ST. GEORGE — Winter in Zion National Park is often a quieter season, but as visitation from September through November has shown a large increase over last year, park officials are encouraging winter guests to continue to plan ahead and be flexible when deciding to come to Zion, particularly over the holidays.
That means preparing both for navigating parking and holiday shuttle services, as well as understanding winter conditions in the park in order to stay safe.
Zion National Park visitor use planner Susan McPartland told St. George News this type of preparation will be key to enjoying the canyon.
“I think folks can expect that if they want to go into Zion Canyon, they need to plan ahead, they need to know what options are available, whether the shuttles are running or not and really investigate what are the activities that they potentially want to do for that day,” McPartland said.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
For the majority of the winter season, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from Canyon Junction to Temple of Sinawava is open to vehicles; however, visitors should be prepared for closures if parking areas become full.
Park staff will be monitoring the parking and will temporarily close the gates at Canyon Junction when needed, something which has already happened on numerous days in December.
McPartland said the closures help prevent visitors from parking on the sides of the road and allow for safe and quick passage of emergency vehicles if necessary.
Mandatory shuttle service to stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will resume for a 10-day period during the holiday break. Services on a timed entry ticket system will begin Thursday and continue through Jan. 2.
Tickets are $1 per person and are available for purchase on recreation.gov 24 hours prior to the day guests wish to visit, beginning at 9 a.m. Mountain Standard Time each day.
For guests wishing to purchase tickets for Dec. 24, they should be online at 9 a.m. Dec. 23, McPartland said.
More information on the shuttle ticket system can be found on the Zion National Park website.
After Jan. 2, shuttles will not be running in the park until mid-February, beginning on the weekends and moving toward full service in March. At this time, McPartland said, they have not solidified whether the timed ticket entry system will resume.
Fees and operating hours
Fee stations are open during winter, as well as some facilities. A guide to park facility operating hours, including camping and lodging can be found here.
The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway beginning from the South entrance of Zion National Park and continuing through the tunnel and toward East Zion will remain open for through traffic, as well as hikes and activities.
McPartland said they have seen a large increase in people visiting the east side of Zion and using those trails. Parking is limited, but so far they haven’t had any big issues.
When coming to Zion in the winter, guests can definitely expect colder temperatures, McPartland said, as well as potentially icy conditions both on the roads and the trails.
Drives and trails typically remain open in the winter unless there are significant ice falls or dangers, so guests should be vigilant in preparing for the conditions, McPartland said.
It is a good idea to have shoes with good traction or the addition of ice grips, she added.
“It can get pretty chilly in the canyon once the daylight is not in there,” McPartland said, adding that it is important to dress warm.
That said, winter is a unique time to visit the park as it offers a quieter experience.
“It is a great time to sit on the side of the river and listen to the birds and watch the deer come through,” McPartland said.
With the foliage down, views become more expansive as well, she said.
Before coming to Zion National Park, McPartland said it is a good idea for visitors to understand how to recreate responsibly.
A recent uptick in graffiti in the park has caused park staff to urge guests to understand the principles of leave no trace ethics and to help preserve the area’s natural wonders for generations to come.
Additionally, recreating responsibly includes planning ahead for the conditions, the visitor’s abilities and navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in a way that is respectful to the health and safety of park guests and staff as well as residents of the area.
“I think the biggest message for guests is to be flexible and be prepared,” McPartland said.
For more information on recreating responsibly, click here.
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