Yellowstone Reported Its Busiest September — Is Going to National Parks Safe Right Now?

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Oct. 14 2020, Updated 3:17 p.m. ET

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After spending almost eight months in lockdown, travel and nature enthusiasts are dying to find safe ways to explore the great outdoors. Many are opting for road trips, as well as National Park excursions, but after Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho apparently experienced its busiest September ever, many are wondering how safe it is to visit National Parks right now.

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The consensus regarding how safe it is to visit National Parks amid the ongoing pandemic is relatively mixed, but here's what nature fans — with varying views — have said about it. 

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Many believe that visiting a National Park is a safe, socially distant activity.

As National Parks generally provide visitors with massive outdoor spaces, a number of experts believe they make for totally safe destinations, providing that attendees abide by park guidelines, wear masks, bring their own supplies, and maintain at least six feet of distance from other visitors. And as long as people abide by state quarantine laws, visitors shouldn't be bringing the virus in.

According to BBC, visitor centers are generally locked, and most parks have totally limited how many people can enter the park at once.

A spokeswoman from the National Park Service said that as long as visitors play by the rules and make sensible, safe decisions, a trip to your local National Park is a totally safe trip for your family. "Give others plenty of room whether you are on a trail, at a boat launch or in a parking lot," she advised. 

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Meanwhile, M.D. and chief health care officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, Janis Orlowski, told AARP that visiting National Parks is a fun and safe way for families to get fresh air during these stressful times. 

“Taking a rigorous walk in the fresh air is healthy, as long as it’s not in a group and you’re spaced apart,” she reassured readers.

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However, others would rather err on the side of caution.

Many fear that National Parks attract crowds, regardless of how "open" they are. In an op-ed on National Parks Traveler, Tom Ribe notes that many facilities encourage people to walk to overlooks, ultimately making for heavily-trafficked paths and walkways. Additionally, NPS staff at Yellow Stone reportedly said they would not be policing people who were getting too close for comfort.

Yellowstone Superintendent Cameron Sholly said, “The NPS is not going to be the social distancing police... Yellowstone staff will not be actively telling citizens to spread out and put masks on, especially outdoors. We don’t have control over massive groups of people at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone or Old Faithful," she said.

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If you'd prefer to witness National Park beauty from your home, tune into a livestream.

It's entirely up to you if you'd like to brave the outdoors — and potentially the crowds — alongside your family. However, if you'd prefer to play it safe and stay home, you can tune into one of the many National Park livestreams, provided by the NPS, from the comfort of your couch.

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According to Smart Traveler, Yosemite National Park, for example, provides an ongoing livestream of the iconic falls, while Yellowstone broadcasts Old Faithful, and posts predictions of when it will next erupt. Glacier National Park also has an ongoing livestream of the beautiful Lake McDonald, while Acadia broadcasts the beautiful North Atlantic Coastline, if you'd prefer a view of the ocean blue.

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It's up in the air if visiting National Parks is safe right now, but when push comes to shove, it's your call. Either way, make good decisions, always wear a mask, and keep a safe distance from others outside your quaran-team. 

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