bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Trip planning: Northern Rockies, California in the fall: What’s open in the national parks?

This planning post was for what ended up being Big Trip #3 in fall of 2020!

UPDATE! Here are the places we ended up visiting on this trip:

Big Trip #3 Catch-up #1

Big Trip #3 Catch-up #2

Big Trip #3 Catch-up #3

and the retrospective post!

rocky mountain national park dog hike

If you look at our maps, you may notice a swath of empty space through prime National Parks areas. We’re missing Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Glacier National Park in Montana, Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming, and several extending down through California’s mountainous spine. Our plan for a fall Big Trip was to cruise through that swath, looping back through some favorites maybe in southern Utah or western Texas… but then Covid happened and now we don’t know what to do.

image from nps.gov

In addition to possible death from the pandemic, Covid brings the following roadtrip speedbumps:

  • Everyone and their brother is roadtripping and RVing right now, which is great, except for the crowded trails and campgrounds
  • Not all national and state park campgrounds are open, and commercial campgrounds are operating at reduced capacities, likely making it harder to stay where we want to stay. (Our friends at Misty Mountain campground in VA have been totally slammed since they reopened)
  • With return to school possibly delayed, and more people working from home (or their RV), families may extend travel beyond the normal end of summer vacation–and when the kids go back to school is when we child-free heathens like to venture forth, to avoid the crowds
  • Most visitor centers and park facilities are still closed, which surely means a lot more human poo in the pristine woods 🙁
image from nps.gov

So we may go or we may not, but because of the increased demand on campsites and reduced capacity in some parks, we’ll have to consider booking most of our stops in advance, which takes some of the fun out of wandering around the country. Good thing I like planning!

[Thrillist has a super helpful rundown of all the national parks’ status, updated as things change]

Below is the hiking and camping status as of mid-June 2020 of the parks we’re looking at possibly visiting, with links going to that park’s Covid status page on nps.gov:

Next step: look at availability in commercial campgrounds in towns near the parks.


5 responses to “Trip planning: Northern Rockies, California in the fall: What’s open in the national parks?”

  1. […] I’m behind posting about Big Trip #3, and I’m just going to get slower because we’re into the good hiking territory now and […]

  2. […] was a (literal) turning point in our trip: Initially we’d planned to scoot farther west, to see Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic, visit some friends in Oregon and […]

  3. […] was our second-to-last stop on Big Trip #3, because it’s well-positioned for heading home from Out West, and because it’s a super fun town […]

  4. […] trip was a little weird. Wildfires altered our route: our initial trip plans included Oregon and California, but after experiencing the smoke in Montana, we rerouted. And Covid […]

  5. […] was the last stop on Big Trip #3! We dropped the duct-taped Airstream off at the dealer and headed home to start dreaming about our […]

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