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Zion National Park hits record-breaking visitation numbers in 2021

This scenic drive allows visitors to see the dramatic finger canyons on the not-so-visited Kolob side of Zion National Park. Stakeholders are trying to find manageable ways to increase traffic to different sides of the park including Kolob and East Zion. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Visitation numbers are up among many national parks and monuments across the country, especially the main four that make up the grand circle around Kane County. Many locals say the increased tourism is quite alarming, while business owners’ livelihoods depend upon it.

In 2021, Zion joined only three other national parks to see such high visitation numbers: Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains. Zion was the second most visited park in 2021, with 5,039,835 visitors, up from 4.5 million, its previous high in 2017, and second only to Great Smoky Mountains National Park which saw 14.1 million visitors.

Another local favorite, the Grand Canyon saw 4.5 million visitors in 2021, which was around 1.4 million shy of 2019 numbers, while Lake Powell drew over three million visitors compared to 2.5 million the previous year. Lake Powell’s numbers are quite a bit lower than pre-pandemic numbers.

Zion National Park and its partners are working on many different projects to balance the popularity while maintaining the appeal of the park. The park is also working with various agencies, including the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation and Kane County, to build a visitor center just outside the park on the east entrance in an effort to pull visitors to other parts of the park.

That project is ongoing; however, the first 10-mile bike section opened in October. Mark Preiss, the director of the Zion Forever Project, the official nonprofit partner of Zion National Park said, “The second phase of trail construction is set to begin this spring, with about 25 miles of new mountain biking trails to be added once it’s completed.”

The Bureau of Land Management is currently in the process of finalizing 40 miles of hiking trails south of State Route 9. Zachary Almaguer, Zion Forever Project spokesman said, “We understand

the pressures facing the Zion’s main canyon; we don’t expect those to magically go away.” He continued, “It’s important that we seek solutions inside the park but also just beyond the scope, working with those landowners to help with that meaningful dispersion. Being able to meaningfully disperse visitors throughout the park and share with them the myriad of things available at Zion is critical in maintaining the Zion experience.”

One thing is certain, park visitation to the four main national parks/monuments around Kane County is growing at a rapid rate and as a tourism-based economy, it is very promising for Kanab. For those that dislike the increased tourism numbers, it may be concerning. Southern Utah continues to be a hot attraction for visitors around the country and it presents many opportunities as well as many challenges for those trying to manage it the best they can.




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