Watchman Campground, limited Zion Lodge services open as park prepares for holiday weekend

Views of Zion National Park, Utah, May 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As the Memorial Day holiday weekend approaches, Zion National Park has announced the opening of three more services as park management prepares for the possibility of what have historically been large crowds.

A sign welcomes visitors to Zion National Park at the park’s pedestrian entrance, Zion National Park, Utah, May 13, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

As of Thursday, the Zion Lodge will be open with limited services. The gift shop will be open, food will be available for take out only, and limited lodging will be available for reservations. The Watchman Campground near the park’s south entrance will also be opening Friday.

The Canyon Trail Rides horseback rides in Zion National Park will be opening Friday. For more information or to make a reservation, click here.

Zion National Park itself continues to be open with limited services and trail access. An updated list of what is and is not available to guests can be found on the park’s most current info sheet.

The Kolob Canyons area of Zion remains closed, but the portion of Zion National Park that is on the Kolob Terrace Road has some day-use access for trails. Overnight and permitted backcountry hikes are not open at this time.

Although the Watchman Campground is opening, park spokesperson Jeff Axel said that all the sites have already been reserved for Memorial Day weekend. There is the possibility of cancellations, Axel said, but people usually sit on the reservation site and snatch them up within minutes of them becoming available.

Looking up toward the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park, Utah, March 18, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

As with campsites, Axel said they expect the park to fill to capacity over the busy holiday weekend, which could potentially result in the temporary closure of the main Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and possibly the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel road, which connects Zion’s east side with the main canyon.

Shuttle services will not be resuming in the near future, and visitors should be aware that parking spots within Zion are limited. Once parking lots are full, the park could be closed for hours or potentially the entire day, a previous St. George News report said.

The Federal Code of Regulations title 36, section 1.5 (a) gives the park superintendent the authority to “establish, for all or a portion of a park area, a reasonable schedule of visiting hours, impose public use limits, or close all or a portion of a park area to all public use or to a specific use or activity.”

However, Axel stressed that these closures would be temporary and done with the safety of visitors, staff and the park’s natural features and inhabitants in mind.

If roads become too congested, Axel said, it could impair emergency personnel or wildland firefighters in their ability to respond to incidents in a timely manner.

In a Springdale Town Council meeting held Wednesday, Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said that since Zion National Park reopened May 13, visitation has been averaging around 5,000 people per day on the weekdays and about 8,000 people per day on the first weekend.

So far, the park has only had to impose temporary closures on those weekend days when visitation was higher.

Typically, Memorial Day weekend in Zion can bring upwards of 30,000 visitors per day, Axel said. In a normal year that means about 80,000 to 100,000 visitors on the holiday weekend.

Without the use of the shuttles, which the park has relied on for the past 20 years, and the limited parking capacity in the canyon, those numbers of visitors won’t be feasible this year, but Bradybaugh said it will still be busy.

The line forming at the Grotto to hike Angels Landing was hours long over Memorial Day weekend, Zion National Park, May 25, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Zion National Park, St. George News

“We’ll see how things go on Memorial Day,” Bradybaugh said in the council meeting. “We expect it to be busy.”

Axel added that they are certain parking will fill up in the main canyon – it’s just a question of what time of day that will happen.

Visitors who are able to secure a parking spot and get onto the trail will be able to see the park with a lot less people than usual, Axel said.

Visitors are advised to arrive early – the main canyon scenic drive, which is currently open during daylight hours only, will open at 6 a.m. – or to plan activities for later in the afternoon or early evening when many people start to leave the park.

Bradybaugh added that there are several parking spots at the Visitor Center, and he encourages visitors to do activities that are accessible from that parking lot, such as the Pa’rus paved trail.

Alternately, Axel said that potential visitors should look to planning their Zion trip for later in the summer or fall.

Unlike neighboring Bryce Canyon National Park, which announced Wednesday that they have started collecting fees and will be increasing some services, Zion National Park will not be collecting entrance fees, though Axel did say they will be looking at when to resume fees after the holiday weekend.

Updated information about available activities, services and closures can be found at Zion National Park’s website, which Axel said visitors should check often before arrival and during their visit.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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