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Douglas Scott | Feb 2nd, 2021

What the New NPS Mask Requirement Means For National Park Visitors

On February 2nd, 2021, nearly a full year after Covid-19 infected every aspect of life in the United States and around the world, a mask requirement has been issued for all National Park lands. It is straight forward and very simple to follow, helping to keep everyone safe. 

The TL;DR version of this is easy to remember: Any time you are inside, or if you are around people outside and are unable to remain physically distant- WEAR A MASK. 

A press release issued on Groundhog Day of 2021 states that face masks are now required in all NPS buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks and historic homes. Additional public health measures are in place across the service, from capacity limits to one-way trails, or even temporary closures in response to local conditions.

“Working with public health officials and following the latest science and guidance, we can make national parks safer for employees, visitors and partners,” said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge. “We will continue to evaluate operations and make appropriate modifications to visitor services as needed.” 

But what does this mean for your next visit to a National Park?

The answer is pretty simple. If you are around people, wear a mask. If you are not around people, and you feel comfortable enough, take that mask off and breathe deep! 

If you happen to be at Old Faithful in Yellowstone, always wear a mask. The same thing goes with the well-traveled areas of Paradise or Sunrise at Mount Rainier, or around the buildings and busy trails right near the Hurricane Ridge visitor center in Olympic. If you leave the parking area and busy pathways and hike until people are gone, then you can take your mask off, if you wish.

Here are a few more examples:

Heading inside a restroom, gift shop, lodge, visitor center or any other building? Wear a mask. 

If there is a sign saying to wear a mask? Wear a mask.

Hiking on a trail that is miles from anyone else? No need to wear a mask.

On a popular trial where social distancing isn’t possible? Wear a mask.

Standing in line for anything? Wear a mask. 

Driving your own car in the park, alone or with members of your household? No need to wear a mask. 

Standing at a popular overlook when others are around? Wear a mask.

In a parking lot before a hike or walking to a viewpoint? Wear a mask.

Watching a sunrise or sunset over a majestic viewpoint with nobody else around? No need to wear a mask. 

If a park official or members of the public around you ask you to wear a mask? Wear a mask. 

Have more questions about scenarios? Contact the National Park you will be visiting and ask!

The mask policy is not going to be invasive. If anything it will give you and others peace of mind to enjoy the experiences and exploration of our public lands. Those who openly wish to defy this are putting themselves and others at risk. However, if you see someone far away from from anyone else without a mask on, outdoors, let them be. Be smart and mindful of the CDC guidelines and let those out of the contamination zone do their thing. Please refrain from chastising people that are following the rules and regulations, but who may not be as vigilant as yourself and are still following the rules. 

If you see violations of the mask requirement: Find the closest ranger or volunteer in the area and let them know. They will take care of the situation. 

The NPS Press Release includes this quote from NPS Office of Public Health Director Captain Sara Newman: “Wearing a mask around others, physical distancing, and washing your hands are the simplest and most effective public health measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Getting outside and enjoying our public lands is essential to improving mental and physical health, but we all need to work together to recreate responsibly.”

Visitors should check individual park websites and social media channels for details on operations before they visit. Park rangers are on duty to provide information, protect visitors and park resources, and uphold this requirement. Other tips to recreate responsibly are available on NPS.gov.

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