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Important Note: This post was originally created to encourage responsible exploration during government shutdowns, specifically that of late-2018 to early-2019, however national parks are currently overwhelmed with the amount of traffic they are receiving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We recommend that you DO NOT go to any national parks until “shelter in place” is no longer in effect. This is for your own health as well as the health and safety of others. Crowded trails are leading to higher chances of spreading disease, more and more national parks are beginning to close to discourage this type of behavior. For more information, please see USA Today.

If you’re like us, you probably had all these grand ole plans for all the national parks you could visit this winter, especially during the holidays. Depending where you were planning to go this holiday 2018-2019 winter season, you might be in for a rude awakening due to the federal government shutdown. All of this is based on our own experiences during the shutdown. This is what you have to know, and how you can prepare for it! 

For the record, we’ve been back from our road trip less than a week. But we felt that since the federal government shutdown is still going on, with no real end in sight, we figured we would quickly write this post which will hopefully be useful to our readers. 🙂

Months prior to the shutdown, we had made plans to road trip from California to Nevada, and Arizona beginning the day the government shutdown started, darn! But fortunately for you, we’ve learned some amazing tips for traveling to some of the most popular national parks, monuments, and forests during the government shutdown!

Note: We do not claim to know everything about the 2019 government shutdown, but we are reporting what we know to the best of our abilities. These may include personal experience gained before and during our travels to specified national parks and as such many of the national parks and monuments we covered are in Nevada and Arizona. 

One of the views we saw while road tripping in Arizona.

How to Road Trip the United States and Visit National Parks During a Federal Government Shutdown

Federal Government Shutdown of December 2018 to 2019 (ongoing)

The federal government shutdown (this time around) began on Saturday, December 22, 2018 with many government workers with jobs deemed “essential” still reporting to work. This includes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Border Patrol, U.S. Postal Service, and select members of the military (AZ Central).

National Park Shutdown Status

According to the National Park Service website

During the federal government shutdown, this website will not be updated and may not reflect current conditions. Some national parks may remain accessible to visitors; however, access may change without notice. Some parks are closed completely. Some visitor services may be available when provided by concessioners or other entities. For most parks, there will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance. For more information, see www.doi.gov/shutdown and the park website.

So what does this all mean?

This means that rangers and other employees of the National Park Service aren’t considered “essential” and have not been reporting to work. Is my favorite national park closed? Will the national park I’ve been planning to visit for months be closed?

We’ll be discussing ALL of that in this post and more.

UPDATE: As of January 7, 2019, it looks like the National Park Service may be using admissions fees to maintain bathrooms, trash pick up, and park maintenance as well as rangers to patrol the parks amidst the federal government shutdown. However, this isn’t typical use of funds (and is potentially illegal) as the money is usually used towards improving visitor services, so it remains to be seen how this will impact the parks currently and in the future. (NPR.org)

To help you out, we’ve also included a curated list of open or closed statuses of national parks during the federal government shutdown — see Which Parks Are Open? National Park Statuses During the Federal Government Shutdown section. 

What to Do When Faced With the 2019 Government Shutdown — What You Can Do in Advance

If you’re like us, you probably did some planning in advance, even if it was as simple as booking your lodging. You might feel helpless — What is going to happen to your booking? Will you lose all your money? What should you do? Should you cancel your cabin?

Beautiful red rocks inside Red Rock Canyon! Super glad we got to go here amidst the government shutdown.

Call the National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests

Jimmy had called many of the parks we’d planned to go to beforehand, when there was news of a potential shutdown. For the most part, they gave him honest answers of what they knew at that point in time.

We were able to gather information from the national parks, monuments, and forests in Nevada and Arizona through phone calls and personal experience listed below in the Which Parks Are Open? National Park Statuses During the Federal Government Shutdown section.  

We were able to hear from most of the parks we called and get their status on whether they were open. Because many states have stepped in and provided the money necessary to keep their parks open, it is definitely worth it to contact the parks yourself to get a definite answer.

Also be sure to keep in mind that some sites ARE actually national sites even if you might not think so, so don’t be like us! Do your research so you can get your answers! 

Many States (& Others) Keeping National Parks Open!

While it is true that many national parks, monuments, forests, and museums are closed due to the government shutdown of 2019. But there are still many state governments that are stepping in to keep their parks open.

