Zion reopens, but park offerings remain slim

(AP file photo) Zion National Park welcomed back the public on Wednesday, but many parts of the park remain off-limits and on-site visitor services, including campgrounds and the canyon shuttle, are all but non-existent.

Zion National Park, southern Utah’s most-visited tourist draw, welcomed back the public Wednesday as the state continues to ease coronavirus restrictions, but many parts of the park remain off-limits and on-site guest services, including campgrounds and the canyon shuttle, are all but nonexistent.

Under its plan for a phased increase in access, the park is open during daylight hours and is restricting cars on the 6-mile-long Zion Canyon scenic drive to 400 vehicles, reflecting the number of parking spaces at its key destinations, such as the Temple of Sinawava and The Grotto.

"As we move forward, the health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners will guide our operational approach to examine each facility function and service and ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance," the park posted on its website.

A spokesperson for the park could not be reached Wednesday.

Acting at the direction of the White House, the National Park Service is expanding access to the 419 sites it administers, including many of the 155 that shut down last month.

In Utah, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks also saw limited openings last week, while Arches and Canyonlands are to reopen May 29.

One of the park system’s crown jewels, receiving 4 million visits last year, Zion could pose the toughest challenges among Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks because of its immense popularity and the narrowness of its often-busy trails.

Maintaining 6 feet of social distance between visitors at Zion Canyon’s key attractions could prove difficult, so some key trails and destinations will remain closed for now. These include Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, Angels Landing, Kolob Canyons, the visitor center, the museum and theater, according to a fact sheet the park posted.

Zion officials are not yet issuing wilderness permits or allowing canyoneering, climbing or overnight backpacking.

Still, many popular hikes are open, including the Riverside Walk, West Rim, Grotto, Sand Bench the paved Pa’rus trails. The Kayenta Trail is also open but is closed to the popular Emerald Pools.

The Narrows from Riverside Walk remains closed while flows in the Virgin River exceed 150 cubic feet per second.

Zion Lodge is expected to open May 21. State Road 9 to Mount Carmel could see temporary closures if traffic congestion becomes heavy.

The park’s status could change, so visitors are encouraged to check the park website to get the latest information.