SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Zion National Park officials on Friday revealed new details about a proposed plan for a permit system to hike one of Utah's most famous trails two days after a park official announced it was in the works.
Under the proposed plan, hikers would need a permit to use the 1/2-mile chained portion of the Angels Landing trail to the top, also referred to as The Spine. Park visitors would apply for a permit at recreation.gov, which would house a lottery format to determine the hikers who get a permit on a given day. One permit allows for a group of up to six people and proof of identification would be required beginning at the chained section of the trail.
The plan calls for a $6 permit application fee to cover the cost of the online system, while an additional $3 fee would be applied for every person in a group that wins a permit. That means the total cost to complete the hike and reach the summit can vary between $9 and $24 per permit holder.
If park officials go through with the plan, the first lottery would be held in January for permits between March and May 2022. Another opportunity to win an Angels Landing hiking permit would be available the day before a hike. Susan McPartland, the visitor use manager at Zion National Park, said officials said there would be a cap as to how many permits would be issued daily but they have yet to determine what that figure would be.
She added that almost all of the fees would go into covering the cost of running the permit program.
The plan revealed Friday states visitors wouldn't need a permit to hike the lower portions of the hike. That means people can still hike the West Rim Trail beyond Scout Lookout without worrying about any of the changes if park officials go through with the proposal.
Park officials added that the system was proposed after studies into crowding at Angels Landing and The Narrows began in 2017. It was estimated that 300,000 visitors ascended to the top in 2019. But Zion National Park has only become more popular over the past year.
For instance, park officials estimate close to 3.1 million people have already visited Zion, according to preliminary visitation figures reported to the National Park Service between the start of the year through July. It's just shy of the 3.5 million who visited all of last year — a year where visitation dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and park shutdowns — and more visitors than every single year before 2014.
The park even reported that 675,799 people visited in June, which shatters the previous record of any month — 629,802 reported in July 2019 — in park history. Barring any shutdowns, the data shows Zion is on pace to easily surpass the current park record of 4.5 million visitors set in 2017.
The spike in visitation has translated into even more hikers at Angels Landing, which can be especially dangerous beginning at The Spine. More than a dozen people have died hiking the trail since 2000.
"Growth has continued rapidly in 2021 and increasing park popularity has led to intense crowding and congestion along the Angels Landing trail," officials wrote. "Crowding continues to raise safety and visitor experience concerns."
This year, park staff tested a new system to manage hiker flow along the chains section of Angels Landing during holiday weekends. The proposed lottery program would start out as a pilot, too, before possibly ending up a permanent part of the park.
"A more formalized system on Angels Landing would provide an equitable process that prioritizes visitor safety along the chain section of Angel Landing while ensuring park resources are protected and desired visitor experiences are available," park officials said in a statement Friday. "The system would be closely monitored and adjusted to allow park managers to learn and improve the application of the day-use permit lottery system. If successful, the day-use permit lottery system may be adopted permanently as part of a larger visitor use planning effort and may be considered for additional locations following additional public engagement."
Lava Point campground fee
The new lottery program at Angels Landing isn't the only proposal Zion National Park staff released Friday. Park officials are also exploring $20 nightly reservations to camp at its Lava Point campground.
The six-spot campground is currently free and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If approved, people would pay $20 through recreation.gov to reserve a camping spot. The proposed fees would cover trash removal, vault toilet servicing and site maintenance at the campground, as well as administrative processing, according to the park.
The changes would also go into effect at the start of 2022.
How to leave public comment
A 30-day public comment period for both proposals opened Friday. Park officials said feedback will help determine whether they go forward with the proposed plans or if any tweaks are needed.
Anyone can leave a comment on the plans by going to the National Park Service's webpage set up for the two plans or by emailing Zion_Visitor_Use@nps.gov. Park officials will continue to accept comments on the plans through Sept. 12.