When will national parks reopen? Grand Canyon and others have phased plans

The colors of dawn begin to paint the age-old rock formations of the Grand Canyon along the South Rim near Mather Point on March 11, 2015. National Parks are taking a "phased approach" to reopening. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
The colors of dawn begin to paint the age-old rock formations of the Grand Canyon along the South Rim near Mather Point on March 11, 2015. National Parks are taking a "phased approach" to reopening. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

National parks in the West are starting to open their gates, and more are likely to follow as the National Park Service boosts access and services in a “phased approach across all units” of the system. Each park said it has worked with federal as well as local public health officials in crafting reopening plans.
In many cases, parks will reopen as they closed — by varying timetables, depending on the park and its region. The agency said decisions would follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as regional and local health authorities.
The CDC has dedicated a web page for visitors on how to stay safe in park settings.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona will open for a limited time this weekend and plans to increase access later this month. “Currently, additional access is planned for visitors over Memorial Day weekend, which includes extending entrance station hours and access to more roads, hiking trails and viewpoints,” a Wednesday announcement said.
The popular summer destination will begin a limited reopening at the South Rim entrance 6 to 10 a.m. Friday to Monday. Travelers will be allowed to drive to Shoshone Point, Pipe Creek Vista and other viewpoints before turning around at Navajo Point. Some picnic areas and restrooms will reopen too.
Visitors should bring food, water and hand sanitizer because stores and restaurants will not be open. Also, the east entrance, Desert View area, Rim Trail and all hiking trails in the canyon, Grand Canyon Village and the Colorado River area remain closed.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles Utah and Arizona, is opening in phases. On May 8, Wahweap Campground opened, and major boat ramps for popular Lake Powell opened for day use Fridays through Sundays. On Friday, boat rentals and ramps for houseboats, power boats and personal watercraft will open daily for overnight visitors. On May 21, Lake Powell Resort and Defiance House Lodge are due to open. By May 22, most of Glen Canyon’s 1.25 million acres of lakeside shoreline and hiking trails will be accessible to the public.
Yellowstone has a phased plan to start reopening Monday, starting with the south and east entrances (in Wyoming), limiting visitors to the park’s lower loop, which allows access to Lake, Grant and Canyon villages as well as Old Faithful and West Thumb. Montana entrances, back-country trails, campgrounds and lodgings remain closed.
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming also will partially reopen May 18. Primary roads, some restrooms and hiking trails will be open but campgrounds and overnight lodgings remain shut. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado plans to allow back-country camping permits starting May 27 and will open two campgrounds, Moraine Park and Glacier Basin, starting June 4.
However, California national parks pretty much remain closed. Temporary closures in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument and Fort Point National Historic Site will remain in place because stay-at-home orders for six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have been extended through May.
Parking restrictions continue at places such as Muir, Stinson and Rodeo beaches. Alcatraz Island, the Presidio Visitor Center, Fort Point National Historic Site, Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, Muir Woods and other areas have not yet reopened.
Meanwhile, Utah has started to reopen its big parks. Arches and Canyonlands national parks will open park roads, trails and restrooms starting May 29. Back-country permits for Canyonlands and climbing or canyoneering trips in Arches will be available May 30, an announcement said.
However, visitor centers and park stores will remain closed. Camping in the backcountry and at Fiery Furnace and Devils Garden campgrounds in Arches as well as Willow Flat and Needles camping areas are still shut.
Zion National Park opened selected areas Wednesday. Capitol Reef National Park opened May 5 to day-use in Cathedral Valley and Waterpocket Fold. Overnight stays are allowed in Cedar Mesa and Cathedral Valley campgrounds.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah started opening trails around the red-rock spires of the Bryce Amphitheater, its most visited area, on May 6. The main park road and viewpoints along the way will be open from the entrance to Rainbow Point. However, the visitor center, campgrounds, backcountry trails and restrooms remain closed (except for one at Sunset Point), a park announcement said.
Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, Utah, reopened roads and trails Wednesday, but visitor centers and campgrounds remain closed. Also, visitors are asked to bring their own drinking water as there won’t be access to water.
Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments in Utah will reopen roads, trails and restrooms on Thursday. Visitor centers and other facilities will remain shut.
In other areas, Everglades National Park in Florida reopened some boat launch ramps, campgrounds and restrooms May 4; Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee allowed visitors on many roads and trails starting Saturday.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Tennessee to Virginia, opened the southernmost 14 miles of the park Saturday. Also, North Carolina portions of the route, including the popular Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas, will reopen Friday. “While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited,” a park announcement said.
In Denali National Park, rangers have opened a portion of Denali Park Road, allowing the public into the park again, and NPS officials have said the shortage of cruise visitors this summer could open more room for visitors by car. Several lodges at the end of the park road in the Denali community of Kantishna are making plans to open this summer, an NPS notice said, noting the spring plowing operations “are on schedule to get the road open for summer.”
Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, in Kentucky and Tennessee, on Monday reopened access to trails and backcountry camping.
Stones River National Battlefield in Tennessee reopened trails connecting to the Stones River Greenway and visitor center parking lot.
Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia on Saturday reopened access to its beaches, public docking spaces and trails.

Some parks never officially closed. Some, such as Yosemite, are such magnets for visitors that superintendents felt obliged to close them relatively early. At other parks, it’s harder to be sure what’s happening when. But in hopes of reopening soon, the Oasis at Death Valley, a privately owned lodging inside that park, is taking reservations for June 15 and beyond.

The move to begin reopening parks brought complaints from the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group representing 1,800 current, former and retired employees and volunteers of the National Park Service. The group contends the decision was premature.

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