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Travel Tips

How To Visit the US National Parks in 2024



January 11, 2024

5 min read

In 2022, the National Park Service (NPS) logged nearly 312 million annual visitors. While the 2023 numbers have yet to drop, our 2023 State of Travel report showed that 63% of people planned to visit national parks last year. (The 2024 numbers say something similar.)

If all those people stick to their word, the national parks will be looking at another spectacular year for visitor numbers. Here are the things you should know to plan your national parks trips efficiently—and help keep our parks wild while doing it. 

Free days

On most days of the year, you’ll need to pay a per-car entrance fee to get into more than 100 of the national park sites. But on a select few days, the NPS opens its gates to all—no payment required. These are the free days for 2024. 

Jan 15Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Apr 20First day of National Park Week
June 19Juneteenth National Independence Day
Aug 4Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
Sept 28National Public Lands Day
Nov 11Veterans Day

New additions

The Yosemites, Grand Canyons, Yellowstones, and Zions of the world are tough to pass up, but with each year comes new NPS sites to explore (and with far fewer visitors vying for a view). 

2023 welcomed four new sites—three of which are national scenic trails and one a national monument.

Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National MonumentIllinois and Mississippi
North Country National Scenic TrailVermont to North Dakota
New England National Scenic TrailMassachusetts to Connecticut
Ice Age National Scenic TrailWisconsin

And 2024 is already gearing up to be a potentially exciting year for the NPS. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, located in Macon, Georgia—one of our picks for Where To Go in 2024—has all eyes on it, as local legislators continue their bid to get it upgraded to official national park status. The future is looking bright—advocates are expecting the bill to drop in 2024, which would make Ocmulgee the 64th national park in the US. 

Plan for permits and reservations

To national park veterans, it may not come as a shock, but for newbies, it can be surprising to learn that some hikes, campgrounds, and lodges throughout the national parks require permits or reservations. And for the most popular of those, they may even come with a lottery system that requires you to plan your trip months ahead of time. 

The lottery system, while frustrating if you don’t land the permit you were hoping for, is meant to minimize the human-made impact on the national parks’ fragile environments so we can preserve the land for generations to come, so we try not to be too fussy about it. 

That said, permits can unfortunately be sparse. While there is definitely planning that goes into it, there’s an equal amount of luck involved. Make sure you know the lottery windows for the permits that you’re applying for. Bear in mind that lottery windows vary from place to place—whereas summer may be the only time you can get a permit for an Eastern Sierra hike, you may be able to get a permit year-round for, say, an Arizona desert hike. 

Here are some of the most popular national park trails and sites that require permits. 

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

The sun lights up the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite allows 225 people per day on Half Dome. If you want to hike it this year, you’ll need to apply for a permit within the March 1–March 31 lottery window. Permit recipients will be notified on April 11. Any permits not claimed by the acceptance date will be available in the daily lotteries, which run from May 22–October 13 (depending on conditions). You can apply for a daily lottery permit two days in advance of your desired hiking date. 

Learn more about Yosemite Half Dome permits.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

The view from the Angels Landing hike in Zion National Park

The permits for Angels Landing in Utah work a little differently. There are different lotteries depending on the season that you want to complete the hike: March 1–May 31 (spring), June 1–August 31 (summer), and September 1–November 30 (fall). The application window is shorter for this one as well, with the window for spring hiking dates taking place from January 1–20 (so if you want to apply for spring, you only have five days left!). If you don’t get your application in, fret not. The lottery for summer dates opens on April 1 (not an April Fool’s joke). If you’re not successful with the seasonal lotteries, you can also try for a day-before lottery permit. 

Angels Landing issues about 200,000 permits each year, with about half of each day’s permits going toward the seasonal lottery and the remaining (plus any unclaimed seasonal lottery permits) going toward the day-before lottery. 

Learn more about Angels Landing springsummer, and fall permits.  

Coyote Buttes North (The Wave), Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona/Utah

The Wave in Arizona

Coyote Buttes North allows 64 people per day to visit The Wave; that number is further divided by people who enter the advanced lottery versus the daily lottery. Applicants can enter the lottery at any point throughout the year—just know that you’re applying for a permit in the calendar month four months ahead. So if you apply in January, you’d be applying for a permit for May. Lottery winners are chosen on the first day of the following month. For instance, the permit winners who apply in the January 1–January 31 lottery window are chosen on February 1.

Learn more about The Wave’s Advanced Lottery and Daily Lottery

Brooks Lodge, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska

A bear catches a fish over a waterfall in Katmai National Park

Other lotteries involve so much planning—and, let’s be honest, fanfare—that they book out not one but two years in advance. Enter Brooks Lodge in Alaska, the accommodations you’d use as an outpost to view coastal brown bears at Brooks Falls. The lottery runs through December of the year two years prior to when you’d be locking in a reservation. For instance, people who put their name in the hat from December 1–31, 2023, would have the chance for reservations in 2025. Winners will be drawn and contacted throughout January 2024, and an extensive waitlist takes shape during this time as well. Although the lottery is already closed for the 2025 season, it’s the perfect time to begin planning for 2026 travel. After all, national park lodges and animal encounter tours are some of the trips that need to be planned well in advance. 

Learn more about the Brooks Lodge lottery, including group size limits and waitlist specifications.

There are tons more permits available. Visit Recreation.gov to find the permit that fits your travel plans. Remember: Permit specifications can change from year to year, so always check before traveling.  

Leave no trace

We saved the most important for last. It should go without saying, but if you’re going to hit the trails, be sure you’re doing so respectfully and responsibly. The Leave No Trace organization outlines seven principles that every person should follow when heading outdoors: 

  1. Plan ahead & prepare
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts 
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of others

Instagram accounts like @leavenotraceorg, @recreate.responsibly, @nationalparkservice, and the individual pages for your favorite national parks also provide invaluable information about how you can lessen your impact on the environment as a visitor while appreciating all that our national parks have to offer. 

Published January 11, 2024

Last updated January 16, 2024

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