SALT LAKE CITY — The Memorial Day holiday may be in the rearview mirror, but Utah's national parks and monuments continue to be at the front of the line for tourists wanting to drive through some of the state's most spectacular scenery.
Since May 20, with the exception of one day, Arches National Park has had to close the park each day — temporarily — until the line of motorists eases up and the park has additional capacity for new visitors.
It was reporting full capacity as late as Wednesday, when it warned potential tourists in a tweet that they needed to find an alternative attraction or return at a later time after visitation eased.
The situation was no better over the holiday weekend at Utah's most visited national park — Zion — which was reporting a two-hour wait to ride its shuttle and a four-hour wait to begin the precarious Angels Landing hike.
It's the busiest weekend of the year! Wait times as of this morning:— Zion National Park (@ZionNPS) May 30, 2021
Zion Canyon Shuttle - 2 hours wait to board.
Angels Landing - 4 hours wait to begin hike.
Parking in Zion Canyon is currently full. Parking may be available in the town of Springdale, just outside the park. pic.twitter.com/DGKqrcYOt2
Over at Bryce Canyon National Park, acting Superintendent Jim Ireland said the park filled up on May 28 and again on May 30, which required rangers to direct single vehicles to Bryce Canyon city, where they could take a shuttle to gain entrance.
"We were very, very busy," said Ireland, who has served as Utah's state coordinator for the National Park Service but is in a temporary role over Bryce.
"I am really interested to see what the numbers were."
Ireland credits the surge of visitation and protracted stays to one factor: the coronavirus pandemic.
"The general answer is as the COVID pandemic is starting to ease, vaccinations are up, cases are down, people are just anxious to get out."
It was entirely a different story a year ago when lockdowns from the pandemic kept people sequestered in their homes, or if there was a way to get out, fear of getting the virus stymied visitation at Utah's national parks and monuments.
Zion National Park, for example, experienced a 45% decrease in recreational visits in June of 2020 compared to June of 2019 and had to cope with its popular shuttle service shuttered until the month of July last year, according to the National Park Service.
But Ireland said those low numbers appear to have taken a U-turn as people around the country are feeling more secure about their personal safety.
"People are anxious to get outside, anxious to get away from home after being in quarantine so long, and they just want to be out in the parks."
Ireland said he is hearing similar tales of congestion from national tourism officials and counterparts in the National Park Service about big crowds and challenges associated with juggling the mass influx of people.
"National parks and public lands are a natural place to go and being outdoors is a safer place to be than in an indoor venue," Ireland said, pointing to the cruise ship industry which is struggling to rebound and international flights that still carry restrictions or even prohibitions.
Ireland said he does see potential relief from vehicle overcrowding in the resumption of service by tour bus companies.
While they are not at the same level as pre-pandemic times, he said some companies are beginning to offer their services to tourists.