For example, the state of Arizona has stepped in to keep the Grand Canyon partially open. The state of New York is keeping the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open. Two nonprofit groups have stepped in to keep Arches (closed as of December 31, 2018), Zion, and Bryce Canyon National Parks partially open.

We got to visit the Grand Canyon National Park, almost exactly as we had planned!

National Parks During the 2019 Government Shutdown — What You Can Do Once You’re There

Keep in mind that even though many national parks were “open,” they are not completely 100% open, they might only be “partially open,” so be sure to manage your expectations. Some things may or may not be operational during your visit, i.e. shuttle buses, visitors centers, campgrounds, etc.

Also, chances are that even if you’re staying within the national park, your lodging isn’t owned and operated by the National Park Service. Typically, the privately owned businesses including gift shops, lodgings, and restaurants remained open.

What Parts of the Parks Remain Open During the 2019 Government Shutdown

Please note that as the shutdown becomes longer and longer, this may change.

  • FREE Admission!
    One cool thing about the parks that were open was that admission was FREE! This saved us about $35 in park fees for the Grand Canyon and $15 at Red Rock Canyon. We have the America the Beautiful Pass though so that didn’t really matter.
  • Restrooms
    This is big, but the restrooms were open at the parks we went to. They weren’t the cleanest, but at least we could go to them!
  • Lodgings, Restaurants, & Gift Shops
    These privately owned entities remained open during the government shutdown. We even used the bathroom at the Bridge Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon before and after doing the Bright Angel Trail. We appreciated that they allowed us to use their facilities and hang out in the lobby.
  • Campgrounds
    While we didn’t use any campground facilities, we have been reading reports that the some campgrounds at Joshua Tree and Yosemite National Parks had remained open but have closed on January 2, for the safety of park visitors (CNN).

How to Help Care for National Park During the 2019 Government Shutdown

While I’m definitely not asking you to actually take care of the park (i.e. clean bathrooms or take out trash) as a park visitor, but sometimes it doesn’t go without saying that there are basic things that should be done as a considerate and mindful visitor. Basically, do what you can, and do your part!

Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona, is amazing and definitely worth a visit! It’s also available to visit during the government shutdown.

Where to Visit During the 2019 Government Shutdown (Instead of a National Park)?

The national park I wanted to go to is closed! What should I do? How can I make my plans change easily and painlessly?

Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered! We have some recommendations, at least in Arizona, since we had to change our original plans quite a bit.

Check out the Local Parks and Trails!

State parks and local recreation areas are unaffected by the government shutdown because they are not run by the National Park Service.

In the Phoenix area, for avid hikers, we’d recommend trying out Camelback Mountain Trail in the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area. Keep in mind this is rated an “extremely difficult” hike so be prepared for some scrambling!

For a more casual and leisurely hike, Pinnacle Peak, Hole in the Rock, and Shaw Butte are great opportunities for a short workout and some beautiful views of Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Don’t forget to visit Lower Antelope Canyon! Because it’s part of the Navajo Nation, the Navajo tribes are still running tours of both Upper and Lower canyons during the government shutdown.

If You’re in Arizona (or Planning to Visit Arizona), Visit Within the Navajo Nation!

Areas located within the Navajo Nation remained open during the government shutdown since they’re on native land, they are not part of the National Park Service.

This means Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon were open for visiting during the government shutdown! Horseshoe Bend is technically part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area so is IS a “national” site, but they remained open. We saw ALL 3 beautiful sites and they’re totally worth it.

It is possible to do all of these activities in Page, AZ in one day. We woke up early and went to Horseshoe Bend, then headed to Upper Antelope Canyon in the mid-morning, and the Lower Antelope Canyon in the afternoon before driving down to Sedona.

Sedona, AZ is definitely beautiful any time of year. Many of the local trails in the Coconino National Forest were still open to the public during the government shutdown.

Day Trip to Another Town or City

If we had booked our lodgings in Flagstaff instead of Sedona, we may have had to resort to this during the government shutdown because two or our main sights in Flagstaff (Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments) were closed.

If you, like us, can’t go to Sunset Crater or Wupatki located north of Flagstaff either, I recommend heading down to Sedona instead and exploring Cathedral Rock, Bells Rock, and Courthouse Butte. Sedona is a beautiful city and totally worth visiting, even if it’s a little on the touristy side.

