Now More than Ever, Know before You Go

Visitors won't be seeing this view of Mount Wilbur across Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana this year. © Frank Gallagher
Visitors won’t be seeing this view of Mount Wilbur across Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana this year. © Frank Gallagher

A time-tested piece of travel advice is to check the status of things at your destination before you depart. The last thing you want to encounter is a key location in your once-in-a-lifetime trip that is CLOSED. That’s happening now, as various national parks and points of interest are in varying stages of reopening during a pandemic. But a virus isn’t the only thing that can impact availability. Today you’ll find roads, campgrounds and entire sites that are closed or open only for limited hours almost anywhere you want to travel. It pays to know before you go.

Tom Haxby, NANPA’s immediate past president, visited Great Smokey Mountains National Park in July and ran into some restrictions due to the phased reopening from the corona virus shut down. The popular 11-mile loop road through the Cades Cove area is closed to motor vehicles on Wednesdays through September 30th as part of a pilot program. In addition, the gates to Cades Cove don’t open until 8 a.m., well after sunrise. You can’t get those early morning fog shots this summer! A number of the campgrounds also remain closed and facilities are limited.

Most national parks have special COVID-19 pages but sometimes the information you really need is buried deep within the park’s website. Check the Alerts pages first as they typically have links to relevant information. At the Great Smokey Mountains National Park website, the Alerts page takes you to the Current Conditions page. On that page, an information blurb talks about the car-free Wednesdays pilot program, but you have to scroll down to the corona virus section and then click on “What roads are currently open?” to find out that the road to Cades Cove doesn’t open ‘till 8 a.m. and Little Greenbriar Road is open only to hiking and biking.

Parked Red Jammers at Glacier National Park, Montana © Frank Gallagher
Parked Red Jammers at Glacier National Park, Montana © Frank Gallagher

Meanwhile, at Glacier National Park, access is through the west entrance only, leading to heavy traffic and congestion at the entrance station and on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Because of the corona virus, non-essential travel is restricted on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation which borders the east side of the park. Most of the east side of the park, including the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas are not expected to open at all this year.

But it’s not just issues related to COVID-19 restrictions. At Yellowstone National Park, a structural issue has closed the Old Faithful overpass, resulting in a detour and traffic delays. And only limited services are currently available in the park.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a prime spot for snow geese and tundra swans in the winter, will have periodic closures of its main road for “deer management” in December and January, the best months for waterfowl photography. As of now, all facilities remain closed at the refuge.

Stuff happens. We adapt. Wherever your plans take you, this year more than ever, know before you go!