Visiting Arches (and other National Parks) During the Pandemic of 2020

Delicate Arch Utah

During the COVID-19 pandemic, everything initially shut down, including our public lands. This was very painful for those of us who are used to spending lots of time outdoors. Thankfully, many of the national parks are opening back up again…but with restrictions. This includes our National Parks—hooray! 

We ventured into Arches National Park a week after reopening to see what was up. Here’s what we noticed: (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Arches empty parking lot
A relatively empty parking lot in Arches National Park, mid-morning in June 2020.

There were fewer crowds.

Despite the fact that everyone I know and their dog seems to be planning a trip to a National Park right now, the absence of international visitors and tour buses really seemed to lead to less-packed parking lots and trails in Arches National Park.

We visited a week after the initial opening; in fact, Arches National Park briefly closed their gates three hours after the initial opening on May 29 2020 (after months of being closed due to the pandemic) due to overcrowding and full parking lots.

The days we were there, however, almost seemed to hark back to a simpler time, before tour buses. We weren’t alone; there were lots of other cars and RVs from all over, but no tour buses, and that seemed to make a big difference. 

I don’t have hard and fast numbers to prove my point, but I do have this: I was able to get a photo of Delicate Arch in the middle of the day WITHOUT any random people milling around it. Granted, it was a dangerously windy day, but also there just weren’t the droves of people that Delicate Arch usually attracts. 

Entrance was free.

They may change this at any time, but when we visited Arches National Park in the beginning of June 2020, they weren’t charging entrance fees.

I have no idea what the rationale behind this was, but I was happy to take it!

National Parks during COVID 19
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park on June 7, 2020, where plenty of people were hiking but there was still room to park in the parking lot. Which is all I ask of my national parks.

Services were limited.

I don’t go to National Parks for “services,” however…I mean, I do enjoy a good gift shop, but I can live without the mini-museum. And I am happy to pack in all my own food and water, as recommended.

In Arches, this also meant that the one area that is restricted to ranger-guided groups — the Fiery Furnace — was inaccessible. Also, campgrounds were closed.

The situation was ever-changing.

In what felt like a microcosm of all of 2020, the situation at Arches National Park — and all our national parks — feels like it’s changing from minute to minute. 

Sunday June 7th, 2020 we drove in to Arches, and there wasn’t even a ranger at the gate. Monday, the gate was manned but no entrance fee. Sunday it was empty; Monday, crowds were picking up. Then we find out that on May 29th it had been packed. Who knew?!

Other travelers we chatted with had been at Zion National Park the week before and reported that the shuttle there wasn’t running, but the park was still busy, so they shut the road to cars and were only allowing in bicycles. As of now, there are plans to restart the Zion’s shuttle, but with required reservations

Basically, check the website before you go.

Every National Park is going to be different, so before you go, make sure you check the National Park’s website for the most up to date information.