Got plans to visit a national park anytime soon? That may or may not be a good idea, depending on where and when you’re going. Since the partial federal government shutdown on Dec. 22, the National Park Service (NPS) has been struggling to maintain its network of 400-plus parks, historic sites and monuments. And as the shutdown enters into its 5th week, trying to figure out which sites are currently closed, open, partly open or open but a mess can be dizzying.
Many of the parks remain open but with limited services. That means dirty bathrooms and overflowing trash cans at some sites, even with the help of volunteers trying to hold the chaos at bay. Yosemite National Park in California has become the poster child for overwhelmed, understaffed parks, with reports of a man dying after a fall down a granite slope on Christmas Day and, according to USA Today, some visitors relieving themselves "on the ground near padlocked restrooms."
Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California announced its closure last week after the lack of oversight resulted in vandalism that included “new roads being created by motorists [for illegal off-roading] and the destruction of Joshua trees."
NPS sites whose states are kicking in funding, such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Statue of Liberty in New York, are in much better shape. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta is reopening Saturday, just in time for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. It will stay open through Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 3 (the game will be played in Atlanta this year), thanks in part to an $83,500 grant from the Delta Air Lines Foundation, which is based out of that city.
But note that even at these relatively functional sites, there are no park ranger programs available (with the possible exception of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park).
Many of the national parks' lodges are still open for business and taking reservations as usual because they are managed by private companies. At Yellowstone National Park Lodges, which is run by Xanterra Travel Collection, you can go ahead and book your warmer-weather vacation accommodations (this winter, only Old Faithful Snow Lodge is open in the snowy park, as scheduled). Xanterra is also keeping up bathrooms, picking up garbage, clearing roads and such, as well as running gift shops and restaurants at Yellowstone and other parks where it manages properties (including Glacier, Zion and Rocky Mountain).
You can also still book campgrounds throughout the NPS system with its National Reservation Recreation System’s online service at recreation.gov or by calling its toll-free number at 877-444-6777 — although a recorded message warns, “We do not recommend making reservations at sites that are not staffed.”
That website doesn’t note which parks are not staffed, but the NPS website offers a list of 389 NPS locations and their varying statuses. So check there and an individual park's web page at nps.gov before making any plans.