Zion National Park wars of big Labor Day crowds, heavy traffic


Crowds have been streaming into Zion National Park again this summer, and officials are expecting this Labor Day weekend to provide perhaps the biggest test yet of just how many people the park can handle.

Upward of 80,000 people have piled into the park over recent Labor Day weekends, and Zion is likely to see just as many this year, according to a release issued this week warning visitors to get started early if they plan to visit.

Those kinds of numbers cause parking lots to fill before 8 am, forcing traffic congestion out into the neighboring towns of Springdale and Rockville and causing some travelers to wait in long lines to make their way through the park entrance or to find an available spot on a shuttle bus.

Crowds gather near the top of the popular Angels Landing hike in this file photo from inside Zion National Park.  The park is expected to see large crowds during the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

Prospective visitors were urged to follow along at nps.gov/zion and on Twitter via twitter.com/zionnps to keep up with traffic updates and for more information on shuttle busses, trails and other facilities.

“Visitors to Zion should expect some queues and congestion within the park,” park officials wrote in a press release. “Those with flexible plans are encouraged to visit before Friday or after Monday to avoid crowds.”

Zion is close to last year’s record attendance pace, with more than 2.9 million visitors counted through July. The park saw a total of 5 million visitors in the 2021 calendar year, an all-time record and nearly double what the park recorded just 10 years earlier.

Zion National Park annual visitation reports show the park's steady increase in traffic over the past two decades, including a record 5 million visitors in 2021.

Zion is Utah’s busiest park, and the second-most visited in the US

Throughout the Labor Day weekend, most visitors are encouraged to take shuttles in and out of the park, with shuttles required to access the park’s main canyon. Park officials said the first shuttle leaving Springdale would leave the Majestic View Lodge at 7 am, with the last one leaving the Zion Canyon Village at 9 pm The first Zion Canyon shuttle leaves the visitor center at 6 am, with the last one leaving from the Temple of Sinawava stop at 8:15 pm

Once parking inside the park is full, vehicle admittance into the park is metered, based on availability. The Zion Mount Carmel Highway might also close periodically when parking has filled and to relieve congestion east and west of the park’s large, historic tunnel. Travelers were urged to consider using alternative routes around the park such as Utah state Route 59, state Route 14, and state Route 20, or Arizona state Route 389.

Large crowds like the one shown here in this file photo from atop Angels Landing inside Zion National Park's main canyon are expected again this weekend at the park, Utah's busiest and the second-most-visited in the US

All the new tourism has been a boon to southwest Utah’s economy, but park officials say they’re struggling to keep up with the growing demands for services.

In nearby Springdale and Rockville, small towns built up along the suddenly much-traveled state Route 9 south of the main entrance to the park, some residents have complained about the impacts.

David DeMille writes about southwestern Utah for The Spectrum & Daily News, a USA TODAY Network newsroom based in St. George. Follow him at @SpectrumDeMille or contact him at ddemille@thespectrum.com. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.

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