:
West Glacier KOA Resort
Whitefish / Kalispell North KOA Holiday
St. Mary / East Glacier KOA Holiday
Polson / Flathead Lake KOA Holiday

sunrise from the summit of Haleakala volcano on the tropical island of Maui, Hawaii

4. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

Discover the majestic realm of Haleakalā National Park, where the highest peak in Maui meets an otherworldly landscape, inviting you to witness the marvels of sunrise and rugged terrains.

Reservation Details

If you seek the epitome of magic—an ethereal sunrise painting the sky in hues of gold and crimson—you need a reservation to enter the park between 3 am and 7 am. The reservation window opens 60 days in advance, a treasure trove of serenity amid the pre-dawn darkness.

Ensure your spot by booking online, a simple yet crucial step that promises a front-row seat to one of nature’s most spectacular shows.

Key Attractions

In this national park lies a realm of unparalleled beauty. Haleakalā beckons adventurers to witness the sunrise atop its serene summit, a moment that transcends time and space. Once the golden hour fades, you can explore the park’s diverse terrain—lunar-like landscapes, endemic species, and breathtaking vistas.

Embark on a journey through cinder cones and explore the Sliding Sands Trail, where each step unveils a surreal canvas of colors. Discover the mystical allure of Hosmer’s Grove or traverse the Halemau’u Trail, where ancient legends echo through the winds.

Dream Lake at sunset, Rocky Mountain National Park, showing sunlit mountain peaks and lake with reflections

5.   Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, a sprawling wonderland of alpine meadows, rugged peaks, and wildlife galore, offers a tapestry of natural marvels for avid explorers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Reservation Details

Timing is key if you want to complete the adventure of discovering Rocky Mountain National Park. From late May to late October, securing an entry permit becomes essential to traverse the park between specific hours.

Entry between 9 am and 2 pm outside the Bear Lake Road Corridor and between 5 am and 6 pm along Bear Lake Road demands a reservation, which you can secure through the park’s online system. Set your alarm for the reservation release date—typically a month prior—for a chance to embark on this adventure.

Key Attractions

Hailed as a hiker’s haven, the park boasts over 300 miles of trails that wind through verdant valleys and majestic peaks. Take a leisurely stroll around Bear Lake, where emerald waters mirror the surrounding peaks.

Additionally, challenge yourself with the hike to Alberta Falls, a cascading spectacle embraced by lush wilderness. For the daring souls, trek the Flattop Mountain Trail, a demanding yet rewarding expedition offering breathtaking panoramas.

KOAs nearby:
Grand Lake / Rocky Mountain National Park KOA Journey
Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park KOA Holiday
Denver West / Central City KOA Holiday
Fort Collins / Lakeside KOA Holiday

6. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park, a gem nestled in the heart of Virginia, offers a picturesque escape with its scenic vistas, cascading waterfalls, and boundless trails meandering through lush forests.

Reservation Details

The allure of Shenandoah National Park lies not just in its beauty but also in its requirement for reservations for specific spots. For the Old Rag Mountain, a popular hike in the park, reservations are a must between May 1 and November 30.

Grabbing a reservation involves a bit of strategy—400 tickets are released 30 days in advance, while another 400 become available five days before the intended visit. Quick fingers and a calendar reminder are your best friends here.

Key Attractions

Beyond its reservation-bound spots, the park teems with natural wonders. Explore Skyline Drive, a scenic roadway offering panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley. Marvel at the enchanting cascades of Dark Hollow Falls or lose yourself in the vibrant hues of fall along the trails, an experience that feels straight out of a painting.

KOAs nearby:
Harrisonburg / Shenandoah Valley KOA Holiday
Harpers Ferry / Civil War Battlefields KOA Holiday

Sunrise at the Tunnel View Vista Point at Yosemite National Park.

7. Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park stands as a testament to nature’s grandeur, showcasing North America’s tallest waterfalls, awe-inspiring granite monoliths, and a wilderness that beckons adventurers.

Reservation Details

Amidst its glory, Yosemite does impose entrance reservations during specific periods, ensuring a smoother tourist flow. Entrance reservations are required during certain dates, notably in February (for the Firefall spectacle) and during the summer months.

The process involves securing a reservation through the park’s dedicated online portal, accompanied by a nominal nonrefundable fee per ticket.

Key Attractions

Yosemite is a canvas painted with natural wonders. Witness the majestic drop of Yosemite Falls or hike to the iconic Half Dome—this monumental rock formation standing sentinel over the park.

The Valley Loop Trail offers an easy stroll amid the valley’s beauty, while more challenging trails like the Mist Trail reward hikers with ethereal views of Vernal and Nevada Falls.

KOAs nearby:
Coleville / Walker KOA Holiday

View from Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah.

8. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park, renowned for its towering sandstone cliffs, stunning canyons, and thrilling hiking trails, requires a bit of strategic planning due to the influx of visitors.

Reservation Details

While park entry doesn’t demand a reservation, certain iconic trails, notably the Angels Landing Trail, require permits during peak seasons, specifically between March and May.

To hike Angels Landing, securing a permit involves entering a lottery system that grants access for specific time windows. The application requires a nominal fee per person, with options for different time slots to commence the hike.

Key Attractions

Zion National Park is a haven for adventurers. The Narrows, where hikers wade through a river flanked by towering canyon walls, is a surreal experience. The renowned Subway hike, with its stunning natural rock formations, is a treat for the senses. And if you’re a thrill seeker, Angels Landing, with its steep cliffs and breathtaking vistas, is a must, albeit a challenging one.

KOAs nearby:
St. George / Hurricane KOA Journey
Beaver KOA Journey

A beautiful morning in Muir Woods

9. Muir Woods National Monument, California

Tucked within California’s lush landscapes, Muir Woods National Monument beckons with its serene redwood groves and peaceful ambiance.

Reservation Details

Muir Woods has a permanent reservation system to ensure an enjoyable experience for visitors while preserving the delicate ecosystem. Reservations are essential year-round and come in two types: car reservations or shuttle service reservations.

You can make them online, typically 90 days in advance, while the additional slots are released three days before the visit. The reservation costs vary, with a nominal fee per car or per person for the shuttle service.

Key Attractions

Muir Woods enchants visitors with its towering redwoods, some reaching nearly 250 feet in height. The Cathedral Grove, an ethereal spot within the park, offers a serene and magical atmosphere amidst the colossal trees. The well-maintained trails cater to various hiking abilities, allowing explorers to immerse themselves in the redwood forest’s tranquility.

KOAs nearby:
San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA

Red Rock Canyon national conservation area near Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

10. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Nestled just a stone’s throw away from the vibrant Las Vegas Strip, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area offers a striking contrast to the city’s hustle and bustle. Here’s a guide to navigating this outdoor haven:

Reservation Details

Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Red Rock Canyon requires a reservation for its Scenic Drive between October and May. The reservation process can be completed online or at the ticket window, setting a time slot to explore the area within specified hours.

Unlike most national parks, Red Rock’s reservations also allow for on-site booking. The reservation fee, along with the entrance fee, grants access to the Scenic Drive during the allocated 8 am to 5 pm time slots.

Key Attractions

The charm of Red Rock Canyon lies in its striking contrast of crimson-colored rock formations against the desert landscape. The 13-mile Scenic Drive provides breathtaking views of the Calico Hills, a stunning geological treasure, and offers numerous lookout points for leisurely exploration.

For adventure seekers, the park boasts a network of hiking trails catering to various skill levels. Notable trails like Turtlehead Peak and Ice Box Canyon Trail offer challenging yet rewarding treks amidst stunning natural beauty.

KOAs nearby:
Las Vegas KOA Journey at Sam’s Town

Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park on a cloudy summer day, with dramatic clouds.

What to Pack for a National Park Trip

Packing for a National Park adventure demands a blend of practicality and preparedness. While specific items can vary based on your destination and planned activities, here’s a general guide encompassing essentials you must always ensure to pack:

Camera Gear

Pack your camera gear to capture the mesmerizing landscapes and memorable moments of the visit. Whether it’s a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or a trusty smartphone, double-check battery power and memory space to capture every stunning moment out there.

Travel Backpack

A reliable travel backpack serves as your mobile base camp. Get one with sturdy straps and pockets to hold all the must-haves: water, snacks, maps, and any extra gear for the day’s adventure.

Safety and First Aid

Safety first, folks, when exploring national parks. Pack a comprehensive first aid kit with necessary supplies and personal medications. Include an emergency whistle, a multi-tool or knife, and a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries.

Don’t forget to carry personal identification and emergency contact information to ensure the staff knows who to call for assistance if needed. These things may seem little, but they can be real lifesavers in unexpected situations.

National Park Annual Pass

If you’re a frequent explorer of the National Parks who can’t get enough of nature, invest in an Annual Pass. It’s a cost-effective option granting access to more than 2,000 recreation areas across the country. This means you can embark on more adventures throughout the year! Make sure you have it on you to easily visit your favorite parks and areas.

National Park Passport

A National Park Passport is more than just a book; it’s a journey log. Collect stamps and document your visits to various parks, turning each trip into a cherished memory. It’s a delightful keepsake that grows with every park you explore.

Layers (The Best Travel Jackets)

National Parks often deal with unpredictable weather. One minute, you are enjoying the warm rays of the sun, and the next, you are trying to find shelter from rain. So pack versatile layers, including a lightweight jacket, moisture-wicking clothing, and a waterproof outer shell, such as a waterproof jacket or poncho.

