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What I found in the National Parks for Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

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I recently had time to take a 2 week road trip.  Based on the emails I received from Katherine Chesson of the National Parks Foundation, I was inspired to hit the road in my 2019 Chevrolet Bolt, an all electric vehicle, to visit our national parks – many of which I had never been to.  I planned for a two week road trip, but as my vacation evolved, I drove for over 6,500 miles and was gone for 5 weeks.  I visited 10 states, 12 national parks, and 1 national monument.  It was a great adventure that spontaneously just became! 

This post is to share part of the trip and offer some suggestions for the parks to attract a growing segment of the traveling world - Electric Vehicle Owners.

This is a map of the route I actually took.  I started in Carlsbad, CA, travel north up through OR, WA, ID, MT, and then back down to WY, UT, then south to northern CO, then down to southern CO, over to UT, NV and then back home.  Each icon represents where I charged my car.

I want to let you know that as far as the growing EV world, getting to and through these destinations is a lot of work.  Based on my trip that started on 8/2/2020 and ended on 9/5/2020, I had to plan more than I should have to complete the trip.  And even when I got to a destination, I had a hard time enjoying the park at times because I had to worry about where my next charge would be coming from.

 

If the world really is going green, and the projection of EV car ownership is to be 7 to 10% by 2025, then the National Park Service really needs to step up the game to be EV ready.  From my experience, this is what I found at the national parks for Electric Vehicle Charging:

  • Lassen – two level two chargers were just installed but not operational in Aug 2020.  However, because of the cell service limitations, even if they were operational, there was no way I could charge my car because most services require data connection to an app to start the charger.
  • Crater Lake – two level two chargers were available at the south visitor center and they were free.  Very useful, but 4 cars were having to share the plugs to get some charge
  • Mt Rainier – I didn’t drive through the park but I didn’t notice the chargers
  • Glacier – There were two Tesla charging stations at one of the lodging areas that provided level 2 power. I happened upon them by chance but too late (and too slow) for me to charge to visit the northern parts of the park.
  • Yellowstone – several level two chargers in Mammoth and two level two charger area at Old Faithful.  Until I found the Mammoth chargers, I didn’t know if I could complete the full northern loop.  This caused me lots of angst as I kept looking for a charge.  

I camped at Madison Campground in the park and although no official charger was available, I parked in a OFFICIAL PARKING ONLY spot to plug into a 110 outlet that gave me the minimal miles over night before I had to unplug before the staff arrived.  

At Old Faithful, one area was setup for Teslas (which were filled) and another area existed but no one, hotel staff or Park Rangers, could tell me where they were.  I actually had to go to one of the hotels and ask for a WIFI code so I could find out where the chargers were on my app (I have T-Mobile and my service was basically dead – it seems Verizon is the only service that was reliable).  Once I was able to get the location in my Plugshare app, I found the EV charging station very easily, however, there were no accessible restrooms as it was back behind the cabins from one of the hotels.

  • Grand Teton – I could not find an EV charging station.  However, between travel from Yellowstone, through Grand Tetons, I was able to pull into Jackson WY where there were plenty of charging stations.  The City has done wonders to promote an EV friendliness.  I pulled into the station with just over 20 miles to spare – this is what we EV drivers call Range Anxiety.
  • Chevy Bolt at Grand Teton National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park – I didn’t drive my EV through here but I didn’t see any EV charging stations
  • Mesa Verde – I didn’t find any EV charging stations here – I actually charged the night before in Cortez.
  • Arches – no EV charging stations that I could find but I was able to charge on a free level 3 charging station in Moab.  However, I also wanted to go to Canyon Lands since it was so close, but as my next national park was Bryce Canyon, I couldn’t chance not having enough of a charge to leap to Green River then to Richfield then to Bryce Canyon.
  • Bryce Canyon – no EV charging stations that I could find, however, Best Western Plus Ruby in had 4 level two stations (3 of them working) but all three were occupied – one with a Tesla and two with gas cars which should have parked somewhere else.  I had to wake up at 4am to see if a parking spot had opened up and luckily it did.  I was able to charge enough to go back into the park and then have enough charge to get me to Zion.
  • Zion – two level two EV Chargers were located near the visitor center. I had to drive by it twice over a couple of hours to get to a spot that had just opened up.

Now, If I had a gas car, I would have had no problem.  However, if you have ever driven an electric vehicle in anything other than a commuter capacity, you would know that you need to be flexible and you need to plan a lot because the EV Charging Stations aren’t as plentiful as gas stations (part of the reason my trip expanded).

One of my biggest logistical challenges was trying to get across northern Wyoming and South Dakota to visit Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore and then over to Minneapolis to visit my baby sister.  As it turns out, I could make it across WY, however, getting through SD was the biggest challenge.  I reached out to the SD department of tourism, however, their answer didn’t give me much hope of crossing the state before I’d have to call AAA for a tow to a charging station.  So, I had to scrap that idea as I reached Wyoming.

As I write this, my hope is that the National Parks, surrounding communities, and guest infrastructure for the parks have a plan to expand the Electric Vehicle charging system so that more Electric Vehicle owners can take part in the richness the National Park system has to offer.  ChargePoint and Electrify America are making great progress, but some focus to adding more fast charging stations near or in the National Parks would be an incredible help.

My fear is that not many people are comfortable enough to take their EVs on long trips or vacations (that include National Parks) so they either drive their gas cars or just don’t go (many families are purchasing all electric). 

I emailed the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service Contact Us page, with no response.

With some planning and EV Charger installations at the parks (or surrounding area), a whole new group of people could participate and visit the beautiful National Parks.


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