Zion National Park Officials Debating How To Improve Wilderness Permitting System

With hopes of alleviating the need to get in line at 3 a.m., Zion National Park officials are exploring how they can improve their backcountry permitting system. NPS photo.

There's nothing quite worse for backcountry travelers than facing long lines to gain a permit to head on their trek. That's one of the problems at Zion National Park, and officials there are debating how they can improve their permitting system.

Through December 15 the park will be accepting public comment on how it might revise the permitting system.

Currently, areas and activities within the park that require wilderness permits continue to grow in popularity. Wilderness permits are required for all overnight trips, as well as day trips into many of the park's slot canyons.

As the demand for a limited number of wilderness permits has increased, so has the competition. Many visitors wait for hours or, in some cases, overnight to obtain wilderness permits for activities within Zion National Park, park officials say.

The current wilderness permitting system allows visitors to secure permits through a reservation system for roughly 75 percent of all areas. Reservations for permits in the most popular sections of the park are often booked two to three months in advance. The remaining permits are issued up to one day in advance on a first come-first served basis at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

The demand for the first come-first served permits results in long lines and significant waits.

"These walk-up spots have also become very desirable. Visitors compete with one another to arrive earliest at the wilderness permits desk. Visitors are often in line and waiting before 3 a.m. the day before a trip," park officials say, adding that the backcountry permit desk doesn't open until 7 a.m.