Is It Safe to Visit National Parks Right Now?

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The novel coronavirus has completely reshaped daily life for people around the world. In addition to adapting to our “new normal” in the wake of the public health crisis, many people are also getting back into the swing of ordinary life to enjoy a bit of the familiar — and to take advantage of appropriately socially distanced activities, like spending time outdoors. That includes visiting some of the country’s most beautiful natural treasures: our national parks.

While it’s relatively simple to practice social distancing when you’re camping or hiking, the influx of quarantine-weary travelers to parks across the country could make staying safe challenging. Fortunately, park officials have taken a number of helpful steps to ensure the safety and continued health of visitors.

What Precautions Have National Parks Taken?

The National Park Service (NPS) has been following CDC guidelines while also implementing phase-by-phase approaches to reopening, much like many individual states. Each park goes through a full evaluation and weighs several factors before committing to a reopening schedule or visitor limit.

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For example, some smaller parks that only offer basic activities, like hiking or bird watching, were able to open before large parks with more tourist attractions. These larger parks may also limit visitor capacities to help reduce the chance of spreading disease. Activities may also be restricted even after the parks open.

The NPS has encouraged visitors to take CDC-approved precautions, such as consistent handwashing, social distancing and avoiding public areas while feeling ill. Rangers and park staff are continuing to use personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and others while performing their jobs. Additionally, park officials have instituted rigorous cleaning measures to help keep guest spaces safe.

Even so, you should contact your local park before traveling to ensure it’s open to visitors. This is especially true if you’re looking to take part in group-based park activities such as camping, kayaking, horseback riding or snorkeling.

National Parks Still Have Social Distancing Challenges

Despite the NPS’s efforts, which even included the release of a dozen social distancing graphics to help potential visitors navigate changes to the parks, some visitors are still likely to engage in behavior that puts themselves and others at risk. You should still be on the lookout for unsafe situations.

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You should bring PPE for yourself and your loved ones just in case you encounter a large group of people while out and about. Doing so is one of the best ways to keep yourself healthy and safe during this time, no matter which park you choose to visit.

Considering that 52.2 million acres of land are devoted entirely to the NPS, social distancing should not be difficult for most campers and other park visitors — provided that they plan ahead. Keep in mind that fresh air and exercise are both essential for maintaining a healthy mind and body, so visiting a national park can be an excellent way to relieve stress and tension while improving your overall fitness.

Are National Parks Safe?

The bottom line is that, while you should be careful when visiting national parks, they are safe. Even so, it’s easy to make such an experience unsafe both for yourself and others by refusing to follow CDC or NPS guidelines and recommendations. Be sure to follow best practices exactly as these groups have outlined them.

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Staying safe in a national park during the pandemic is similar to staying safe nearly anywhere else in the world. You should be aware of your surroundings at all times, avoid straying into restricted or dangerous areas and read all posted signs and notices. You should remember to stay far away from others at all times. Handwashing and PPE can help keep you and your community safe during the pandemic. Be smart, and hopefully, the only thing you’ll bring home from your park visit is a mind full of happy memories and a smartphone full of pictures.