State and national parks in the U.S. had one heck of a 2020, as many of us chose to vacation in wide-open spaces. Yellowstone National Park recorded its busiest October in history, with visits up a whopping 110 percent over 2019. State parks across Colorado saw a 20 percent jump in 2020, year over year. And 2021 is shaping up to be just as big — if not bigger — says Rebecca Ferrell, the public information manager at Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
That means the planning starts now. "It's best to reserve many months ahead since sites for March and onward fill up well in advance," says Wendy Wilson, assistant manager at Antelope Island State Park, in Utah.
Spots at national parks can be reserved up to six months ahead at Recreation.gov. But another way to avoid crowds is by looking beyond the big names like Grand Canyon or Yosemite: There are more than 6,600 state parks in the U.S., spanning 14 million acres. Among the most beautiful? Dead Horse Point in Utah, Eldorado Canyon in Colorado, and Tettegouche in Minnesota. Thousands of America's state parks are bookable on Reserve America.
Wherever you go, be prepared. Last spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife advised visitors to "plan as if you're going to the moon," and it remains a sound tip: In peak season, and with unpredictable COVID-19 closures, even common items can be very hard to find at camp stores and in shops near popular parks.
"Make a checklist and be sure to include all the essentials, including ground coverings for tents, extra batteries, and garbage bags," says Kathy Kupper, a public affairs specialist at the National Park Service.
If you would rather leave the packing to someone else, consider Tentrr. The platform has more than 800 campsites nationwide, and most come complete with a safari-style tent (and a queen-size bed), a firepit, and everything else you need for a night out in nature.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Don't Wait to Book That Summer Escape.
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