6 national parks sweltering in the heat wave

6 national parks sweltering in the heat wave

6 national parks sweltering in the heat wave

To the delight of frugal travelers, Wednesday is one of the National Park Service’s six entrance fee-free days of 2024. But the good news, meant to honor Juneteenth, is bad timing from a climate perspective. The holiday falls in the middle of an extreme, prolonged heat wave plaguing much of the country. A heat dome is already causing dangerous temperatures in the Southwest, and is expected to build and swell to the East Coast.

Extreme heat is a routine issue each summer for many desert parks, including Grand Canyon, Arches, Joshua Tree and Death Valley. At Big Bend National Park in West Texas, temperatures can surpass 100 degrees by late morning and stay dangerously high until the sun goes down.

“This week will honestly be business as usual for us,” said Robert Alvarez, executive director for Visit Big Bend. “We always expect June to be just crazy hot … we’ve already hit 113 down south already.”

While soaring temperatures can be deadly, national parks don’t close for heat the way they would for other extreme weather. Rangers rely on visitors to heed park advisories and hike responsibly, but national park visitors still die of heat-related causes every year. Not all parks have search-and-rescue workers at the ready, and extreme heat can prevent medevac helicopters from operating, so park visitors who put themselves at risk may be left stranded.

“We’re reminding our visitors, now more than ever, to bring water, bring sun protection and also know the signs of heat illness,” NPS public affairs specialist Cynthia Hernandez said.

Marie Scheuring of Grand Canyon Whitewater, a company that runs tours through the national park, tells travelers to start hydrating well before their trip, stay on top of their electrolytes and review their park’s website ahead of their trip. Opt for activities that have more shade or access to refreshing rivers or watering holes; the Colorado River, Scheuring notes, stays a cool 55 to 60 degrees during the summer even when the rest of the Canyon is scorching. Just don’t forget to pack a life jacket, Hernandez said. The second leading cause of park deaths from 2014 to 2019 was drowning.

The forecast should serve as a warning to travelers with outdoor trips on the calendar, and not just those heading to the desert. Here are six other national parks experiencing unusually high heat this week.

Gateway Arch

The St. Louis site is already steaming, with a high near 96 on Monday. Temperatures are expected to stall in the 90s all week, creeping as high as 99 Friday and Saturday.

Summer is the busiest season, according to the Gateway Arch website, so the park advises people arrive early or late.

“The summer heat and humidity can be intense in St. Louis, but the visitor center under the Gateway Arch is air conditioned and comfortable no matter what the weather outside,” the site says.

There’s no entrance fee for the museum and visitor center under the arch, but a tram to the top costs $19. On Wednesday, visitors will get a $3 discount on that price.

Cuyahoga Valley

The Ohio park’s website displays a heat advisory warning of heat index values of 100 to 104 degrees. The high Monday was expected to near 95, and the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s all week. For a weekend break, it’s expected to be in the low 90s.

On social media, Cuyahoga Valley National Park — which is free to enter — suggests visiting a local library for a photo exhibit showcasing pollinators as “a cool idea to help you stay active but safe while the heat dome sits over Ohio.”

The park also warned visitors to keep themselves cool this week.

“Hike early or late and hydrate!” the Facebook post says.

Gettysburg

6 national parks sweltering in the heat wave

Little Round Top in Gettysburg.

The national military park, which includes a battlefield, museum, visitor center and other sites in Pennsylvania, warns of a heat advisory on its website, with heat index values up to 100 expected.

“The heat wave is expected to continue into the weekend with the hottest temperatures of the summer so far,” the National Weather Service advisory says. “The longevity of the heat wave has not been experienced in decades during the month of June.”

Highs were expected to be near 92 on Monday and Tuesday and 91 Wednesday before creeping up later in the week. The high could reach 97 on Saturday.

New River Gorge

This West Virginia site, America’s newest national park, is known for its canyon walls, superhigh bridge, rapids and thousands of acres of forest. The park and preserve does not charge an entrance fee. More than 1.7 million people visited last year, according to Park Service statistics.

Temperatures in nearby Beckley, W.Va., could near 90 on Thursday and hover in the low 90s at least through the weekend. The average high temperature in June is much cooler at 75.

Shenandoah

6 national parks sweltering in the heat wave

Sliding down waterfalls is one way to escape the summer heat in Shenandoah National Park.

The closest national park to D.C., Shenandoah should be cooler than the sweltering city — but still plenty warm in parts. Temperatures could be in the high 80s in parts of the Virginia park this week, moving into the low 90s Friday and into the weekend.

On a section about summer visits on its website, the park says temperatures can be 10 degrees cooler in the park than in the valley surrounding it, but weather “can still get very hot and humid during the summer months.”

The site urges visitors to bring enough drinking water for themselves — and their pets — as well as sunblock, a hat and sunglasses. Entrance fees typically range from $15 to $30, depending on how a visitor arrives, so Wednesday’s fee-free day will be a bargain.

Indiana Dunes

Attendance at the park’s 15 miles of beach along Lake Michigan increases with the temperature, said public information officer Bruce Rowe — which means a busy week is ahead.

“We do anticipate large crowds of people at Indiana Dunes National Park this week due to the very hot weather and midweek holiday,” he said in an email. Standard passes usually cost $15-$25.

Rowe wrote that Monday’s heat could reach a record for the date; the high was expected to be near 91, according to the forecast shown on the park’s website. But, he said, temperatures higher than 90 are not that unusual in the summer. The forecast calls for a high near 91 on Wednesday before the heat wave eases.

The park’s website includes a safety page that details the signs of heat exhaustion and offers tips on staying safe in the sun.

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