Yosemite National Park is a popular tourist destination with high visitation levels that have increased throughout the summer season over the past several decades. Like with other protected areas, high visitation levels pose challenges for coordinating resources, infrastructural capacity, and visitor experiences. Use limits, including rationing vehicle entry at gates by reservation, are one possible strategy to manage visitation levels. After an initial full closure, the park chose to operationalize a multiphased permit system for day-use and overnight entry over the course of the pandemic in accordance with local and national guidelines for operational safety. While park closures and other entry restrictions have been common in recent years due to wildland fires and other natural hazards, the pandemic-related entry limits represent a nearly yearlong experiment. The prolonged entry ration along with restrictions to group activities has limited visitation and potentially reduced transmission of the novel coronavirus. We review the per capita COVID-19 case count in surrounding counties given the flow of tourism from outside the region, assess the changes in access to the park with the novel reservation system, compare monthly visitation during the 2020 use limits with prior decadal averages, detail how high visitation levels and crowding persist, and review the Park’s plans for an ongoing day-use permit system. We conclude with the ongoing challenges managers face in light of continued high visitation. Readers will be able to debate the efficacy of use limits and what may be a sustainable level of visitation for the park.

You do not currently have access to this content.