A dose of nature can go a long way toward making you feel better, both physically and mentally. But venturing out during a pandemic can get complicated, so we checked with park officials to get their recommendations on how to do it safely—and whether we should even visit parks at all.
The short answer is that while some parks’ gates remain open, officials are encouraging people to postpone their visits for now, or at least to exercise extreme caution when visiting a park.
At Big Bend National Park, the gates are officially open and no one is collecting entrance fees, but services are limited. And local officials are discouraging travel to the area because visitors tax the resources needed by locals.
Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Presidio counties all have ordered all hotels, short-term rentals, and campgrounds to shutter, so no lodging is available. Within Big Bend National Park, the Chisos Mountain Lodge has closed, although the lodge restaurant is serving takeout meals.
“Nobody can spend the night here in the park,” park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said by phone this week. “All campsites are closed.”
Courtney Lyons-Garcia, executive director of the Big Bend Conservancy, which raises money to support the park, said hopeful visitors should postpone any plans to explore the national park. Out-of-town visitors strain resources—from groceries and cleaning supplies, to hospital beds and medical facilities—needed for locals. Visitors could also inadvertently introduce infection to the area.
“It really is just not the right time to visit,” she said. “We are happy to remind everyone that Big Bend will be there—it’s not going anywhere—and we feel that right now it’s most important to protect the staff of the park, the concessionaire, and our partners at Big Bend Natural History Association.”
Guadalupe Mountains National Park remains open for day use, but its backcountry sites, campgrounds, and visitor centers are closed. At Padre Island National Seashore, the Malaquite Campground and visitor center is closed, but the beach remains open. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is open only for self-guided tours. Waco Mammoth National Monument and Amistad National Recreation Area are closed.
Texas State Parks
Most state parks remain open, but it’s important to use good judgement before packing up the family for a visit.
“Many Texans have chosen to visit their Texas state parks for solace during this time, and I would encourage visitors to continue exercising patience with our park stewards who tirelessly work to ensure that visitors can continue to find relief in parks,” said Rodney Franklin, director of Texas State Parks.
Visitors are advised to follow recommendations and guidelines from the CDC and state and local health officials before heading out.
If you think you may have been exposed to the virus, stay home. If you do decide to visit, maintain proper social distancing. All visitor centers, park stores, events, and group facilities are closed, and visitors are asked to buy and print day-use and camping permits at home. Bring your own soap and sanitizer.
Park officials will close any park with a connection to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Check the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s alert map for up-to-date closures.
As of March 24, the following parks were closed: Battleship Texas, Balmorhea, Bonham, Buescher, Devil’s Sinkhole, Fort Leaton, Government Canyon, Hueco Tanks, Indian Lodge, Lake Casa Blanca, Lost Maples, McKinney Falls, Pedernales Falls, Resaca de la Palma, and Wyler Aerial Tramway. Big Bend Ranch State Park is open for day-use only.
The good news out of all of this? We live in a state crisscrossed with wild places, so we don’t have to travel far to enjoy them. Remember that walking, running, biking, and bird watching can all be done without visiting a park.
“Whatever it is, we hope people will take the opportunity to go outside for a breath of fresh air and see what nature has to offer close to home,” Texas Parks and Wildlife said in a statement.
The department is offering online lesson plans and activities for families. Click here to see what’s available.