“If a camper visits a national park and doesn’t actually post about it on Facebook, did it really happen?”
When the National Park Service was established in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson wasn’t looking for ways to provide high-speed internet. Visitors didn’t need to check their Facebook or upload selfies from the Grand Canyon to their Instagram.
Rather the NPS was created to preserve our nation’s most beautiful landscapes. Our now-58 National Parks provide a way to explore vast wilderness and completely immerse ourselves in nature. After all, what’s the point of being outdoors if you still constantly have to stay connected?
However times are a lot different than back in 1916. The internet has not only been invented but it has become a necessity for many fulltimers on the road.
It’s now the easiest accessible resource for information. Maps and directions are at our fingertips and can be effortlessly pulled up on something as small as a smartphone. Restaurants and attractions can not only be located but we can read reviews and determine if stopping in is truly worth the time and money.
A few years ago, Canada already took the step forward and announced they were installing WiFi in certain areas of their remote national parks.
Information and safety are the key advantages to having wireless internet available. Having in-park WiFi access would allow hikers and campers to look up directions, survival tips, and contact others in case of an emergency.
Another factor to consider is self-control. People argue that yes, WiFi may be available, but that does not mean that every visitor needs (or is planning) to use it. The internet access would be for those who decide to connect on their own, and those who would rather stay off the grid can remain doing so.
Many who are opposed to the idea say that WiFi simply disrupts the peace. For some, having access to the internet is too distracting. How frustrating would it be to go on a camping trip only to be surrounded by friends who could not get off their phones?
The whole point of getting outdoors is to unplug, even for just a short while.
Wireless internet also requires installing antennas within the park in order to provide the service. These would be added to pre-existing structures near the campgrounds but some argue this still impacts historic buildings.
The future of outdoor WiFi
Free public WiFi is currently available at some national parks near visitor centers, like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, but it is still not accessible after you hit the trails.
Recently, the National Park Service announced they’re teaming up with AccessParks to introduce WiFi at Lake Mead Recreation Area.
They offer 25 Mbps download speeds and 10Mbps upload speeds, as quick as you would expect on your computer back home. It can be used for everything from downloading maps to uploading photos and videos to social media.
The connection isn’t currently free to the public. Prices range from $5 for a 24-hour day pass to $15 for a week and $30 for a month.
Aside from WiFi hotspots, cell phone towers in the backcountry have been the spark of a whole other debate. In the last few years they have been popping up at national parks across the country with six in Yellowstone National Park alone. Other places like Mount Rainier National Park have cell phone towers just outside of the park with limited and available coverage depending on where you’re located.
Should WiFi be available in National Parks? If so, should it be free to connect?
There are valid points on both sides. National Parks are meant for disconnecting but the convenience and wealth of information that the internet offers can be helpful and even potentially life-saving.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.
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Hamp Phillips says
Wi-Fi should be in the parks
Corey L says
Totally disagree. Why do you come to the park in the first place? Put the phone away and enjoy the park!
Love too, but I still have bills to pay, appointments to schedule and family to check on.
Frederick M Pfeiffer says
Cory L: Sorry you loose this argument. National Park aren’t for just you Naturalists. Since the internet has entered lifes picture, your kind will now always be in the minority, tough bounce!!
Exactly.!!!!! What did you do before the internet? before cell phones?
You paid your bills two or three month in advance. Get a life!!!!! Leave it at home or just don’t go if your so worried about that your family, they might not be so worried about you though….lol
What do you mean should we we get wifi in the national parks. I can’t get good wifi at home. Sounds like junk to me.
Larry F. says
Regular wired telephone service already exists in the national parks, at least at the park headquarters buildings. Usually, the phones available to the public are coin operated. Cellular and wi-fi service at park headquarters should exist, as well. Wireless service, like wired service, should not be free and should pay for itself. Cell tower and wi-fi antennas could be easily hidden inside the flagpoles that are almost always present near headquarters buildings.
Since parks are usually in areas with hills, valleys, canyons, huge rocks and other natural barriers, adding cellular or wi-fi service to other areas would be difficult and would require numerous antennas. Even if wireless service were limited just to the campsites, it would require several antennas to provide adequate service. Antennas camouflaged as trees or big rocks are available, but these all look very fake when you’re 6 feet away from them, like you’d see them in a campground. I doubt anyone would support strapping antennas to a real tree. The only buildings that can be reliably found near campsites are the bathrooms. Adding cellular or wi-fi antennas to these one-story structures could be done, but it would require that they be hidden, like in fake tall chimneys. A bare antenna would be subject to dirt, debris falling from trees and the weather.
The problem is that neither campground solution is cheap and both can be unattractive. If the service were to pay for itself, the costs of getting online for more than a few minutes in a campground would be prohibitive.
Wireless service beyond park headquarters just isn’t practical. If you’re one of the few who absolutely need wireless service while you’re in a campsite, try a satellite phone or a satellite dish.
NO, NO, NO…….. Enjoy the National Parks for what they are. Put the phone away, interact with your family, with nature, the beauty that surrounds you.
Wifi would make it easier for NPS rangers to manage crowds and traffic in parks like Yellowstone. If I can get a real time view of what’s overcrowded I can choose to head to less busy areas.
Traffic services on your Garmin GPS (or whatever brand you have) is all that is required. Not Wifi.
Dave W says
If it is near a visitor’s center or attendants building and is physically unobtrusive, fine. Out on a backwoods campsite or trail, any antenna will be an eyesore and detract from the area atmosphere
carl newton says
I agree with Dave W above about near visitor centers, admin building etc places that are already up putting antenna in the area make sense. It could help the park center administer traffic, and maps which you can get on your phone and save paper etc along the way. Cell phone service is as important now more young folks especially are hitting the road and working and need a way to do both.
