Park Permits & Reservations

Park Permits & Reservations

In the days of social media, it has now come down to this – if you want to access a particular trail, you will need to book your parking and entry permits 30-90 days in advance. Gone are the days when you can stroll onto a trail after having read about it in a guidebook the day before. Popular parks and trails have become so overcrowded that reservations and permits, and even lotteries, are in place to limit the number of visitors.

The reservation process itself can be nerve wracking. Tickets can sell out within minutes of being released. Take Hā’ena State Park in Kaua’i, for example, tickets are released at 12 Midnight Hawai’i time 30 days prior to your desired date of visit. That means someone in California needs to be awake at 3AM to try to secure entry tickets. If you are unable to secure a park&entry ticket, then your last resort is to get a shuttle&entry ticket that costs 3 times as much. Well, that’s what happened to me this morning – paying $70 for the 2 of us to hike the Kalalau trail along the NāPali Coast!

This was us at the Kalalau trail back in 2005. No planning, no permits required. Just some good old spontaneous sightseeing.

A more extreme example is the Havasupai Falls Trail. Not only must one be lightening fast, like my cousin Juin, at the keyboard in February to secure one of the reservations for the year, one must also be willing to cough up $350 per person to hike the trail! At least Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Summit reservation is a reasonable $6 per vehicle.

As for lotteries, the Wave Trail at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument comes to mind. Ten lottery slots are up for grabs 4 months prior to your planned hike. Then another 10 walk-in lotteries at the Kanab BLM office become available the day before the hike. Other than van lifers and retirees, who has the time to camp out in the boondocks of Kanab to participate in a lottery?

Overpopulation and crowding with limited resources are definitely issues. Sure we would all like to blame Instagram, but you can’t deny that it opens up your eyes to the world. Plus, the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t undo Instagram. Reservations and permits do a great job at crowd control. However, only those privileged with time, knowledge of the rules, and resources are granted that access to those coveted places. So it begs the question, is the permitting system fair? Whatever happened to “This land is your land and this land is my land”? How do we think outside the box to make access more equitable?

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