The US national parks sell themselves as wild places where visitors can experience the unfettered majesty of mother nature, but anyone who has ever stood at the south rim of the Grand Canyon in July or August might have a different impression.
While visitor numbers have boomed – Zion National Park recorded over 4.3 million visitors in 2016, up from 3.6 million in 2015 – parks have been starved of federal funds, and it's showing in the form of worn-out trails, deteriorating roads and crumbling infrastructure. In a bid to garner more funds, the US National Parks Service is proposing to jack up the peak season entrance fees at 17 of its national parks.
During busy periods, the entrance fee at some of the most popular national parks including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton and Zion would rise to $US30 to $US70 per car, or $US30 per person.
One workaround – the America the Beautiful pass which provides free entrance to all national parks for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle, valid for one year, would remain at $US80.
The National Parks Service is also mulling the possibility of timed reservation slots to alleviate the congestion experienced in peak periods at some national parks.
Already some parks have instituted shuttle systems for visitors such as that operating on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, shunting private vehicles off the park's roads in favour of buses. If these natural wonders are on your wish list, consider travelling out of season, or be prepared to travel in a herd.