Visiting a National Park During the Pandemic? Here’s What You Need to Know

For many months now, we’ve been told it’s best to participate in outdoor activities, which makes the country’s national parks—like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Arcadia—ideal for the post-pandemic era. Or at least, it should. But what happens if everyone else has the same idea? 

According to NPR, “business is booming” for national parks. Tourists are crowding the entry gates. So how do you stay safe if you do vacation there in the coming months?

Dr. Janet Morgan, an internal medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic, breaks down the most important tips to keep in mind when planning a national park visit. 

Go during off-peak hours. Yellowstone and Yosemite are much more likely to be packed at noon on a Saturday. If you can visit the park when you guess the crowds will be much smaller. Consider getting up early in the morning, and getting through the gate before everyone else does, says Morgan. Also, consider parks that are lesser-traveled, but equally beautiful. These include Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, and Pinnacles in California. 

Social distance, even outside. Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay six-feet apart from other visitors; you absolutely should. “Social distancing is key,” says Morgan. “One should be able to better comply being in a larger outdoor space, but it’s still best to also wear a mask.” That way, if you cross paths with anyone inadvertently, you are being as safe as you can be. Morgan also suggests avoiding crowded attractions and trails; look for the hidden treasures in the park.

Know what to pack. Consider a COVID-19 safety pack for your car or your bag, with all the pandemic protection essentials. Morgan says to bring two masks per person, in case one gets wet, because—important fact—wet masks are not effective. “Ear loop masks with layers are best, plus hand sanitizer and water to stay hydrated,” she says. Sanitize regularly, after using bathrooms (if soap is not available) and anytime you touch a surface. 

Minimize time indoors. Food courts, bathrooms, gift shops… literally anytime you go inside, you are at increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, says Morgan. “Use extreme caution indoors, including restaurants, and be sure strict safety measures—masks, social distancing, hand washing—are in place at all times,” she insists. Especially when it comes to masks, the only time it’s okay to take it off, says Morgan, is outdoors when you are sure you’re alone or only around those from your own household. 

Bring your own food if you can. It’s okay to get takeout if there’s not a long line for it and you can socially distance yourself, but it is likely better to bring food and utensils from home if you can, says Morgan. This way, you have more control over the environment in which it’s prepared to avoid contamination. Of course, make sure to eat in an area of the park where foot traffic is low—in your car, or away from the main attractions. 

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