SPRINGDALE — Kicking off the tourist season, Memorial Day weekend is Zion National Park’s busiest time of the year, and the park has new plans in place to help mitigate overcrowding, including new line management strategies at one of the park’s most popular trails: Angels Landing.
Last year, the park saw 86,000 visitors over the four-day weekend, and park officials are warning visitors to expect crowded conditions and long shuttle lines again this year, the park said in a press release.
Visitors with a flexible schedule are encouraged to visit the park on Friday or Monday as opposed to Saturday or Sunday and to arrive early in the morning or after 3 p.m. to avoid large crowds and find parking.
“Visitors should come prepared, both for crowded conditions and for the activities they are planning,” Zion Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in the press release. “With a great many people visiting, please show additional patience with others and respectful trail etiquette. And remember that safety is your responsibility, so please avoid unsafe behaviors and risk-taking. Multiple emergencies are common during busy periods, stretching the availability of search and rescue, emergency medical and fire-fighting capabilities.”
The parking lots within the park are expected to fill by 9 a.m., and those arriving later are advised to park in Springdale and either walk or take the free town shuttle to the River Entrance walk-in gate.
Starting Saturday and lasting until Labor Day, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and Wilderness Desk will extend their hours and stay open until 7 p.m. The Human History Museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the Zion Nature Center, which now has hands-on children’s exhibits and programs, will be open from 1-6 p.m. Sunday through Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
This year, the park will be testing a new line management system for visitors hiking Angels Landing over the weekend. Last year, the line formed at Scout Lookout and the wait to climb Angels Landing was between one and two hours long.
Because the line formed at Scout Lookout, many visitors ran out of water during their wait, the soil and vegetation in the area was impacted by crowding and the evaporative toilets placed there were overflowing. There were also complaints that the trail was too crowded, which was a concern for hiker safety.
The park is expecting Angels Landing to be even more crowded this year since many other trails in Zion Canyon have been closed due to storm damage and high water.
In order to help relieve overcrowding on the trail, the park is moving the wait line for Angels Landing from Scout Lookouts to the West Rim trailhead located at the Grotto as well as managing a second line at Scouts Lookout. This will allow visitors to use the water bottle refilling tap and flush toilets located at the Grotto prior to starting their hike.
Initially, park rangers will send up around 180 visitors in groups of 60 every 15 minutes, then later in the day they will begin sending up groups of five people every three minutes, park spokesperson Aly Baltrus told St. George News.
“We will immediately begin evaluating those numbers and may increase or decrease the number of visitors or the time between groups, depending on observations from Angels Landing,” she said.
This line management will allow park staff to field test the results from the 2017 Angels Landing trail study, which looked at congestion at certain points along the trail, particularly the chain area, as well as visitor opinions and experience.
The study was performed by an outside organization for two weeks in June and July of 2017, and focused on people per viewshed, visitor counts at key areas on the trail and surveys from over 300 people who hiked the trail during this time, asking about their perception of overcrowding and for their thoughts on different strategies for managing visitors.
“While the trail (queue) is at the bottom over this Memorial Day weekend, and can be monitored, we are going to take the opportunity to ground truth and further refine some of the potential thresholds from the 2017 study,” Baltrus said.