For the first time in its history, Zion National Park welcomed more than 5 million visitors in 2021.
And that left the park “straining to protect the unique resources that make Zion special and live up to our high standards for visitor service,” according to the park superintendent.
The increase in visitors — up 40.4% from after a big dip in 2020 during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic — affected Zion’s landscapes, plants, animals, staff, volunteers and infrastructure, as well as the visitors’ experiences and its partners and neighbors, said Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh.
“Clearly our visitors value their parks and public lands,” he said. “At the same time, intense visitation presents challenges to achieve our mission to conserve the park’s resources and provide engaging visitor experiences.”
Zion recorded 5,039,835 visits in 2021, the most in park history. That is an increase of 78.1% in the past decade. According to the National Park Service, these are attendance figures at Zion over the past 10 years:
2011 • 2.83 million.
2012 • 2.97 million.
2013 • 2.81 million.
2014 • 3.19 million.
2015 • 3.65 million.
2016 • 4.3 million.
2017 • 4.5 million.
2018 • 4.32 million.
2019 • 4.49 million.
2020 • 3.59 million.
2021 • 5.04 million.
In January of this year, there were 139,827 visitors to the park.
There other national parks in Utah set attendance records in 2021 — Arches (1.8 million visits), Canyonlands (911,000) and Capitol Reef (1.4 million). Bryce Canyon drew 2.1 million visitors, below its all-time record of 2.78 million set in 2018.
Zion was the No. 10 on the list of most-visited national parks in 2021, following:
1. Blue Ridge Parkway • 15.9 million.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park • 14.1 million.
3. Golden Gate National Recreation Area • 13.7 million.
4. Gateway National Recreation Area • 9.1 million.
5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area • 7.6 million.
6. George Washington Memorial Parkway • 6.8 million.
7. Natchez Trace Parkway • 6.4 million.
8. Lincoln Memorial • 5.8 million.
9. Gulf Islands National Seashore. • 5.5 million.
According to a news release from Zion National Park, it is working with its “neighbors and stakeholders in federal, state, county and municipal governments to understand what increased visitation has meant for them, as well as the park. Looking to the future, the National Park Service will continue to work collaboratively so that we protect the unique resources that make Zion an iconic destination.”
The National Park Service has been working since 2016 to develop a comprehensive plan to provide high quality visitor experiences and manage park resources. The park is collecting data on visitor use and preferences and is testing potential solutions to meet the plan’s goals.
In addition to the Angels Landing Pilot Permit Program — which began mandating hiking permits to Angels Landing on April 1 — additional updates will be announced later this year.