A Practical Guide to Zion: Page 1 2 3 4 5 6

Angels Landing crowdA typical crowd at the Angels Landing summit.National and state ad campaigns (including the "Find Your Parks" campaign and Utah's own "Visit the Mighty 5" campaign) work hard to promote tourism and park visitation by highlighting all of the wonderful scenery and activities that you can experience during your vacation. And due to their overwhelming success, there is a big confounding factor that you will have to deal with during your trip: crowds, crowds, CROWDS! While most people come to national parks hoping to find a quiet outdoor wilderness experience, during the busy tourist months (especially weekends and holidays), you will find yourself fighting with traffic jams, long waits in lines, and packed shuttle buses. The experience can feel like an overwhelming mob scene at Disney World--exactly what you were looking to avoid...

Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States with visitation increasing dramatically each year. In 2015, Zion saw over 3.6 million visitors; in 2016, it saw over 4.3 million visitors. (Many other national parks from Acadia to Yosemite are also experiencing unsustainable increases in visitation resulting in gridlock-like experiences.) While the National Park Service is working on several crowd-alleviation proposals and ideas over the next few years, due to their limited resources, don't expect the situation to get much better soon. When you visit the crowded and popular Zion Canyon (the "main canyon"), you have to bring a big bottle of patience with you. And while you might not be able to avoid all of the crowds, it may be useful to know what to expect.

Common Waits and Bottlenecks:

Alternatives to Fighting the Crowds:

Minimize Your Impact:

Because so many people visit Zion National Park every day, it is quite easy for human activity to have a devastating effect on Zion's fragile desert and riparian ecosystems. It is important to be aware of what good behavior is and to practice "leave no trace" ethics wherever you explore.

  1. Stay on the trail and obey any "do not hike here" signs or fences. When accessing rivers or streams, try to avoid trampling vegetation and do not pick any flowers.
  2. Pack out all trash; do not leave anything behind on the trail. mud graffiti in the Zion NarrowsMud graffiti in the Zion Narrows.
  3. Do not carve or scratch your name into any rock formations. This has become a big problem at the Angels Landing viewpoint and in the Zion Narrows, and the National Park Service considers this to be a form of vandalism. If you see somebody doing this, please be brave enough to tell them to stop and consider reporting them to rangers.
  4. Do not paint mud handprints on the canyon walls. People doing mud "artwork" in the Zion Narrows is a real problem. Even though some might not think this is a big deal, it ruins the experience for others and somebody else will have to clean it up. If you see somebody doing this, please tell them to stop.
  5. Leave the animals alone and do not feed them. Friendly squirrels and chipmunks will come up to you begging for food, but it is illegal to feed them. And while spotting mule deer or bighorn sheep can be an exciting experience, do not approach them or get close to them. They don't need your help and they don't need you to pet them. cairn garden on Angels LandingA plague of cairns on Angels Landing.
  6. Do not build decorative cairns anywhere in the park, especially at popular viewpoints and in the Zion Narrows. While this may seem like harmless entertainment, it ruins the nature experience for others. If you really can't resist building a cairn, build it, take a photo, and then disassemble it.
  7. Pack out all solid human waste when backpacking or dayhiking in wilderness areas. Why do I need to pack out my poo?
  8. When exploring the backcountry, stick to solid rock surfaces as much as possible and avoid stepping on delicate cryptobiotic soil.

The National Park Service has seen an increase in littering and vandalism in the past few years and they are under-equipped to deal with cleaning up after everyone. It is up to all of us to act as responsible caretakers of our special public lands and keep things looking nice for the people who visit after us.

Continue to Hiking and Backpacking!

Please note: This web site and all images on this site are the property of Joe Braun Photography ©2023. Unauthorized public or commercial use of any of the images or text on this website without explicit permission is strictly forbidden.