It’s definitely worth checking to see if you can somehow re-route your plans to day trip to a nearby city instead!

There Are Still SO Many National (or State, or Local) Parks You Can See!

Look on the bright side, there are so many options on things you can do (especially in Arizona) during the government shutdown. Hopefully this post as helped you with your plans to visit the national park system as we continue to wait on the federal government to reopen again.

Which National Parks Are Open? National Park Statuses During Federal Government Shutdown

Please note that as the government shutdown continues, this information may be subject to change and will be continuously updated as soon as possible. 

This is not a definite list of every single park (or monument, forest, etc.) in the National Park system, we’ve tried to include the most popular parks to make things simple. The list is based upon what we were able to find information for and our own personal experiences. For the California national parks we have information on below, it was gathered primarily through news articles found online, we have cited the sources below.

Important Note: All entry to the following national parks is at your own risk. We are not responsible for any decisions, injuries, or actions made within the park or any potential trespassing of a closed park. 

Alaska (AK)

  • Denali National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    From the National Park site, “During the federal government shutdown, Denali National Park and Preserve will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, there will be no visitor services; parking lots may be closed due to lack of snow removal; all offices and contact stations will be closed; and hazardous or dangerous conditions may exist. The Park Road has been closed to vehicle access at mile 3.2 for the season and will remain closed during the government shutdown.”
  • Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve Area – PARTIALLY OPEN
    The park is partially open and accessible to visitors, but there won’t be any visitor services and current park conditions will not be updated.
  • Kenai Fjords National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    The park is partially open and accessible to visitors, but there won’t be any visitor services and current park conditions will not be updated. The Exit Glacier area is not plowed in the winter months and is closed to vehicles.

Arizona (AZ)

  • Bells Rock & Courthouse Butte at Coconino National Forest in Sedona – OPEN
    The hikes and parking lot were open when we visited.
  • Cathedral Rock at Coconino National Forest in Sedona – OPEN
    The hikes, restrooms, and parking lot were open when we visited.
  • Grand Canyon National ParkPARTIALLY OPEN 
    The Arizona State government paid for bathrooms to be cleaned and trash taken out so that the park could stay open. Over the phone, Jimmy was told that the Grand Canyon would be partially shutdown — bathrooms would remain open, but the Visitor’s Center would be closed. Shuttles were running during our time of visit.
  • Hoover Dam atop the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona – OPEN
    The Hoover Dam is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and as such is open to the public during the government shutdown.
  • Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Page – OPEN
    We didn’t call Glen Canyon National Recreation Area because we didn’t realize Horseshoe Bend was part of a “national” site, but it was open during the government shutdown so we totally lucked out!
  • Palatki Heritage Site at Coconino National Forest in Sedona – CLOSED
    This site was super important to us because we had made reservations for a tour led by a NPS ranger. When Jimmy called, they had said they could potentially stay open, but it was unlikely. They suggested he call back after the shutdown began since they would have a voicemail message available. Unfortunately when he called afterwards, the voicemail message stated that they would be closed during the government shutdown.
  • Petrified Forest National Park – CLOSED
    The Petrified Forest National Park is closed during the federal government shutdown, but certain areas including the gas station, convenience store, diner, and gift shop are open. (Eastern Arizona Courier)
  • Saguaro National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN 
    Visitors Center isn’t open but volunteers have been helping to take out the trash and trails are still accessible. (KOLD)
  • Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Flagstaff – CLOSED 
    They would be closed during the federal shutdown.
  • Wupatki National Monument in Flagstaff – CLOSED
    Over the phone, they told Jimmy the park would be closed and pueblos would not be accessible.

California (CA)

  • Alcatraz Island – PARTIALLY OPEN
    Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but since there is a contract with Alcatraz Cruises to take visitors to the island, there are still day tours available. The night and behind the scenes tours have been cancelled due to the federal government shutdown. There will be refunds given for cancelled tours. (LA Times)
  • Death Valley National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    According to the national park site, “The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is open. The Oasis at Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells, & Panamint Springs are open. NPS campgrounds are closed except for Stovepipe Wells. Some roads & hikes are closed. No services; recreate at your own risk.”
  • Joshua Tree National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    Originally set to close on January 9, the park has been made partially open due to funding from Federal Land and Recreation; however in the past few weeks there has been a TON of vandalism. Aside from trash and sanitation issues, people have been sawing down trees and off-roading throughout the park causing potentially irreparable damage to the national park. (Vox)

