'Iconic destination' Zion National Park hits visitation record — and could reach 5 million mark

Vehicles enter Zion National Park on Oct. 14, 2020. Per preliminary National Park Service data, over 4.5 million have already visited the park in 2021 with two months of data remaining.

Vehicles enter Zion National Park on Oct. 14, 2020. Per preliminary National Park Service data, over 4.5 million have already visited the park in 2021 with two months of data remaining. (Ravell Call, Deseret News )

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SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Zion National Park has hit uncharted territory when it comes to visitation.

An estimated 4,519,292 people have visited Zion National Park in 2021, according to National Park Service statistics updated through the end of October. While the numbers will still have to be confirmed, which will happen early next year, that estimate already surpasses the park's all-time visitation record of 4,504,812, set in 2017.

The park's visitation records go back to 1979 when a little over 1 million people came to the park.

"Zion National Park is an iconic destination that many people travel to see and we're very glad folks have come to see this place and enjoy their national park," said Jonathan Shafer, public affairs specialist for the park.

The preliminary statistics place Zion as the country's third-most visited park this year behind Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the park service's top draw annually with over 10 million visitors, and Yellowstone National Park, which has also broken a visitation record already this year.

Many of Utah's other national parks have also reported unprecedented numbers. Park service data shows that Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks have also broken visitation records this year, while Arches National Park is on the cusp of it.

But if visitation over the final two months of the year mirrors 2020 trends, then visitation at Zion National Park — and Yellowstone — may make them the newest members of the 5 million visitor club, a rare feat. Entering 2021, only three parks (Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite) have ever accomplished it.

While it's too early to know if Zion will reach 5 million visits, Shafer said visitors should be prepared for crowds because it's no longer a seasonal thing.

"It's impossible to predict how many people are going to visit us for the rest of 2021 but probably the most important thing for people to keep in mind going forward is that if you're going to come visit here, parking lots fill up year-round," he said. "So make sure to make your plans before you get here."

At the same time, he said park staff is focused on what's next in helping people navigate the park. In this case, that's changes in operating hours and other services beginning next week.

A shift in hours and other winter changes

The park's fall shuttle service ends Sunday, meaning visitors will be able to drive their personal vehicles through Zion Canyon Scenic Drive starting on Monday.

"Anyone who comes into the park should prepare for limited parking and be aware when parking is full, we may temporarily close the road there," Shafer said.

Shuttle service will briefly resume on Dec. 23 and continue through Jan. 1, 2022. During that time, visitors won't be able to drive personal vehicles on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Personal vehicles will be allowed again on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive starting on Jan. 2, 2022.

Shuttle service will not resume again until weekends beginning in mid-February 2022. Daily service will resume in mid-March 2022.

The hours of the park visitor center will remain 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but the hours of the wilderness permit desk will shift from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. to 8-10 a.m. and from 3-4:30 p.m. after Sunday.

The Watchman Campground will remain open throughout the winter, while the South and Lava Point campgrounds are closed for the season.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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