Time for the NPS to get into the 20th century at least. It will not be possible to cover every inch of every park but a lot more can be done to help get more access in he parks and allow folks to post and check email. just my opinion..
charles zepka says
Get it now; with access all over the park. Don’t let the NPS do it on the cheap. Install a system that works. In 25 years when most of us are dead they will have it in every crack and crevice in all the parks. The people who use it can pay for it.
That’s just what we need, everyone looking at their phones while walking the trails. Its enough of a problem in the cities. Lets not introduce it to the park as it takes away from the natural beauty of the park when many are simply looking and talking on their phones.
No Wi-Fi! No cell phone service! Getting away from it all should mean just that…getting away from it all.
The National Parks have enough problems meeting maintenance needs with their current budgets, Adding the cost of providing and maintaining a wifi system for visitors is just crazy. If a private business wants to provide the service, fine. Then let those who want it pay for it.
Fine to include in the admin area but no for out in the boondocks.
WiFi in the visitor centers, lodges and campgrounds is a necessity for staying in contact, business, and research. But I don’t think we need that connectivity out on the trails, so cell towers only in the commercial areas.
Bonnie Worthington says
I think it will come down to the newest generation making it a necessity by demand or Millenials will choose one park that has free Wifi over another that does not. It happened it the vacation rental business and I imagine it will happen for national parks too.
It is not be “free”. It would add to the cost of operation to the already overburdened budgets of the National Park system and would ultimately cost taxpayers. Another example of ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
A lot of the National Parks I have been to do have certain areas that have cell or Wi-Fi available. If you leave the park you can often get it just outside the park. I do not think the government needs to install it all over our parks. They are supposed to remain our natural untouched undeveloped land for the purpose of preserving the awesome views and wildlife in our country. They do not have to spend the money or ruin the landscape with towers everywhere. If people need to work because they are full time RVers let them stay just outside the park at places that have full hookups. They can go to the National Parks on the weekends like the rest of the working world. It is so sad to go anywhere now and see whole families out to eat with their heads bend down looking at their phones and not speaking one word to each other for the whole meal Especilly the younger people. They don’t even talk – they text non stop. I actually enjoy the time I can’t use my phone or laptop. Then if I do have to check in with someone I find a place to be able to contact them. I let them know I most likely will not be able to reach anyone for serveral days and they can’t reach me either. Then we go and enjoy the scenery, the solitude and nature and forget about anything that is going on in the world for a few days.
While it would be nice, the budgets for these parks are thin enough without having to cover the costs of WiFi – I’d rather they use their funds for normal park maintenance and upkeep. Now, paid WiFi would be a different story – perhaps it could even pay for itself though I doubt it. A cell tower with a microwave shot back to another tower might also be useful and relatively reasonable cost but perhaps unsightly
Dr. J L Popa says
As the old saying goes, “nothing is free”. If WiFi is offered in the parks, you have to believe the politicians will get their hands in the pot and the cost would be prohibitive. Hell, you even have to pay to drive through the badlands on a federal road that we already pay taxes on. And don’t forget the telephone tax that was supposed to be used to fund WWII and that was never removed. Here in Ohio, the turnpike was a fee road “until it is paid for” and, surprise surprise, it’s paid for and we still pay a toll. So, if the overpriced, over staffed, over funded government has anything to do with it, I vote NO!!!! Besides, I don’t go outside to stay inside.
YEs please. Some of us work as we RV around the planet! We could stay in National parks then and enjoy the scenery when we are all done for the day! Also it would be nice to have contact with the outside world and family. We would love to be able to post pics while we are there too!
John Koenig says
Leave nature as it is. People who think they must ALWAYS be “connected” will be happier back in “civilization”.
i say free NO.
i do see a emg reason for better phone service in many places.
but my tax moneys are better spent on other things then a cell tower or ten in each park.
hang up and enjoy nature. or just stay home.
WIFI would be nice to be able to access internet for legitimate purposes, block out social media and bulk streaming.
NO NO NO people come out in the woods to get away, not too live In a city. Around a center is ok I don’t camp in designated spots if posable. Everyone is nice ,but really next someone will want a pool motel Starbucks fast-food PS .stay home or rv park in the city
TO the naysayers, do not impose your belief system on everyone else. If you don’t want cell service in remote areas, then YOU leave YOUR phone in YOUR car. When you stumble and gash your head on a rock, I’ll use my cellphone to call for help for you. Let us have a choice.
Some of us live connected and share our moments live with others. With a phone, I upload live Snapchat or Instagram of the nature of what I’m experiencing. Just because you don’t understand my world, doesn’t mean you need to control it. Its not the Federal Governments job to control the behavior of the connected. This isn’t the nanny state.
The best connected example I can give is one time we were out sailing at night. Enjoying the quiet and peaceful ghosting along on the moonlit water. We had no music on board, so my daughter called up her best friend and had her play Moonlight Sonata live, while we listened as we sailed. A private serenade live while we sailed. It was incredible. Could not have happened without being connected. Enhanced nature at its best.
YES, wifi is great for downloading maps, for looking up birds, flora, and historical information. Fie on those who falsely claim people will ignore the outdoors instead being addicted to their devices. Even if this happens, the device robots are just cheating themselves out of the traveling and park experience. It hurts only them.
Craig Knowles says
Check that. HELL NO!