    If you choose to visit Joshua Tree National Park during the federal government shutdown, please be considerate and mindful of the area. Please pick up after yourselves, pack out your trash, and do not hurt the trees and landscape. The trees can live for as many as 150 years and there are microorganisms in the soil that take decades to grow and can be damaged in one fell swoop.
  • Kings Canyon National Park – CLOSED as of January 2, 2019
    Initially, the park remained open but it has since been closed due to sanitation and safety issues for the remainder of the shutdown. (The Sacramento Bee)
  • Lassen Volcanic National ParkPARTIALLY OPEN
    According to the park website, “Lassen Volcanic National Park entrances will remain open, however access may change without notice, and there are no NPS-provided services. The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center is closed during the federal government shutdown.”
  • Muir Woods National Monument – CLOSED as of January 7, 2019
    Originally, Muir Woods stayed open during the holidays but it is now closed until the shutdown is over. (Curbed)
  • Pinnacles National ParkPARTIALLY OPEN
    According to the park website, “During the federal government shutdown, Pinnacles west entrance is closed, east entrance open to campers only. There will be no visitor services, and hazardous or dangerous conditions may exist. Emergency information may be shared on social media.” Certain bathrooms are open, but they are limited.
  • Redwoods National ParkPARTIALLY OPEN
    Visitors Center is closed, however the park is accessible to the public.
  • Sequoia National Park – CLOSED as of January 2, 2019
    Initially, the park remained open but it has since been closed due to sanitation and safety issues for the remainder of the shutdown. (The Sacramento Bee)
  • Yosemite National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    From the National Park Service website, “Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Grove, and Merced Grove (all sequoia groves), Hetch Hetchy, Wawona and Hodgdon Meadow Campgrounds, Mist and John Muir Trails, and all snow play areas are closed due to human waste issues and lack of staffing.” Also due to winter weather, “Tioga Road and Glacier Point Roads are closed for the season due to snow.” For more on visiting Yosemite National Park, check out our one day in Yosemite guide.

Colorado (CO)

  • Rocky Mountain National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    According to the park website, the park will remain accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists however the vehicle access may be limited due to snowfall.

Hawai’i (HI)

  • Haleakalā National ParkPARTIALLY OPEN
    The park is open with limited services — sunrise visits to the summit are still permitted and the entrance station is staffed from 3 to 7 a.m to check sunrise reservations only. Visitors centers are closed. (Maui News)
  • Hawai’i Volcanoes National ParkPARTIALLY OPEN
    Park is partially open to visitors, see website for specifics on exact areas that are open.

Nevada (NV)

  • Hoover Dam atop the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona – OPEN
    The Hoover Dam is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and as such is open to the public during the government shutdown.
  • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas – PARTIALLY OPEN
    Jimmy tried calling and tweeting them prior to the shutdown but there was no response. Finally the day before we planned to visit, we learned they would remain open via the local news from our hotel room in Las Vegas. The Visitor’s Center was not open, however bathrooms remained open and we saw a guy come by and take out the trash.

New York (NY)

Utah (UT)

  • Arches National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN as of January 10, 2019
    Originally shutdown due to lack of funding, as of January 10, the park will be reopen thanks to a private donation. This will dispatch plows to take care of the roads and pay for limited ranger services. Keep in mind to expect winter conditions and traction devices are recommended throughout the trails (KSL).
  • Bryce Canyon National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    Bryce Canyon Natural History Association has provided funding to keep the national park open through January 10. (Travel Agent Central)
  • Canyonlands National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN as of January 10, 2019
    Originally shutdown due to lack of funding, as of January 10, the park will be reopen thanks to a private donation. This will dispatch plows to take care of the roads and pay for limited ranger services. Keep in mind to expect winter conditions and traction devices are recommended throughout the trails (KSL).
  • Zion National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    Washington County, the city of St. George, the Zion Forever Project and the Utah Office of Tourism have contributed money to keep the park open until January 12, 2019. (Travel Agent Central)

Wyoming (WY)

  • Grand Tetons National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    According to the website, the park will remain accessible but government services will not be available.
  • Yellowstone National Park – PARTIALLY OPEN
    The park is accessible to the public and volunteers have been helping with the trash and bathrooms, but all government run services are unavailable. (Idaho Statesman)

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