Video: The problem with flash crowds at Angels Landing in Zion National Park

A recent busy day atop Angels Landing inside Zion National Park. (Mike Godfrey, At Home In Wild Spaces)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Flash flooding is something that every visitor to Zion National Park needs to keep in mind when exploring the park's canyons. But in the internet age, park visitors need to add flash crowding to their list of considerations as well.

Angels Landing may well have captured the title of Utah's most famous hike. It's certainly become one of the most famous hiking experiences in the world. The trail's feverish internet fame has resulted in the formation of crowds, even during the "offseason" along its precipitous chain section.

Concerns about crowding and congestion along the approach to the summit of Angels Landing are raising concerns for park visitors and the National Park Service.

Captured in late fall 2021, this video shows how quickly a flash crowd can materialize. Within moments, a parade of hikers estimated at 200 strong descends from the summit leaving very little room to navigate some of the trail's narrower and more exposed sections.

With so many people clamoring for the Angels Landing experience and with an acceleration of fatal falls in recent years, this is why the National Park Service has decided to implement a pilot permit program set to take effect early in 2022.

Permit programs are not new to popular trails. Zion National Park already requires permits for a number of popular hikes and canyoneering routes. If you'd like to apply for a permit details regarding the new permit system for Angels Landing can be found here on the official Zion National Park website.

Permit systems or not, national parks and public lands have entered a new era — one of unprecedented popularity and pressures driven largely by the internet and the advent of social media. Atop Angels Landing, it's not uncommon to see dozens of hikers texting, video chatting and immediately posting their accomplishments to social media. Many who don't post while hiking do so shortly thereafter.

The cyber word-of-mouth was already relentless. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and its corresponding international travel restrictions and vastly reduced indoor recreation opportunities. What was left? Either stay home or visit parks and wildlands.

The result has been record-shattering numbers of visitors. Zion National Park, in particular, is poised to surpass 5 million visitors in 2021 — a distinction only three other parks (Great Smokies, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite) have previously achieved. And now that international travel has largely resumed, might the influx of international travelers drive visitation even higher? Only time will tell.

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What is certain is that communication, respect, courtesy and patience are absolutely critical to the modern national park experience. There have never been more people exploring these landscapes; and if the land and experience are to survive, visitors need to prioritize courtesy toward the land and each other.

Nowhere is this more evident than while hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park. With the trail following precariously narrow ledges — frequently only a couple feet wide — and two-way traffic, personal space can quickly become a luxury.

These days, climbing Angels Landing and other popular trails is as much a social exercise as it is a physical exercise. Make sure to abide by trail and park guidelines, go out of your way to limit your impact on the land, and be courteous to your fellow travelers. Being mindful, considerate, patient and communicating respectfully with your fellow travelers can pay big dividends.

Finally, be mindful of what you share on social media. Once something is released online it takes on a life all its own. There are times to share and times to not share. Whatever you chose to share, make sure the message is focused on respect, courtesy and responsibility.


Mike Godfrey

About the Author: Mike Godfrey

Mike Godfrey is the owner of At Home in Wild Spaces, a responsible outdoor recreation company which has worked with various public lands agencies to provide outdoor enthusiasts the information and education needed to both enjoy and preserve America's natural heritage. He's been a KSL contributor since 2015.

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