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Zion National Park: Crowds and Visitor Responsibility

  • Written by Lindsey Huster
  •  / 
  • 7 min read
  •  / 
  • Last updated 7 months ago

Where to start? There is so much to say about Zion National Park! The park was established 100 years ago in 1919 and covers over 145,000 acres! The most visited area of Zion is the canyon, which was formed by the Virgin River and continues to impact the park.

A quick overview of Zion National Park

While visiting the canyon, you are looking above at the 2,000-foot-high red sandstone cliffs. The park offers unique geography and a huge variety of plant and animal diversity. This is the busiest park in Utah with over 4.5 million visitors in 2018.

Zion National Park offers a variety of activities; everything from sightseeing to rock climbing! Zion is specifically known for several hikes including Angels Landing, The Narrows, The Subway, Observation Point, and many more!

The Virgin River cuts through the canyon at Zion National Park
The Virgin River cuts through the canyon at Zion National Park
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Did you miss last week's post?

Exploring Zion National Park and St. George had been on our list for quite some time. We booked a site for 6 weeks in Leeds giving us the perfect home base. Catch up here first if you missed last week's post.

Experiencing the crowds firsthand

The thing that concerned us the most about visiting Zion was the crowds. Keith and I have had the opportunity to spend so much time away from crowds and knowing this place is overcrowded gave us a sour taste to start. We had planned this trip for the early summer and had to reschedule when Keith got hurt and needed surgery. This ended up being a blessing because I believe the Fall season is the best time to visit Zion!

Our preconceived notions about the crowds changed almost immediately. We did our research and planned to visit the park during some of the best possible hours (before 8 am or after 4 pm) and were pleasantly surprised at how quickly our negative attitude changed once experienced it for ourselves. Once at Zion, we kept reminding ourselves to expect crowds and wait. Going in with a realistic outlook and trying to be more positive really helped us to enjoy ourselves. All in all, it was nice to see that it wasn’t as hectic as we thought it would be.

The park is very well organized

Since Zion is so busy, I would say one thing they have nailed down is the organization. Granted we were there during some of the less busy weeks and times of the day, but I was impressed with what they have been able to do considering the number of people they serve each day.

The Zion Canyon Shuttle is the only way to view the canyon most of the year. These shuttle buses are a constant way to move visitors throughout the canyon and provide so much less chaos on the road. I noticed right away how much more peaceful it was within the canyon since you don’t have personal vehicles to add to the noise, congestion, etc. This also allows the animals to roam more freely and it’s quite common to view the deer near the road.

The fact that the visitor center is quite large and divided into parts such as gear and souvenir shops, wilderness permits, general information, restrooms, etc. helps to optimize your time needed in this area. I always enjoy the park videos and educational resources at Zion, which is located at one of the shuttles stops to further disperse the crowds.

Even though we often see information on our local news about overcrowding and the effects on resources like the bus system, restrooms, etc. we were pleased with what we encountered in these regards. I think this is directly related to the time of year we visited and the overall organization of the park services.

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Visitor responsibility is so important

Zion does a great job at informing guests that it is their responsibility for their own safety and for the preservation of the park. The signage, pre-recorded information while riding the shuttle and the attention to detail in obtaining hiking permits lends to this. With such a large number of visitors, this is a necessity, but I feel it’s a good overall lesson for anywhere one might visit.

Places, such as Zion, that are based on nature are ever-changing. Just a few months ago there was a large rock slide within the park and just a month prior to that other “natural” damage occurred in the park due to a storm.

Read more about the rockslide that occurred in August 2019. Be sure to watch the video in this article! Rockfall at Zion National Park

This article discussed the rockfall along with storm damage from July 2019. Three Injured by Rockfall in Zion

Your safety is your personal responsibility

As with any outdoor exploration, you need to be aware of safety factors. Just because you are in a National Park doesn’t mean that you are protected or safe. You are in an outdoor, living environment and things can’t always be predictable.

There are several procedures in place for safety at Zion. The simplest is the signage. There are signs giving you information about general safety as well as a daily report board for reference. This includes risks for weather, closed areas of the park, and any other pertinent information.

We encountered another safety policy while obtaining a permit to hike The Subway. We were required to provide certain safety measures we had taken as part of our personal responsibility. This includes things such as prior research and thorough knowledge of the trail, proper equipment, and supplies, arranging an emergency contact, etc.

Please help to preserve the park's cleanliness

With such an extreme number of visitors, preserving the park is essential for years to come and continued enjoyment. Obviously keeping trash cleaned up is a top priority and again, with the staggering number of daily visitors, the park really needs everyone’s help with this. They ask that you pack out what you pack in. This really means carrying any garbage out with you. If you have food wrappers, disposable water bottles, etc., and even apple cores or banana peels, carry out your own garbage. This helps those public garbage cans be used for more essential items. This also prevents animals from getting garbage that can harm them.

There is an abundance of wildlife in the park and in order to keep the animals healthy, they need to be kept away from our garbage; including our food scraps. There are warnings about squirrels biting because they are used to eating our food and have become aggressive. It’s actually quite sad to see such overfed squirrels and it’s a bit eerie that they are not afraid of people. I enjoy viewing wild animals, but these squirrels don’t quite fit the bill when they do not behave as wild animals should.

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Pick up a copy of the park newspaper

As you enter the park you are offered the park newspaper. We didn’t take one each visit, but I did get several copies and noticed that they do update these often to give you the most current information available. Most important for us were the closed trails and the bus schedule. The bus schedule changed during our visit (which I did already know) and at least one of the trail closures reopened. The guide really does give you a good overview of what you need to know and questions you might have.

More information about the Zion Canyon Shuttle

Zion Canyon is only accessible by shuttle for the majority of the year. My research hasn’t been clear, but I believe you can only drive your personal vehicle through the park canyon when the shuttle is closed from December – February. Therefore, you’ll likely be using the shuttle during your visit. Check the park newspaper or online for the current schedule. (Biking is permitted in the canyon- see their website or call the park information for more details)

More to come!

We are working on sharing our trip through blog posts, YouTube videos, and Instagram. Be sure to subscribe/follow along so you don’t miss any of it!

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