This gear will make sure you stay dry in unexpected rainy conditions. Additionally, be prepared for temperature fluctuations and sudden changes in weather to comfortably complete your adventures.

Solid Hiking Shoes

Your feet are your best companions on the trails. Invest in sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes that provide ample support and traction. Choose footwear suitable for the terrain—whether it’s rocky paths, muddy trails, or challenging ascents.

Hydration Solutions

Staying hydrated is crucial during outdoor adventures. Carry a reusable water bottle or hydration pack to ensure access to clean drinking water throughout your journey. Consider water purification tablets or a portable water filter for areas with limited water sources.

Navigation Tools

Maps and compasses might sound old-school, but they’re a smart backup plan if tech fails you out there. Therefore, place a physical map of the park and a reliable compass in your bag. They serve as fail-safes in case of technological glitches or when venturing into areas with poor network coverage.

Food and Snacks

Proper sustenance is crucial for maintaining energy during your explorations. Otherwise, your legs won’t be able to make the long trek. Make sure to pack lightweight, non-perishable snacks such as trail mix and energy bars.

You can even bring a packed lunch if food services are limited and include reusable utensils and containers to minimize waste. To not leave a trace behind, carry environmentally friendly trash bags to dispose of waste responsibly.

Wildlife and Nature Observation Equipment

With the right tools, you can observe the wildlife within national parks as though you are sitting right beside the animals. Binoculars serve as invaluable companions, bringing distant wildlife into clear focus and allowing for detailed observation without disturbance.

Field guidebooks for plants and wildlife act as the cheat sheet to deepen your understanding of the diverse species inhabiting the park.

Group of hikers friends walking down the stairs and enjoying view of Zion National Park.

Tips for Making National Park Reservations and Visiting the Parks

Exploring the natural wonders of National Parks is a thrilling adventure, but it requires a bit of planning and finesse to ensure a smooth experience. Here are some essential tips:

  • Create a Account: Begin your journey by setting up a gov account ahead of time. This centralized platform handles most National Park reservations. Having an account streamlines the process, making it easier to secure your desired spot and manage your bookings efficiently.
  • Have Backup Park Options: National Parks are immensely popular, and reservation availability can fluctuate, so it’s wise to have backup options in mind. Explore underrated National Parks or lesser-known sites managed by the National Park Service. You might stumble upon hidden gems that later become designated National Parks, providing an opportunity for an early visit.
  • Understand the Fees Structure: Differentiate between entrance fees and reservation fees. While reservations ensure your access to specific areas or attractions within the park, entrance fees grant overall access to the park grounds. Acquiring an Annual Pass can save you money if you plan to explore multiple National Parks in a year.
  • Follow Preparation Guides and Leave No Trace Principles: Before setting foot on the trails, equip yourself with the essentials based on the park and activities planned. Camera gear, sturdy hiking shoes, layers for varying weather conditions, and a reliable travel backpack are must-haves. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the Leave No Trace principles, emphasizing responsible exploration. Have a solid plan, stick to designated trails, pack out what you bring in, respect wildlife, and minimize campfire impact. Adhering to these principles ensures the preservation of these natural wonders for future generations.


National Parks, once just stunning views, are now carefully managed havens of natural awesomeness. Reservations? They’re not just about more people showing up; they’re like the VIP pass to keep these landscapes legit. Picture your go-to hike overrun or turned into a scene from a disaster movie—reservations save us from that and keep the wonders intact.

Before revving up that RV and hitting the road, lock in your spot to avoid any last-minute letdowns. With that reservation in your pocket, you’re all set to dive into Acadia’s tranquil lakes, gaze at Glacier’s majestic peaks, catch that sunrise at Haleakalā, or conquer the Narrows in Zion. These reservations will unlock moments that become tales you’ll tell for years.

As you plan your park pilgrimage, think of creating that account as your backstage pass. Have backup plans, get the lowdown on fees, and, hey, remember the Leave No Trace rules. They’re not just guidelines; they’re the secret code for being an awesome, responsible explorer, making sure these gems stay sparkling for generations.

Load up your camper, and let respect for nature steer your trip. Take in the sights, feel the privilege, and make sure those classic landscapes stick around. Happy trails!

Leslie K Hughes

Leslie is a travel writer, copywriter, and web designer who gets butterflies from telling stories through words and visuals.

Her voice comes from a place filled with passion, dreams, and lots of sugar. “Cake over steak” is her go-to motto.

With over 10 years of experience in crafting words, and years of embarking on travels that have taken this Montana girl to some incredible places, Leslie loves the adventures of both body and mind her writing takes her on.

To see what Leslie’s up to in the writing and design world, visit her website here.



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