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12 Things You Shouldn’t Do in Reopened National Parks

Take the time to read up on the changes in U.S. national parks before you go.

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Exploring the great outdoors of the United States is a breath of fresh air and a stunning sight to behold. Now that national parks are reopening, many people are excited to take a trip and see Mother Nature in all her glory. However, there’s a lot we don’t know about the pandemic, including these 12 coronavirus mysteries that still can’t be explained. If you do decide to visit a national park, here are important things to keep in mind before you make a reservation and pack your bags. In the meantime, here are 35 national parks you can explore online right now.

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Hike too close to other people

Life is a bit different after the pandemic, and that includes new measures of social distancing. “Of course, social distancing is one of the biggest changes—but I’d argue this is one of the few cases when social distancing can really enhance your trip,” Molly Fergus, travel expert and General Manager of TripSavvy, tells Reader’s Digest. “Summer is the busiest season for most national parks, and in previous years you might encounter crowds in parking lots or at the start of popular hikes.”

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Family enjoying hiking in forest during the COVID-19 pandemicImgorthand/Getty Images

Not being responsible when visiting

Guests need to respect Mother Nature, especially in a pandemic. “While we are excited to welcome travelers back to Monterey County and Pinnacles National Park, we are encouraging all visitors to travel responsibly by following health guidance and altered park operating procedures in light of COVID-19,” Rachel Dinbokowitz, Public Relations Manager at Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, tells Reader’s Digest. “In addition to practicing Leave No Trace principles, Pinnacles National Park is promoting responsible visitation with maintaining social distance, wearing face coverings, and new procedures aimed at keeping the parking lots from becoming overcrowded.” Here are 20 tiny everyday changes you can make to help the environment.

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Wait for available parking spaces

The days of driving around a packed parking lot in search of a parking spot are over. “Once the parking area fills, vehicles are not allowed to form a line to wait for available spaces,” says Dinbokowitz. “Visitors are encouraged to arrive before 11 a.m. and after 3:30 p.m. if they wish to park inside the park as spaces fill up quickly. High-risk services, such as shuttles and visitor centers, are not currently operating.” Parking lots may fall by the wayside. Some restaurants are even converting their parking lots into drive-in movie theaters.

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Relax in public spots

Visiting a national park and having lunch in a picnic area isn’t going to be the same. “Plan ahead so you can avoid public spots, especially during park peak hours in the early afternoon,” Sergio Pedemonte, CEO of Your House Fitness and certified personal trainer, tells Reader’s Digest. “Parks will have visitor and ranger stations, restrooms, playgrounds, picnic centers, and developed campgrounds. These are the areas you’re most likely to encounter others, so it’s best to stay clear of them for the time being. Just stick to the trails.” Here are 32 things park rangers want you to know prior to your trip.

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Hike on trails you’re not experienced in

Personal safety during a pandemic is more important now than ever before. “Go on hiking trails based on your experience level. Right now is not the time to test your skills or push yourself to the limits,” Mark Evans, founder of Summer Camp Hub and a summer camp consultant who often works with summer camps that are hosted on National Park grounds, tells Reader’s Digest. “There are also fewer people working at national parks overall, so your chances of being saved or found before the situation escalates are lower than normal. If rescue teams need to be sent out for you, you’re putting those people at risk. Similarly, a lot of hospitals are already at their limits so right now is not the time to injure yourself.” You’ll want to think twice before taking these kinds of photos in national parks.

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Leaving sanitation supplies at home

“Bring your own sanitization supplies. With some parks keeping restrooms, campgrounds, and ranger stations closed, you likely won’t have access to usual bathroom facilities,” says Pedemonte. “Those that are open may not have running water, making it impossible to properly wash your hands. Pre-empt all this by bringing your own hand sanitizer, toilet paper, sanitizing clothes, and even a small drying towel.” Here are 15 diseases you can prevent just by washing your hands.

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Not following best exercise practices

It’s time to remember what hiking and working out was like before the pandemic. “Remember other sensible exercise best practices. Drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and don’t overexert yourself when hiking or climbing around national parks,” says Pedemonte. “Dehydration and over-exercising will wear down your body, which will negatively affect your immune system.” It’s important to stay hydrated when doing outdoor activities. This is the safest bottled water you can buy.

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Not make a reservation

The days of showing up to a national park and expecting to be admitted are over. “Keep in mind that many of the most popular parks require reservations even for day visitors,” says Fergus. “Some parks are releasing last-minute reservations two days in advance, while others have lotteries to ensure equal access and keep crowds down. You can book tickets and enter lotteries at recreation.gov.” National parks aren’t the only places you need to make reservations in a pandemic. It’s also one of these 13 things you shouldn’t do at reopened restaurants.

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Yosemite National Park in CaliforniaRiverNorthPhotography/Getty Images

Expect to buy tickets in person

“Parks are keeping park rangers and employees safe by limiting what is open. For some national parks, tickets are only available to be bought online and not in person,” says Evans. “Some of the national park restaurants are only offering to-go orders. National Parks are also limiting the number of people inside the park at all times.” The world is changing, and that includes how we view entertainment. Here are 9 things you won’t see in theme parks anymore.

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Grand Canyon Opens With Limited Capacity And Services On Weekends Amid PandemicMario Tama/Getty Images

Ignore security guards

Due to coronavirus, there have been changes to numerous national parks along with other parks and former estates that should still be taken into consideration. “Changes include hiring a new security staff to monitor visitor behavior—to remind them all to wear masks on the trails through the woods so that visitors can pass each other safely; it is counter-intuitive to think that a walk through a forest can bring you in close proximity to others, but a lot of forethought and listening to visitors’ concerns made this one of our priorities for safety now,” Beth Horn, Executive Director of the Sands Point Preserve Conservancy tells Reader’s Digest. Here are 14 coronavirus mistakes you’ll probably make this summer.

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Not wear a mask

You know the drill by now. “While some parks aren’t requiring masks to be worn, out of respect for others it’s a good idea to wear one,” says Evans. Here’s what you should know before trying to make your own face mask.

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Disregard bathrooms

Before you go, make sure to check the national park’s website and make sure the bathrooms are open. If you have to go after a really long walk or hike, you shouldn’t be using nature as your facility. “Getting back to nature here does not mean using the grounds as a restroom, which is a particular health hazard now; we require visitors to use the restrooms in Castle Gould—we hired a special cleaning crew to sterilize every two hours and make sure that only one ‘household’ uses the facilities at a time,” says Horn. “Visitors are great about waiting six feet apart on line.” Next, here are 18 pre-social distancing photos that feel like ages ago.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might be different post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.