Entrance fees to go up by $5 at Utah’s national parks — and most others across U.S. — after feds scrap plan to double some of those charges

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Visitors take pictures and hike around Delicate Arch in Arches National Park Saturday March 5, 2016.

Washington • Fees to enter many of America’s national parks, including all five in Utah, will go up by $5 come June after federal officials backed away from a plan to more than double some entrance costs at popular venues in the wake of a public outcry.

The original plan, unveiled by the Interior Department in October, would have hiked fees during peak visitation season for 17 parks, including four of Utah’s Mighty Five, up to $70.

But the new change will raise the fees by $5 nationwide at parks that already charge to enter, bringing the cost of admission at Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks to $35 per vehicle for a seven-day pass and $30 per vehicle for the same time period at Arches and Canyonlands, according to the plan announced Thursday.

Fees at four of Utah's Mighty Five national parks will be raised by $5 come June and other park units will see gradual hikes.

Arches National Park
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $25 $10 $15
New fee as of 06/01/18 $30 $15 $25
Bryce Canyon National Park
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $30 $15 $25
New fee as of 06/01/18 $35 $20 $30
Canyonlands National Park
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $25 $10 $15
New fee as of 06/01/18 $30 $15 $25
Capitol Reef National Park
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $15 $7 $10
New fee as of 06/01/18 $20 $10 $15
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Per Person
Current fee $6
New fee as of 05/01/18 $7
New fee as of 01/01/20 $10
Dinosaur National Park
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $20 $10 $15
New fee as of 06/01/18 $25 $15 $20
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $25 $12 $20
New fee as of 06/01/18 $30 $15 $25
Golden Spike National Historic Site
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $7 $4 $4
New fee as of 05/01/18 $10 $5 $10
New fee as of 01/01/20 $20 $10 $15
Hovenweep National Monument
Per Vehicle Per Person Per Motorcycle
Current fee $15 $7 $7
New fee as of 01/01/19 $15 $7 $10
New fee as of 01/01/20 $20 $10 $15
Natural Bridges National Monument
Per Vehicle Per Person
Current fee $15 $7
New fee as of 06/01/18 $20 $10
Zion National Park
Per Vehicle Per Person
Current fee $30 $15
New fee as of 06/01/18 $35 $20

Source: The National Park Service

Capitol Reef’s charge will be $20 per vehicle, up from $15.

About 30 park units, like southwestern Utah’s Cedar Breaks National Monument, which have not made their way into the park service’s four categories set by size and type, will have incremental increases as part of this change. Cedar Breaks, for example, will charge $7 as an entrance fee, up from $6. That fee will rise to $10 in 2020.

More than two-thirds of America’s national parks will remain free to enter.

The Interior decision came as a pleasant surprise to some members of Congress, environmental groups and watchdogs as well as business owners near national parks who had been outspoken against larger increases they warned could have hurt American families and driven down visitation.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the change from the original proposal came after Americans “made their voices heard” and now will mean a modest $5 increase at 117 park units instead of larger hikes at 17 big-draw parks.

An investment in our parks is an investment in America,” Zinke said. “Every dollar spent to rebuild our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality.”

All money collected from the higher fees will stay within the National Park Service, with 80 percent remaining in the park where it is collected, Interior said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert praised the park service for taking “a more balanced approach” toward fees.

“This fee increase represents a measured compromise between providing much-needed funding to our parks and maintaining sensible pricing,” said Paul Edwards, the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who had joined with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in a letter opposing the larger fee hikes, said she was glad the park service listened to their concerns and those of their constituents.

Our parks are treasured by Utahns, and I’m committed to getting them the resources they need,” Love said in a statement. “But I believe we can do so without erecting barriers for many Utahns and harming local economies.”

Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the backlash from Americans against the original plan is a “prime example that activism works.”

The American people raised their concerns, participated in the public comment period and made sure that the Trump White House knew that the proposal was unpopular,” Grijalva said. “If it wasn’t for the power of the people, Secretary Zinke would have gone ahead with his ridiculous proposal. Since we have his ear, let’s remind the secretary that shrinking national monuments and opening more of our coasts to drilling are unpopular as well.”

The National Parks Conservation Association said its analysis of nearly 110,000 public comments found 98 percent of them were against the larger hikes.

From the moment the administration made its proposal ... many businesses, gateway communities, governors, tourism groups, conservation organizations and the public have said this was the wrong solution for parks’ repair needs,” said Theresa Pierno, president of the association. “The public spoke, and the administration listened.”

Fees play a role in the parks, Pierno added, and the new payment structure will add more resources for parks without hurting tourism or the local economies surrounding the parks.

Diane Regas, president of The Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, heralded the move.

Everyone deserves great outdoor experiences, and we’re relieved that the administration has scrapped its plan to more than double fees at many of our nation’s most spectacular national parks,” Regas said. “We urge Congress and the administration to address the chronic underfunding of the National Park Service budget, and not place the burden squarely on the backs of the American public with higher costs to the lands they already own.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that the fee hike was still “drastic” and will make it harder for American families to visit their national parks.

More than 330 million people visited the national parks last year,” Feinstein said. “Raising the entrance fees will force many of them to stay home now, depriving them of a chance to visit their parks and hurting the surrounding communities whose economies depend on tourism.”

The fees are aimed at tackling the park service’s $11.6 billion maintenance backlog, Zinke said, and is one of many approaches Interior is taking to address the issue.

The park service estimates the new structure, which will begin June 1, will boost revenue by $60 million on top of its current haul of about $200 million.

Repairing infrastructure is also about access for all Americans,” Zinke said. “Not all visitors to our parks have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities. In order for families with young kids, elderly grandparents or persons with disabilities to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers.”

Kate Cannon, superintendent of the park service’s Southeast Utah Group, encompassing Arches, Canyonlands, Hovenweep and Natural Bridges, noted the “delicate balance” that must be achieved to upgrade visitor services and ensure that parks are accessible for all.

“This increase across many parks nationally,” Cannon said, “is easier for our community than a larger increase locally would have been.”

The Interior Department pointed out that park fees, some of which predate the National Park Service, have not kept up with inflation, noting, for example, the original fee of $5 to enter Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park in 1914 would be $123 in today’s dollars. The new change brings that fee to $30 per vehicle.

The park service’s annual pass will remain $80 under the new plan, Interior said.

Zinke said Thursday he is working with Congress to pass legislation, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would create a fund from energy produced on federal lands and waters to address the maintenance backlog. President Donald Trump called for such a fund in his budget proposal this year.

Reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this story.