Zion National Park – When Visitation Numbers Become a Concern

With Zion National Park’s tourism industry fueling a huge portion of Southern Utah’s economy, in past years, it’s not uncommon see promotions encouraging people to visit Zion and other national parks in Southern Utah. However, visitation is a growing concern, and it looks like marketing campaigns were successful. The popularity of Zion National Park has been growing at a steady rate, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down – even with the centennial celebration of the parks in 2016, which was designed to draw more people to the parks, visitation numbers keep climbing.

But why is this an issue? If Zion National Park is doing so well to bring in travelers from all over the world to see its colorful sandstone slopes, and in turn bringing more business through St. George, Springdale, and surrounding areas, it’s helping the tourism industry in Southern Utah thrive. As good as it is for monetary reasons to local businesses, it’s hurting the landscape of Zion National Park. As great of an opportunity as it is for so many people to be able to experience the beauty and history of Zion at an affordable price, there are concerns for the preservation of the landscape. Extra visitation means extra wear and tear on the trails and the fragile ecosystem in the park. Trails and even off-trail areas where hikers are discouraged to go are being worn down at a faster rate. This could have a negative impact on the wildlife in the area, as well as the plants, rocks, streams, and other natural features that make up the park.

High visitation also makes it a more unpleasant experience to visitors. Going to the park and dealing with long lines for entry or packed trails eliminates the authenticity of the experience. And while Zion is the park experiencing huge visitation numbers, it’s not the only one. Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef are also welcoming visitors by the millions every year. While Zion had 4.4 million visitors in 2017 (excluding December), and in 2016, Bryce had 2.5 million visitors, and Capitol Reef 1.1 million.

A few ideas are being considered to help throttle the visitation numbers in Zion National Park that would affect other national parks in Utah as well. One would be to increase the cost to get into the park to $70 per car during the peak season, where it’s now $25-30 per car to enter the park. Higher costs would certainly decrease visitation and discourage some from going, but Congresswoman Mia Love voiced an important concern – average to low-income families in Utah wouldn’t get to experience Zion because of the increase in prices.

Another idea the park has been considering would be to set up a reservation system to go to Zion National Park, which would help decrease visitation without hiking up the costs of entering the park. This would be the first national park to do so. The number of reservations would vary by season. However, this is also inconvenient to people traveling a long way to see Zion and stretching other plans to accommodate for specific reservation dates in Zion. While it’s unsure what will happen, it will take a couple years to implement the change they see fit to control park visitation.