Choose Your Memorial Day Weekend National Park Visit Carefully


Snow will keep Trail Ridge Road across the roof of Rocky Mountain National Park closed this Memorial Day Weekend/NPS photo from May 15, 2024

Memorial Day Weekend might just be the perfect time to explore some of the lesser known units of the National Park System, as some of the better known units are expecting crowds.

Winter still has not entirely let go of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, where the highly popular and nerve-rattling Trail Ridge Road will remain closed this coming holiday weekend as park crews continue to work at digging the road out from snow.

“Park snowplow operators have been plowing Trail Ridge Road since mid-April. May storms with significant winds at higher elevations have hampered snow plowing operations,” park spokesperson Kyle Patterson wrote in an email Wednesday. “Plow operators this week have encountered additional snow accumulation, significant wind resulting in deep snow drifts, freezing cold temperatures and ice.  

Current vehicle closure points on Trail Ridge Road are at Many Parks Curve on the east side and Colorado River Trailhead on the west side,” she added. “Pedestrians and bicyclists should prepare for high wind gusts, snow accumulation, deep drifted snow and ice above tree line. Access points for these users will vary based on weather and road conditions. Visitors parked in traffic lanes or blocking access gates will be cited and towed. Visitors traveling past pedestrian and bicycle closures will be cited.”

Snow won’t be a problem at Zion National Park in southwestern Utah, but park officials are warning of crowding.

Zion recorded more than 96,000 visits over Memorial Day Weekend in 2023. More than half of all national park sites – more than 230 – recorded fewer than 96,000 visits in all of 2023,” the park pointed out in a release.

Pack your patience,” said Jonathan Shafer, Zion’s spokesperson. “We want you to enjoy your visit, and we want to be realistic about what to expect. Be prepared to see lots of other people, and be aware that parking usually fills early in the day. We may temporarily limit vehicle entry to reduce crowding and traffic congestion, and the park pedestrian and bicycle entrance will remain open throughout the weekend.” 

According to Shafer, Zion officials are expecting long lines at entrance stations, visitor centers, restrooms, and at trailheads; lengthy waits to board park shuttles in Springdale and Zion National Park; intermittent, temporary closures at the park’s east and south vehicle entrance stations; and heavy traffic in Springdale and throughout the park.

Across the country at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, officials also are warning of crowds this coming holiday weekend. Among the things you need to keep in mind if you’re set on visiting Great Smoky:

  • The National Park Service does ticket and tow cars parked illegally, unsafely or in places that are damaging resources. And if you’re planning to park in one place for longer than 15 minutes, you also could incur a ticket if you don’t have a parking tag. You can buy your tag online at Recreation.gov or at in-person kiosk locations.
  • More people visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite combined and demand for parking often exceeds capacity at the most popular destinations in the park. Relax and enjoy a shuttle ride from local communities to park destinations. 
  • You might encounter traffic delays and hiking trail closures. Single-lane closures are currently in effect for Newfound Gap Road at the Gatlinburg entrance and Lakeview Drive. Many trails have active maintenance projects or temporary obstacles. 
  • Busy weekends coincide with an increase in thefts from automobiles as visitation increases along popular trailheads and parking areas. Remove valuables from vehicles, close windows and lock doors. If you see something suspicious, stay safe and tell a park employee or call 865-436-1230. 

Among lesser-known parks you might consider for a Memorial Day Weekend visit:

Fort Larned National Historic Site, Kansas

The park will feature a weekend of living history demonstrations.

Saturday

10 a.m. — Living in Luxury: Life on Officers’ Row
11 a.m. — Steadfast Springfields: Small Arms Firing Demonstration
1 p.m. — Wearing the Yellow: Life as a Cavalry Soldier
2 p.m. — Manmade Thunder: Artillery Firing Demonstration
3 p.m. — Martial Music: Communication in the Army
4:30 p.m. — Retreat Ceremony (lowering the flag)

Sunday

10 a.m. — Living in Luxury: Life on Officers’ Row
11 a.m. — Steadfast Springfields: Small Arms Firing Demonstration
1 p.m — Wearing the Red: Life as an Artillery Soldier
2 p.m. — Manmade Thunder: Artillery Firing Demonstration
3 p.m. — Martial Music: Communication in the Army
4:30 p.m. — Retreat Ceremony (lowering the flag)

Monday

10 a.m. — Living in Luxury: Life on Officers’ Row
11 a.m. — Steadfast Springfields: Small Arms Firing Demonstration
12 p.m. — Saluting of the Flag (including a cannon salute)
1 p.m. — Remembering the Fallen: Cemetery Program
2 p.m. — Manmade Thunder: Artillery Firing Demonstration
3 p.m. — Wearing the Blue: Life as an Infantry Soldier
4:30 p.m. — Retreat Ceremony (lowering the flag)

Note: Programs might be changed or cancelled due to weather or staffing. If you want to make sure about a specific program before you come, call us at 620-285-6911. Fort Larned National Historic Site is located six miles west of Larned on Kansas Highway 156.

Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee

On Saturday at 10 a.m. scouting and other youth groups are invited to place flags on more than 7,000 headstones in Stones River National Cemetery. Volunteers and groups should register at https://forms.office.com/g/gwdSr7NWfY.

Participants should plan to arrive by 9:30 a.m. Please carpool if possible. Parking will be adjacent to the park visitor center. Later arrivals may have to walk five to ten minutes to reach the cemetery. All leaders will check-in their group Saturday morning before receiving their flags and section assignments. The check-in table will be located just inside the pedestrian entrance to the cemetery.

At 11 a.m. on Saturday, living historians and veterans representing the major military actions in which veterans buried in Stones River National Cemetery served will offer visitors the opportunity to see uniforms, weapons and equipment used from the Civil War through Vietnam and learn more about the soldiers who served in those conflicts. The living history event will run through 3 p.m. with a noon lunch break and will be located near the national cemetery rostrum.

Sunday will feature the park’s Memorial Day ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Parking will be near the park visitor center. The Memorial Day ceremony will take place at the national cemetery rostrum. Limited seating under tents is available. Guests are encouraged to bring their own seating and shade provisions.

Hundreds of visitors will walk the grounds of Stones River National Cemetery on Monday. Park staff will be on duty in the cemetery to answer questions from 9 a.m. through 7 p.m. Parking in the cemetery will be limited to those who have accessibility needs. All other visitors will need to park near the visitor center and cross Old Nashville Highway at our lighted crosswalk.

Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico

Take a drive through the preserve’s backcountry. Anyone interested in visiting the backcountry by vehicle can reserve a pass by visiting the Valles Caldera Backcountry Vehicle Pass web page on Recreation.gov (https://www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10089849/ticket/10089850). Every day, 35 vehicle passes are available ahead of time. 

In addition, this year the park is introducing five daily first-come, first-served passes. These passes will be available starting at 10 a.m. each day. Visitors can stop by the entrance station to have a ranger issue those passes. 


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