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National Parks Service Proposes Doubling Entry Fees, Mulls Booking Reservations

The U.S. National Park Service recently proposed doubling entry fees at the 17 most-popular parks, and one park is now considering creating a reservations system for visitors, the Associated Press reports.

Under the new fee structure, the service would charge $70 for non-commercial vehicles, $50 for motorcycles, and $30 per person. The fee hikes would apply to peak-season months only, which the park service defines as the busiest five-month period for each particular park. The park service says “the funds raised are critically needed to improve facilities and infrastructure and to provide an enhanced level of service, all of which would have a direct impact on the visitor.

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These proposed fee hikes come at a time when the parks system is more popular than ever—a record 330 million people visited last year, during the Parks Service centennial. National park visits have grown steadily over the past several years, and the parks being considered for the higher entrance fees have weathered the brunt of that growth: The NPS says the parks included in the proposed fee hike represent 70 percent of the total of all entrance fees throughout the country (only 118 of the system’s 417 sites charge a fee at all.)

While the surge in visitation is mostly a positive thing, it puts great strain on the NPS and the parks themselves, not to mention visitors who encounter traffic jams and other consequences of crowds.

Speaking of traffic jams, Arches National Park is considering a change that, if successful, one can easily see expanding to other parks around the country. The Associated Press reports that park officials think timed reservation slots may alleviate some of the roadway and parking congestion currently plaguing Arches. The proposal would limit entries during “certain three-hour windows between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. over the March-through-October high season.”

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The Salt Lake Tribune adds that the park service has doubled the amount of parking at popular destinations within the park and explored a shuttle system, but nothing has helped the traffic crush. Timed entries will be difficult for visitors who can’t plan ahead, or who simply prefer the freedom of visiting whenever they want. But Park Superintendent Kate Cannon believes the proposal will actually increase visitation by spreading entries evenly throughout the day.

“When [visitors] get in the park, they breathe a sigh of relief, but when they get to where they want to go they can’t find a place to park. They circle, they circle. They go to the next place, they circle,” Cannon told the Tribune. “We want people to come in and enjoy the place but we need to change the way we manage traffic.”

Keep in mind that both the fee hike and revised entry system are still just proposals, and may never see the light of day. But clearly, the NPS is feeling the effect of its record-high visits. If the changes do occur, however, both would have a negative impact on visitors in the short-term. But in the long-term, perhaps these could help preserve the parks for future generations. That’s the idea, right?

The following parks are included in the fee hike proposal:

  • Acadia National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Denali National Park
  • Glacier National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Mount Rainier National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
  • Shenandoah National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Zion National Park

Readers, have you visited any of these national parks over the past few years? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments below.

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the About.com Boston travel guide.

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