The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses, schools and restaurants to lock their doors — and now it's forcing U.S. national parks to close as well. But for those looking for an escape into nature, the National Park Service and other companies are offering free virtual access.
On March 17, the National Park Service announced it would begin modifying operations at its 419 national parks to comply with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. The NPS said outdoor spaces will remain open so long as they adhere to the guidance of social distancing.
"The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners is the priority of the National Park Service," said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. "Park superintendents are empowered to modify their operations, including closing facilities and cancelling programs, to address the spread of the coronavirus."
So far, Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, California's Yosemite National Park and both Ellis Island and Liberty Island in New York have completely closed off public access. Many other parks, such as Big Bend National Park in Texas, White Sands National Park in New Mexico, Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, are closing down visitors centers, overnight camping and museums, while keeping trails and roads open.
Although access to these spots is being minimized, here are some ways to continue getting a virtual breath of fresh air.
National Parks Service virtual tours
NPS offers virtual tours of some of their most popular parks, museums and historical sites. Visitors can go to the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in New York and Pennsylvania, and Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, all from the comfort and safety of home. Dozens of other spots can be found by searching the park service's website.
Google Arts and Culture virtual tours
If NPS doesn't offer a tour of a specific park, there is a good chance Google will. Google Arts and Culture has a selection of 113 national park views to choose from, including Anacapa Island in California, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. The website also includes videos and photos of museum exhibits, artifacts and more.
Go international with Google Earth
Wanderlusters feeling restless with the recent coronavirus-induced travel restrictions can still have adventures from their homes. On top of virtual hikes through 31 national parks, Google Earth also offers virtual treks through Mt. Fuji in Japan, the Khumbu valleys at the base of Mt. Everest in Nepal, Gombe National Park in Tanzania and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.