Amid shutdown, some national park options still remain

Friday , October 04, 2013 - 9:44 AM

Shutdown Parks Tourism

A sign at the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz., indicates the park is closed on...

The Associated Press

The government shutdown has forced the nation's national parks to close. Below is a snapshot of access at some of the most popular parks under the shutdown, as well as alternatives for those who are determined to try to salvage their vacations:

GRAND CANYON

With 4.5 million visitors a year, the Grand Canyon is one of the country's busiest national parks. A state highway allowed visitors a few opportunities to peer over the rim until Thursday, when it was closed to everyone but park staff and Grand Canyon Village residents. Officials said too many people were clogging the highway at lookout points and it was creating a safety hazard. Tourists still have options to see the massive gorge, although they can't get their feet on the ground at the national park. The west rim of the Grand Canyon is home to the Hualapai Tribe, which operates a glass bridge jutting out of the canyon walls. The Arizona Snowbowl just outside Flagstaff takes visitors on a scenic skyride in which they can catch a glimpse of the canyon from far away. Helicopter tours over the Grand Canyon weren't affected by the federal shutdown and are available for those willing to pay about $400.

ZION

Visitors to Utah's five national parks still can drive through two of them - Zion and Capitol Reef - on major highways, but they're not supposed to stop along the road or take off for a hike, officials said. Those who do risk a citation or arrest. Visitors can get only distant views of Utah's other national parks. Some campers exiled from the national parks are headed for Utah's nearby state parks, which feature dinosaur tracks, canyons and spectacular red rock formations like Kodachrome Basin below Bryce Canyon National Park. The National Park Service has told rafters to stay off the Colorado and Green rivers that run for hundreds of miles through Utah. A skeleton staff is waving them away from popular launch sites. Commercial outfitters are heeding the warning, as they could jeopardize their permits by launching river trips.

YOSEMITE

Officials have blocked access to the valley at Yosemite National Park in central California, but visitors can travel down roads with views of a sub-alpine meadow full of wildflowers and of towering granite icons Some private vacation rentals remain open. Companies that run steam-engine tours, and offer photo safaris, zip lines and walks through a historic park that captures 19th Century life near Yosemite have expanded services for visitors turned away from the national park.A scenic byway on a forest road offers similar views to those in the Yosemite valley, taking you through meadows, rock formations and the exact center of California.

MOUNT RAINIER

The stunning mountain southeast of Seattle is losing out on $2,000 in entrance fees per day during the shutdown. A scenic byway that takes motorists on winding mountain roads through the national park and forested canyons remains open, as does a state highway that runs through an equally spectacular landscape. The western part of the state has plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping but on mountains not nearly as tall as Mount Rainier's 14,410 feet that dominate the skyline on clear days.

YELLOWSTONE

Employees of Yellowstone National Park and residents in towns on the park's edges are the only visitors now. A state highway cutting through the northwest corner of the park in Wyoming is open to through traffic, but park officials say no recreation will be allowed. Outside the park, local officials are touting the fall foliage on scenic drives, as well as museums featuring wildlife art, shopping, cowboy culture and historic sites. In Jackson Hole, visitors can see four arches of antlers in the town square that once served as a backdrop in one of Clint Eastwood's fight scenes. You could catch a staged gun battle there, too.

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