Like most of the US, national parks across America have reopened, and joyful visitors have taken to the parks and other beloved landmarks to enjoy the outdoors and embrace the natural social distancing that many of these wide open spaces offer. After closures across the country due to the 2019 novel coronavirus that shuttered business and schools and kept people working from home under stay-at-home orders most parks have reopened with a focus on new safety protocols designed to keep visitors safe whilst allowing them to enjoy a new normal. And the national parks are not the only tourist attractions opening across the country. Casinos and theme parks have also reopened, among countless other attractions. Surely travelers from throughout Europe who cross the pond to explore the United States under the visa Waiver Program (VWP) are wondering when ESTA travel will resume. Soon, we all hope.
The national parks are some of the nation’s greatest treasures, showcasing the splendor of nature from the Florida Everglades to California’s giant sequoias. These impressive sights attract many visitors each year, with Yellowstone National Park attracting more than 4 million visitors in 2019.
As the parks reopen, officials are doing their best to minimize the potential risk of virus transmission. There are limits on the number of people that can visit at the same time and the parks are being reopened in phases. And visitor centers are in many places still closed to ensure people do not gathering too close.
Since the temporary travel ban was instituted in March, travelers who are eager to visit the US have waited patiently for the entry ban to be lifted. For ESTA VWP travelers and other European tourists with plans to visit the States, the wish is that they will be able to visit the US again, soon. No date for easing of the restrictions is in place but in the meantime the US is re-opening and Americans are basking in the delight of summer warm weather excursions, albeit in a new way...
As the lockdowns are eased, a new normal has swept across the country, just like across the rest of the world. The new normal involves updated health and safety protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible from the contagion, while still allowing a return to a semblance of normalcy―summer holiday spent enjoying nature and beloved landmarks is part of that “normal.” In keeping with this theme, tourist attractions such as The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and the Great Smoky Mountains Park, among others, have released new guidelines for visitor safety even as they open to domestic tourists and leisure travelers.
New safety protocols at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park has taken many steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus. The most impactful change to the previous status quo is the closure of many buildings like the visitor centers and lodging facilities known as inns. Those places that do remain open—such as restaurants (offering take-out only) and gift shops—enforce capacity limits and the use of face masks and hand sanitizers.
Signs throughout the park remind people about social distancing. Whilst popular ranger chats, among a few other activities have also been cancelled many are available to visitors’ pleasure.
Activities that are open include:
• Horseback rides at Canyon Corrals
• Bike Rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Gift Shop
• Guided fishing and sightseeing charters at Bridge Bay Marina
At the park's guest lodges, staff wear face masks on at all times, and clerks at check-in counters stand behind Plexiglas shields. The room keys are plastic cards presented in small envelopes, so guests have a touch-free experience.
Some popular accommodations here that have re-opened include:
• Canyon Lodge & Cabins
• Lake Yellowstone Cabins
• Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
• Old Faithful Snow Lodge Cabins
• Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins
• Lake Lodge Cabins
In a blog post last updated on 18 May 2020, the US National Park Service (NPS) outlined their COVID-19 precautions for Yellowstone, stating that, “Yellowstone is modifying visitor services to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Some facilities and events will be closed or canceled... As circumstances continue to change and we modify our operations as necessary, we thank you for your patience and cooperation. He added that park visitors should, “Come prepared,” and to, “Expect wait times at the park entrances. Wear face-coverings in high-visitation areas and inside visitor facilities. A reduced number of visitors will be allowed in visitor centers (when they are opened) at a given time. Maintain social distancing of six feet (2 m), especially in high-visitation areas (on the boardwalks, in visitor facilities, on popular trails, while viewing wildlife, etc.).”
COVID-19 safety protocols at Grand Canyon Nationa Park, Arizona
At Grand Canyon National Park, the visitor center is open, but the IMAX Theater is closed until further notice. Park amenities may also be limited in order to offer the safest visitor experience possible.
Newly minted measures to keep staff and patrons safe at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center include the following:
• Plexiglas installed in transaction areas
• Touchless financial transaction systems are available
• Decals have been installed on the floors to mark where people should stand (This is to ensure appropriate social distancing)
• Staff uniforms are now kept onsite to be washed and sanitized nightly in keeping with US lodging association guidelines
• More hand sanitization stations have been installed
• All staff members are required to wear face masks and have undergone rigorous new safety and sanitation training
Like many theatres, there will be limited entry to the park’s popular IMAX Theatre due to social distancing protocols. Seating will be addressed by using only every other row with 3 reserved vacant seats between families.
Staying safer while visiting hotels
Hotel stays can be quite safe.
For utmost safety, you should bear the following measures in mind while at hotels you may lodge at as you travel:
• Always wear a face-covering when in public spaces
• Wash your hands regularly, especially after leaving a public space
• When you cannot wash your hands, use hand sanitizers
• Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone not in your family
• Avoid gathering in groups and avoid crowds and mass gatherings
• Be cognizant of the fact that anyone can still spread COVID-19 even those who do not show symptoms
As landmarks and tourist attractions across the US reopen, domestic tourism is seeing a bit of a boom. Fresh air, adventure with family and the summer holiday that everyone hoped they could enjoy. Soon Europeans may be able to again visit the United States and its awing national parks. With the ESTA Visa Waiver Program you can stay for up to 90 days, offering ample time to watch bison at Yellowstone National Park, hug the massive Redwood trees in California, or ride a native burro deep into the Grand Canyon.
Can I order my ESTA now?
Yes! Once you have been approved for the ESTA visa waiver it is valid for two years. So, if you want to avoid the rush and possible processing delays once the US borders re-open to Europe and beyond, now is a great time to complete and submit the ESTA application.
For eligibility questions, visit our ESTA Online Learning Center for a complete guide to the ESTA VWP.