Government Shutdown Travel Guide: Where to Go If Your Park Is Closed


By Mark Johanson

Has the government shutdown ruined your travel plans, or those of your friends and family? Here are some open alternatives to the 401 national parks and federal attractions that shut their gates Tuesday morning after the two houses of Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government (Here is more detailed information on how the shutdown will affect travel and tourism).

If You Wanted to Go to: The Smithsonian Institution

Why Not Try: Washington’s privately funded museums

Sure, the Smithsonian museums along the National Mall are at the top of most Washington, D.C., itineraries, but they’re not the only museums in town. Has the NSA scandal piqued your interest in Big Brother? Why not visit the International Spy Museum. Want to celebrate National Geographic’s 125th anniversary this month? Head to the National Geographic Museum. Craving world-class art and design? Try the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection or the National Building Museum. Do tales of crime and punishment tickle your fancy? Hightail it to the Crime Museum or the newly renovated Newseum.

If You Wanted to Go To: The Statue of Liberty

Why Not Try: Staten Island Ferry

The Statue of Liberty turned away the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free Tuesday, but while the statue itself may be closed, there is nothing stopping you from hopping on the free Staten Island ferry for a ride-by. Alternatively, Statue Cruises, the official concessioner to the National Park Service, announced Tuesday that it would run a harbor tour service around Lady Liberty, Ellis Island and all the iconic sights of the New York Harbor as a result of the government shutdown.

If You Wanted to Go To: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Why Not Try: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Great Smoky Mountains is, by far, the most visited national park in the U.S., with more than 9 million visitors each year, but a good nearby alternative during the government shutdown would be the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects the Smoky Mountains with the region’s other fabled park: Shenandoah. Each fall, more than 2 million leaf-peepers drive this American Byway to ogle the magnificent colors of the changing dogwoods, oak, birch and fir. Though some campgrounds, visitor centers and concessions may be closed amid the shutdown, the parkway itself will remain open, as it traverses plenty of private land with a variety of private facilities.

If You Wanted to Go To: Yellowstone National Park/ Grand Teton National Park

Why Not Try: Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Due south of Yellowstone and just below Grand Teton is the alluring mountain resort of Jackson Hole, Wyo., whose rugged terrain and soaring vistas are not so dissimilar to those found to the north. Expect thousands of horned elk, toothy snow-capped peaks and crystalline mountain rivers. This small town has also made a big name for itself with its luxurious cultural offerings, including galleries, boutiques, spas and indoor diversions aplenty.

If You Wanted to Go To: Grand Canyon National Park

Why Not Try: Meteor Crater

What’s 4,000 feet across, 600 feet deep and the sight of a cataclysmic event 50,000 years ago? The gaping Barringer Crater, which derives its name from the engineer who was the first to suggest that a meteorite crashed into Earth at a speed of 30,000 mph and created this massive hole in the Arizona Desert 43 miles east of modern day Flagstaff in the opposite direction of the Grand Canyon. These days, the crater is privately owned by the Barringer family, and a visitor center on the north rim features interactive exhibits and displays about meteorites and other space oddities.

If You Wanted to Go To: Glacier National Park

Why Not Try: Whitefish, Mont.

Just outside of Glacier National Park lies the popular four-seasons resort of Whitefish, Mont., which is gearing up for some dazzling fall colors at the moment. This authentic mountain town smack dab in the heart of the Rocky Mountain wilderness offers plenty of streams for fishing, alpine wilderness for hiking and a milky blue lake for adventurous mid-autumn kayaking. It’s also been called one of the top 50 golf destinations in the world for those who want to kick back, relax and enjoy the crisp mountain air.

If You Wanted to Go To: Yosemite National Park

Why Not Try: Mono Lake and Bodie

Mono Lake and Bodie form the eastern gateway to Yosemite along Highway 120 and, as state parks, will remain open throughout the government shutdown. The 65-square-mile Mono Lake is one of North America’s oldest, and boasts eerie calcium-carbonate spires and some 1 to 2 million migratory birds throughout the year. Bodie, meanwhile, is a genuine California gold-mining ghost town that housed some 10,000 people at its peak in the late 1800s.

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