Study: Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’ crowded and pricey, yet economic boon to local communities

ST. GEORGE — A well-known online travel guide rates Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks as crowded and expensive yet compliments the parks on their economic impacts on neighboring communities.  

Visitors wait to board Zion Canyon Line Shuttles, Zion National Park, Utah, Nov. 20, 2023 | Photo courtesy of National Park Service/ Jonathan Shafer, St. George News

Travel Lemming analyzed data to rank all 63 U.S. national parks. None of Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion – reached the top tier.

In an email to St. George News, the Utah Office of Tourism said it begs to differ.

“Rankings that try to compare and quantify very different national park experiences are always tricky, full of nuance, and often misguided,” an email from the Utah Tourism Office states. “At the end of the day, all parks are national treasures worth visiting because of the memories and experiences people will come away with.”

Nationwide, Utah is known as an outdoor recreation hub. Zion National Park was the sole national park in the state to make the top 20 and landed at No. 18. The data ranked Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Capitol Reef as lower due to crowding and affordability factors.

Travel Lemming’s national parks ranking is based on an analysis of data scoring each park across seven factors: affordability, accessibility, biodiversity, crowds, reviews, jobs and weather.

Travel Lemming spokeswoman Taylor Herperger told St. George News that despite their lower rankings, Utah’s national parks fared reasonably well in the visitor reviews metric. 

“This suggests that the parks are fan favorites despite the crowds and costs,” Herberger said.

Sulphur Creek Waterfalls in Capital Reef National Park is one of the hikes in the book, Torrey, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Stewart M. Green, St. George News

Data shows that Bryce Canyon National Park is tied for the fourth best-reviewed national park in the country and Arches National Park is tied for the 12th best-reviewed park.

In terms of crowding, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef are Utah’s two least-crowded parks. Herberger said that data shows Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon are three of the nation’s most crowded national parks.
Regarding affordability, Arches, Zion and Canyonlands are among the country’s top 20 most expensive parks. Herberger said Arches is Utah’s most expensive national park overall, with a visitor spending an average of $184.88 across various industries.

Herberger added that Utah parks also fare pretty well in the jobs category. Zion National Park ranks No. 2 in this metric, with 10,800 total jobs associated with the park. Trailing closely behind, Arches National Park ranks No. 11 in this category with 3,560 total jobs and Bryce Canyon ranks No. 12 with 3,020 total jobs associated with the park. 

“Overall, Utah’s national parks have great economic effects on their local communities,” Herberger said. “As mentioned, the parks generally rank well in the jobs factor, meaning that compared to other parks in the country, park-related employment rates in Utah are high.”

The Utah Office of Tourism also highlighted the parks’ positive economic impact on their areas.

When it comes to Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks, each park offers unparalleled experiences and unique challenges. Knowing the important economic impact and interest in visiting our parks, we work with local communities to continually improve the experience for visitors and residents alike,” the Utah Office of Tourism states.

Sunlight reflects on hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Travel Lemming writer Meg O’Connor said in a news release that the national park system contains some stunning hidden gems. 

“I think these rankings will help draw attention to some of the lesser-known but absolutely awe-inspiring parks in this country,” O’Connor said. 

The top 10 U.S. national parks are listed here.

The report found that Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley is the most affordable park, Hawaii’s Haleakalā National Park has the best weather, Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains is the most biodiverse, Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic is the least crowded and Missouri’s Gateway Arch is the most accessible.

“As a data scientist and a huge fan of the outdoors, I love how much variety the United States has in its terrain, flora, and fauna,” O’Connor said. “These data-driven rankings provide a numerical glimpse into how diverse our National Parks really are, and I feel like I could live several lifetimes and never get bored of visiting them.”

The overall rankings were determined by each park’s average ranking across all factors. The report’s methodology section provides further details.

According to a news release, Travel Lemming is an online travel guide with over 10 million annual readers. It is known for highlighting emerging and off-the-beaten-path destinations and for the authentic guides produced by its team of dozens of travel creators. 

The report revealed these additional insights:

  • Zion National Park is Utah’s highest-scoring park overall at No. 18. This park scored strongly in the jobs category, where it came in No. 2.
  • All five of Utah’s national parks rank in the top 25 on the list’s jobs category, demonstrating that each park has strong economic effects on their local communities.
  • All 5 of Utah’s national parks are in the top 25 best-reviewed national parks.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park ranked No. 4 in the reviews category. It is a fan favorite of Utah’s national parks, with an average visitor review rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars.
  • Arches National Park is the most expensive of Utah’s parks. The average visitor spends $184.88 across various industries while visiting the park.
  • Shenandoah National Park in Virginia ranks No. 1 overall for the second year in a row, with exceptional scores in biodiversity, affordability, weather and accessibility.
  • The data found that the most renowned national parks could have performed better in the rankings if not for the crowds and affordability.
  • Yellowstone National Park in Montana came in at No. 16 and Yosemite National Park in California is listed No. 22.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!