Visitors Will Now Have to Wear Face Masks In 'Crowded Outdoor Spaces' at National Parks

The National Park Service's new face mask mandate applies to all visitors hiking busy trails, on public transportation systems, and inside buildings — regardless of vaccination status.

national park service masks requirement
Photo: Getty Images

When the COVID-19 pandemic first shut down practically every single indoor activity, it also opened the eyes of many folks to the wonders of the great outdoors. Hiking secluded trails within your quarantine bubble became a welcomed escape from reality, an activity that often didn't require social distancing or protective face coverings.

A little over a year later, however, the state of the pandemic-stricken world looks a bit different. In fact, if you're planning to hit a national park soon, you'll need to stash a few face masks in your hiking backpack. The National Park Service announced Monday in a press release that it will now require visitors, employees, and contractors to wear a mask inside all NPS buildings (such as visitors centers and museums), and on its public transportation systems (including NPS-owned shuttles, ferries, trains, etc.). Masks will also be required in crowded outdoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status or the community's current transmission rates of COVID-19.

FTR, the National Park Service defines a "crowded outdoor space" as one where physical distancing isn't feasible, such as on narrow or busy trails and overlooks. For example, if you're packed like sardines at Acadia's popular Thunder Hole in Maineor Joshua Tree's scenic Keys View in California, as photographed by The New York Times last month, masking up is likely your best bet. (These comfy face masks designed for working out will do the trick.)

The new mandate comes roughly three weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people — even those who are fully vaccinated — wear a mask in public, indoor spaces in areas with high transmission levels to help curb the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Simultaneously, some national parks are seeing a record number of visitors; this year, Arches National Park in Utah has had its busiest season since it became a national park in 1971, as NPR reported in July. Yellowstone also hosted more than 483,000 visits — the Wyoming park's most-visited May on record, according to the NPS.

"Visitors to national parks are coming from locations across the country, if not across the world," said Shawn Benge, Deputy Director of the National Park Service, in Monday's press release."Because of this, and recognizing that the majority of the United States is currently in substantial or high transmission categories, we are implementing a service-wide mask requirement to ensure our staff and visitors' safety."

Despite the importance of these safety precautions, you still might not be too keen on trekking through the Great Smoky Mountains or Grand Teton in Wyoming while wearing a face covering. One potential solution? Put a pin in your plans to visit popular destinations such as Zion National Park in Utah and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and instead take the road less traveled. Glacier Bay in Alaska, Isle Royale in Michigan, and North Cascades in Washington all offer the stunning scenery and breath of fresh air you're craving, yet they were some of the least-visited national parks in 2020. Take a trip to one of those under-the-radar locations this year, and you might just enjoy the wilderness all to yourself — and maybe even mask-free too. (Up next: Hike Clerb Is On a Mission to Reclaim the Outdoors for BIPOC)

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles