Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 14, 2019

U. S. National Parks Are Affected By a Shutdown: Travel Planning Alert

Portions of the United States federal government are not operating as I write, due to a funding dispute between the Executive and Legislative branches of the government.

The shutdown affects hundreds of thousands of U.S. federal employees. Innumerable activities, services and facilities have ceased operation until a funding agreement is reached and work can be resumed.

Not the most severe impact in human terms, but important here at Under Western Skies is the impact on the National Park Service (NPS), which maintains hundreds of national parks, monuments and historic sites.

Joshua Tree Brad Nixon 6226 (640x471)

Many of the sites are closed, almost all are affected to some degree.

If you’ve planned a trip that includes visiting a site maintained by the NPS in coming days — possibly weeks — you must prepare to adjust your plans.

Early Winters Spires - Liberty Bell Brad Nixon 7396 680

Below are a double handful of examples from NPS parks I’ve visited, most of which I’ve written about. This is a tiny sampling. Many small, historic sites where you planned to get a guided tour will not be open.

Many of these western parks are at elevations where winter conditions always affect one’s ability to travel. During the shutdown, many — if not most — NPS facilities that normally get some snow plowing are now inaccessible by vehicle, either until the shutdown ends or the snow melts — which could be July at higher altitudes.

Tatoosh Range Brad Nixon 7550 (640x480)

I collected this information from NPS websites on January 13, 2019. I’ve linked to the NPS sites for the parks, but they may have outdated information.

NOTE WELL that the shutdown has affected the NPS’ ability to update its website, and this information is incomplete. Contact some local resource, hotel, volunteer support organizations (many parks have them) or find bloggers or websites who report on these sites from a local perspective to get more timely information.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – Open, limits on services.

Grand Canyon Willard Nixon 1980

The park is open, although some NPS facilities like entrance stations, visitor centers and the backcountry office are closed. Accommodations and food services provided by concessionaires are open. The State of Arizona is helping to keep this crown jewel among national parks open. Any severe winter weather will have a greater than usual impact on travel.

Yosemite National Park, California – Open, limits on services


Weather permitting, you can enter the park and access trails in most areas, not all. All the Sequoia groves are closed. Concessionaire-operated accommodations and food are operating. Few NPS facilities, visitor centers or Ranger services, if any, are operating. Trash collection and restrooms may be affected, depending on location.

Olympic National Park, Washington – Most areas, facilities and access roads closed

Olympic range Brad Nixon 0348 640

A severe storm at the end of 2018 closed access to much of the northern portion of the park, including popular Hurricane Ridge. The shutdown will prohibit reopening for the foreseeable future. According to NPS, few, if any, facilities are open, and access is limited to sites immediately along U. S. Route 101.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado – Open, no facilities or services.

Mesa Verde Brad Nixon 9769 (640x480)

At 7,000 feet elevation, Mesa Verde is a challenging visit in a normal winter. The shutdown will prevent all but emergency snow clearing and all facilities are closed. It’s a long way into the heart of the ancient ruins from the highway, so set out with extreme caution after checking with locals in Cortez or Durango.

Glacier National Park, Montana – Partially open, weather permitting. Park facilities, visitor centers, and restroom facilities closed.

Glacier NP Bird Woman Falls Brad Nixon 2757 (640x480)

Roads in this mountainous, high altitude park will receive only minimal plowing as needed. Your visit is likely to be “around the edges,” unless you’re prepared to hike in through winter conditions.

Joshua Tree National Park, California – Open, some limits on services/facilities

Joshua Tree Brad Nixon 6293 (640x471)

Contrary to initially announced plans, most Joshua Tree roads and trails are open, thanks to alternative funding and efforts of volunteers. Many facilities are closed. Pack out your trash.

Joshua Tree represented a looming crisis that included individuals driving off-road vehicles in prohibited areas and cutting down Joshua Trees. Be careful out there.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico – CLOSED

Chaco Canyon Pueblo Bonito Brad Nixon 4214 (640x399)

This remote prehistoric site is entirely closed until further notice.

To summarize, MOST national parks, monuments and sites have moderate to severe limits.

One bit of advice: Find state or local attractions in nearby areas that will let you experience some of the environment, flora, fauna and history that may not be accessible until someone in the government figures out how to pay for things.

To close, let’s go to Washington D.C. to visit a man who’d have something to say about this. There were no national parks when he was president, but his memorial is now part of the NPS. It’s open. You walk up the steps, go in and meet him.

Lincoln Memorial exterior Brad Nixon 2548 (640x480)

Then, you listen. What would Abe have to say to us?

Mr. Lincoln, we could use a few words, and more than a little action.

Lincoln Memorial Brad Nixon 2547 (640x480)

No, he’s silent: Abe’s said what he had to say, but he’s looking quite pointedly in one direction.

Lincoln Memorial view Brad Nixon 2534 (640x414)

He’s looking at the White House and the Capitol Building, beyond the Washington Monument.

He’s looking at us, too. What will we do?

The top three photos depict Joshua Tree National Park: Jumbo Rocks; North Cascades National Park: Early Winter Peaks and Liberty Bell; and the Tatoosh Range, immediately south of Mount Rainer in Mount Rainier National Park.

Here’s an article from the New York Times, reporting from Estes Park, at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Grand Canyon photograph © Willard Nixon 2019, used by kind permission.


  1. That government shutdown is so stupid. I hope they can come to some sort of agreement soon. It is so sad for the 800,000 people not getting paid. To think Trump thinks that they will not mind, and that their landlords will give them a break on their rent. Trump has never worked a real job in his life, and is completely out of touch with the common person. I heard the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers sent the American Air Traffic Controllers pizza a few days ago, at like 1000 airports or something.


    • Shawn, I hope that’s true. If it is, it says everything about the regard Americans have for our Canadian neighbors.


  2. As evidenced by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow a vote to reopen the government (to pass bills previously passed 100 to 0 and approved but not signed by Trump) it is very clear that Republicans like the shutdown for a variety of reasons.

    Here are just a couple of the most obvious reasons. One, they hate “big government.” The shutdown could have the effect of cutting hundreds of thousands of government positions. Two, they only like national parks as an untapped source of mining and timber (parks which, by new regulations, they have already begun to plunder). So, if the parks are closed to the public, Republicans could care less.

    Almost finally, you ask what Abe would say. He’ll remain silent. Why? Because reason can have no effect on the unreasonable and the cruel.

    And finally, I love Canada and the Canadian people!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I endorse your espousal of Mr. Lincoln’s admonition that reason has no effect on the unreasonable and the cruel.


  3. When I read about the vandalism at Joshua Tree, I alternated for a while between anger and nausea. I do think I wish the parks had been closed, period. The articles I’ve read about damage, injuries, trash piles, and such make clear that allowing public access with no supervision isn’t wise. Quite apart from the lunkheads who see an opportunity to do damage, the logistics of keeping the places clean are clearly unworkable.

    Beyond that, I’ve pondered a bit about what’s generally termed that ‘thin veneer of civilization.’ If all it takes for people to begin destroying a national treasure is the absence of supervision, we may be living in a society that’s akin to a seventh grade class that’s just waiting for the substitute teacher to leave the room.

    Whether our Congress and President could be so characterized is open for discussion, of course. It might be a compliment to compare them to seventh graders.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve also decided all the parks should be closed. It’s a backfiring and potentially dangerous P.R. stunt — creates the impression the shutdown isn’t as bad as it is, for one thing.
      And now there are tens of thousands of visitors in potentially wild or dangerous places where there is even less supervision than ever.
      The vandalism and abuse in the parks is taking me another step along the path opened in my thinking by the 2016 election: I’m not certain any clear majority of my fellow citizens are anything better than ignorant children.
      I think all the parks should close until there’s money and means to operate them.


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