The National Park Service recently proposed fee increases during peak-season in the 17 most visited national parks. These national parks fee increases are intended to improve infrastructure within the park to manage higher visitor numbers by renovating roads, bridges, campgrounds, and other visitor services.

National park visitation has been on the rise, with 2016 seeing historic numbers due to the centennial anniversary of the national park system. Yosemite National Park, which celebrated its 125th birthday in 2015, saw more than 20% increases in visitor traffic last year with a record high of over 5 million visitors. In the decade between 2006 and 2016, visitor numbers to Yosemite have increased by over 55%.

Meanwhile, access and financial support of our National Parks is a big discussion here in the United States. Some Americans believe that funding from tax revenue should be decreased, or that management should be transferred to the state budgets to lower federal taxes. The issue of how -and from whom- National Park funding should be sourced is in debate at many levels of our government.

We’ve seen a lot of questions about the recently proposed National Park fee increases. What will this mean for guests, the tourism industry, and the parks themselves? Many are against the fee increases, on the grounds that it will decrease accessibility for lower income visitors to see the parks. However, some have proposed that an increase of the fees into the parks will be helpful.

25 years ago, a private vehicle paid $5 to enter Yosemite National Park. This was raised to $20 in 1997, and upped again to $30 for peak season in 2015. The current proposal would:

  • Increase average private vehicle entrance fees by an additional 133% (peak season)
  • Increase average commercial vehicle entrance fees by an additional 294% (peak season)
  • Implement a new $5 per person charge for all commercial guests (charged to companies annually)

It’s unclear how much time the parks themselves have had to study the expected economic and cultural impact of a change of this magnitude. Increased entrance costs may discourage lower-income visitors and dampen local tourism, a vital source of income to the areas surrounding the parks. Prices for guided tours into National Parks would likely see notable increases as early as 2018 to account for increased operational costs.

The US tourism industry has weighed in on these proposed national parks fee increases. National Tour Association President, Pam Inman said:

“We recognize that additional fees are needed to preserve our natural and cultural treasures. Our primary concern is the lack of a reasonable grace period to fairly and equitably implement the fee increase into tour packages to ensure the increase will not be unduly burdensome on our customers, users of the parks and tour operators. We are also concerned about the reasonableness and size of the proposed increase.”

At Incredible Adventures, we love our National Parks. We support efforts to improve infrastructure to make them sustainable, and recognize the necessity of keeping these places safe and beautiful for visitors. Funding is always a difficult negotiation, and we hope to see solutions without diminishing accessibility for all of our nation’s residents and visitors.

As a travel/tourism company, we’re aware of the impact we can have on these areas. We do our part to make parks like Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon great by promoting group travel to relieve traffic congestion, and reducing our own carbon footprint by using petroleum-free alternative biofuels in our fleet to keep the air clean and the grass green. We want guests from all walks of life to have amazing experiences in the parks, and to take part in their continued protection and access.

From now until November 23, 2017, the NPS is accepting public comments on the fee structure proposal. We encourage you to talk about this issue, and let them know how you feel about the proposed fee increases.

You can submit your comment here: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates

Or write a letter to:

National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program

1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346

Washington, DC 20240

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the fee increases, according to the news release by the National Parks Service:

How much will fees increase?

During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot (up from $30/$25/$15 currently).  Entrance fees are not charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes.

What parks will be affected by the fee increases?

The proposed new national parks fee increases would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

What will this mean for annual NPS holders?

A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75. The pass that will allow access to all Federal lands is also still available at the price point of $80.

What does this mean for companies like Incredible Adventures and other tour companies?

The National Park Service is also proposing entry and permit fee adjustments for commercial tour operators. The proposal would increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization (CUA) requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees. All CUA fees stay within the collecting park and would fund rehabilitation projects for buildings, facilities, parking lots, roads, and wayside exhibits that would enhance the visitor experience. The fees will also cover the administrative costs of receiving, reviewing, and processing CUA applications and required reports.