Arches National Park will stop requiring tickets to enter. Prepare for long waits, officials say.

Now that the timed-entry ticket program is ending, officials expect congestion and intermittent park closures to return.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The main entrance to Arches National Park, in Moab, on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

Those planning to visit Arches National Park after Monday should “pack their patience,” according to a park spokesperson.

The national park — home to Utah’s iconic Delicate Arch — is ending its ticketed, timed-entry pilot program that launched in April, which aimed to reduce congestion and capacity closures after record visitation in 2021.

That means starting Tuesday, visitors should expect long lines at the park entrance as Arches returns to its previous first-come, first-served approach, since people tend to arrive around the same time, spokesperson Kaitlyn Thomas said.

Those hoping to avoid crowds should arrive before 6 or 7 a.m., or after 3 or 4 p.m., she said.

Under the program, instead of people arriving at will — and the park being forced to periodically close as it reached capacity throughout the day — visitors were required to book a ticket to enter the park at a certain time.

Thomas said about 2,700 staggered tickets were available each day during the pilot period, based on the average number of vehicles that came into the park in 2019.

Officials haven’t yet begun analyzing the pilot program data in-depth, but early indicators show it did help achieve some of the park’s goals. It may have also contributed to an overall reduction in visitors, Thomas said, although it’s unclear how much of a role the ticket system played, since visitation also decreased at other parks this year.

“We do think that it probably did contribute a small amount, but that there were other factors — other socioeconomic factors outside of timed entry — that also decreased visitation,” she said.

In July 2021, more than 200,000 people entered the park, compared to 158,925 this year. In August, the park saw 142,790 people, down nearly 15% from last year. Thomas said in those months, the park had “far more” tickets available than the number booked.

Thomas said officials will decide whether to adjust the park’s entry system for the upcoming busy season in late fall, after looking at the pilot program data, reviewing visitor feedback and meeting with locals. Outside of timed-entry tickets, she said the park may explore other options, such as requiring permits for popular hikes.

In the meantime, visitors should prepare for three- to five-hour waits to get into the park during peak hours, as well as crowded trails and parking lots. You can check park conditions at nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.

In addition to patience, officials urged visitors to remember to pack plenty of water and snacks, and to wear sturdy shoes and sun protection.