Traffic congestion has become part of the experience of visiting popular national parks in the US. Now, more parks are beefing up their public transport options.
If you’ve ever visited an iconic national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite or Glacier, your first glimpses of arresting, postcard-perfect vistas were probably framed by a car window. That’s how I first glimpsed Yosemite’s Half Dome. After driving through the tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road, the road curved and the valley came into view. Angels sang. I was so overwhelmed by that monolith’s grandeur and beauty that I had to pull over onto the shoulder and have a good cry.
Years later, I stuffed my backpack with supplies and headed out my front door, Yosemite bound once again. I walked 10 minutes to the nearest San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) station, which I rode east, to the Richmond station, and transferred to Amtrak. I used the train’s free Wi-Fi to get some work done during the scenic two-hour and 40-minute ride to Merced, California, where I waited a half hour for a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (Yarts) bus up to Yosemite, another two-hour trip.
In total, my fares were double what I’d have paid in gas, but bus riders are exempt from the park’s entrance fee ($20 then, $30 now). The trip took more than an hour longer than driving would have, though slogging through Bay Area traffic could have evened that scale. One less car in the crowded, summer-packed Yosemite Valley that day made an imperceptible difference to the park’s clogged roads and parking lots. But once I was inside the park, the free park shuttles and my own two feet took me everywhere I wanted to go. I experienced zero road rage and could have wept over Half Dome to my heart’s content without worrying about swerving off the road.
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