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Yosemite National Park is trying to find a balance between the visitor experience and keeping it accessible.

Yosemite National Park is bringing back its reservation system. During peak times next year, travelers won’t be able to enter the park without a reservation, the National Park Service said Wednesday.

Starting January 5, travelers will have to reserve visits in advance for most days during the summer. For  weekends and holidays, they’ll have to reserve visits in April, May and June and again in August, September and October. 

The new system is meant to prevent over-tourism. “This pilot system will inform how we ensure an equitable and outstanding visitor experience while protecting Yosemite’s world class resources,” said National Parks Service Superintendent Cicely Muldoon. 

Yosemite is America’s sixth most visited national park, with 3.7 million visits in 2022, according to the National Park Service.

Reversing No Reservation System Policy

Yosemite introduced the reservation system in 2020 because of the pandemic. It removed it last December for the summer of 2023. At the time, some tour guides were unhappy about the decision: One told Skift the reservation system made the park less crowded and gave visitors a better experience. 

Fast forward to this past summer: “If you were in the park on a weekend last summer, it was busy,” said Tony McDaniel, director of communications for Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, the destination marketing organization for Mariposa County, one of the four counties Yosemite National Park spans.

The new system is built off that recent experience and research. “This summer’s pilot system is built from extensive public feedback, data from three years of pilot reservation systems here in Yosemite, and lessons learned from other national parks,” said Muldoon.

Hotels Expect to See Less Foot Traffic

In previous years, reservations were required for seven days a week from June through the end of September. The reservation requirements for months in the spring and fall surprised Yosemite Mariposa County officials.

“Seeing that there were gonna be reservations required on weekends from April, May, and into October was definitely a surprise,” said McDaniel. 

The local tourism industry could lose revenue as a result. Yosemite National Park is the community’s top tourist draw. At least 50% of the county is employed in tourism, according to Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, which is funded by local hotels.

“Our hotels are opposed to it,” said McDaniel. “Because all the hotels that are outside the park are basically trying to make up the bulk of their income to be sustainable throughout the entire year over the summer period.”

The New Reservation Policy

Travelers will have to make the reservation between 5am and 4pm:

  • April 13-June 30: Saturdays, Sundays and holidays only.
  • July 1-August 16: Daily.
  • August 17-October 27: Saturdays, Sundays and holidays only.

During the popular Horsetail Fall waterfalls event, travelers will have to book for any time of the day:

  • February 10-11, February 17-19 and February 24-25.

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Tags: national parks, overtourism, tourism, yosemite

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