Traffic stretching more than three miles from a national park entrance station. Parking areas inside some national parks filling by 10 a.m. National park superintendents acknowledging that the visitor experience is being impacted.
If there was any doubt that America's national parks are popular with tourists, this summer's traffic erased it.
At Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, some days the line of vehicles waiting to pass through the Nisqually Entrance Station can back up 3.5 miles and take two hours to negotiate. At Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the parking area at ever-popular Bear Lake routinely fills by 10 a.m. At Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, the lines to enter the South Rim have half-seriously been compared to the lines for tickets to the popular Broadway show Hamilton.
So hectic has business been at the icons of the National Park System that the Chicago Tribune called for daily quotas to be established.
Something's wrong with our national park system when lines to get to the Grand Canyon's South Rim look like lines to get "Hamilton" tickets. America's annual pilgrimage to our national parks has become a shoulder-to-shoulder, bumper-to-bumper stress test.
At Yosemite National Park, officials agree that parking can be a challenge. Even though the park has a shuttle system to help move people around the scenic Yosemite Valley, some visitors complain that, "it’s frustrating because of all the time you spend in traffic.”
In Washington state, while the editorial board of The News Tribune laments the crowding and exhaust, it urges visitors to endure.
"...the important thing is not to let all this talk of traffic congestion deter you from going at all; it should only serve to improve your travel strategy. If anything can renew a weary spirit, it’s Mount Rainier," the board wrote, adding, however, "(A)s you’re waiting to pay your entrance fee and motor up the mountain, remember why you’re there. Don’t sit in your car and seethe. Save that for when you’re searching for an elusive parking spot higher up the mountain."
Mount Rainier officials, who say traffic issues will compound the high visitation levels through late October as road construction continues, aren't shying away from the issue.
"Is the parking lot full? Perhaps the trail is busier than normal, or maybe you waited in a long line to enter the park?," they wrote in their weekly construction update. "All signs of a busier than normal summer here at Mount Rainier. Each year we welcome over one million visitors, and 2016 might break past records as the busiest year. Over the last 100 years park visitation has increased from around 24,000 in 1916 to around 1,200,000 in 2015. Some say the 'more than merrier,' while others feel we are 'loving parks to death.' Where do you stand?"
So, where do you stand?