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Zion National Park Might Ticket Illegal Parkers


There are only so many vehicles you can squeeze into Zion National Park, and even fewer parking spots. And with spring weather in the offing, park rangers just might start ticketing folks who park in the wrong spot.

So no matter how tempting that shoulder section along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive might look, resist the urge to pull off and park or you might find yourself looking at a fine.

Zion officials are expecting heavy traffic during the rest of March's weekends as a result of spring break, beautiful weather, and Zion Half Marathon. As a result, this weekend, next weekend, and the weekend of March 29 and 30 might see rangers doing traffic control along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to ensure visitor safety and mitigate resource damage.

"Park visitors should expect long lines at Entrance Stations and are encouraged to carpool," a park release said. "Zion National Park’s shuttle bus system does not begin operation until April 1. Currently, Zion Canyon is open to vehicular traffic and the high number of visitors is quickly filling the canyon’s parking lots."

Visitors in the park on these weekends should expect designated parking lots and pullouts along the Scenic Drive to fill up quickly. For the protection of park visitors and park resources, parking outside of designated areas is not permitted.

"If it becomes apparent that visitation exceeds parking availability on the Scenic Drive, rangers will proactively manage traffic on the Scenic Drive," the release said.

Traffic control measures could include 1-2 hour periodic closures at the turn off onto the Scenic Drive from Highway 9. Vehicles parked outside of designated areas pose potential safety hazards to other vehicles, impede emergency response, and can cause resource damage to roads, drainage systems, and vegetation. Vehicles parked outside designated areas, on vegetation, or blocking or restricting the movement of vehicle traffic may be cited.


The carrying capacity of Zion Main Canyon poses an ever increasing challenge to park management. While the shuttle system, implemented in 2000, addressed much of the challenge, annual visitation continues to increase and the busy season to grow longer. Park management is currently involved in a transportation study and is considering the possibility of expanding shuttle services in 2015. 


I just had an experience with "one out, one in" parking. Our largest local hospital/medical center has lost a big chunk of parking to construction of a new wing. They are using a manned control gate for entrance to parking. It worked well except for the fact that there was another entrance that didn't have a control. As a result, a few drivers coming from that direction cut off some of us who were in line beyond the control gate.

It worked reasonably well, and if that other entry point were controlled, it would be pretty darned good.

This is why I'm a big fan of seeing glamour parks at the crack of dawn. My wife and I visited Rocky Mountain last August during peak season but managed to almost completely avoid traffic and crowds. We got going up the Kawuneeche Valley from Grand Lake at first light, and there were virtually no other people. We were able to stop in the middle of the road to watch moose, elk, bighorn sheep, etc. without having to pull off the road onto sensitive vegetation or cause a traffic problem. It was a very intimate and rewarding experience, in spite of being in the middle of one of the most-visited parks during peak season.

As we were leaving eastward around 11 AM we passed a bumper-to-bumper convoy of cars coming in from Estes Park. All I could think was "sucks to be you...enjoy the traffic backups and hordes of annoying people."

Off-season is also awesome. Yosemite Valley October-March is a world away from Yosemite Valley June-August.

In some heavily-visited parks, I might favor a reservation system. Before you throw your hands up in disgust at this suggestion, think about other things that are part of our lives. If I want to go to a concert and call for tickets and it is sold out, I make other plans. If the campground is full, I go someplace else. If I want to get my hair cut at 2:00 pm tomorrow and the stylist is busy, I make other arrangements. We are used to limits that constrain when we do things. I think twocee and Mackie are absolutely correct that strategies to reduce crowding are going to have to be implemented by the NPS if it is to preserve these areas in perpetuity and provide peak experiences for visitors who, after all, are often looking for a contrast to the frantic pace that many of them maintain in their everyday lives. In one sense, that is one of the most important values of parks. They give us a chance to take off our watches, turn off the cell phones and live according to the rhythms of nature or the march of history. Such experiences are priceless and must be preserved.


I have to agree with rmackie -- the national parks need to have systems in place that allow "maximum capacity" cutoff points. As a park visitor, I would rather have to plan a trip months in advance in order to secure parking and hiking permits (even for day-use) than get to the park and spend most of my day stuck in traffic, circling a parking lot, and seeing more people on the trail than I do on my morning commute in downtown Chicago.

Yosemite is probably the best example of how this overcrowding makes what should be an awesome natural experience into an exercise in utter frustration. But all of the popular parks suffer from some version of it.

Baxter State Park in Maine has a model that I believe could be a good starting point for instituting maximum visitation controls in the parks, and Glacier National Park and Denali National Park both already have reasonable systems in place for managing the numbers of hikers in any one area of the park using combinations of permits and parking restrictions. No one wants to tell people that they can't come, but I also believe that as park visitors, we'd all be much happier if we could come to the parks knowing that we'd have a relaxing and peaceful experience, even if it means some added inconvenience in the planning stage of the trip.

If I remember correctly, there are a number of notices in park brochures and signs along the roads that say something like, "Park in Designated Spaces Only."

But of course, for some people, that only applies to others.

If it's anything like what I see here at any random spot on the Klondike Highway most days, all it takes is for one car to spot a bear and pull over. Next thing you know there are half a dozen cars on either side of the road doing the camera thing. It doesn't have to be scenic, historic, or even to have wide shoulders - it just takes one wandering animal.

Clearly a no-win situation for both the staff and visitors when this kind of over-capacity use occurs. It sounds like extending the season for shuttle operations in future years could be part of the solution, if funding can be found to do so.

In the meantime, information like this press release at least helps gives visitors fair notice of the situation. It's certainly true that having "no parking signs" lining park roadways is not desirable, but without them or other public information efforts, once one or two people decided to pull off to the side of the road and park anywhere they want, the sheep syndrome will kick in, and other drivers will assume it must be okay to do so.

The worst case would be a situation where someone parks his vehicle in a way that blocks traffic and slows or logjams it completely. I've never met a ranger yet who enjoyed spending his or her time writing parking tickets, but sometimes that's the only way to convince people to follow the rules.

EC, you are correct, if an area is posted "No Parking", that is an obvious violation. The problem is that on many roadways, this is particularly true in Yosemite, there are many road shoulders, etc, where it appears it is OK to park, in another words it is not signed. It is also true how many places you can squeeze your vehicle off the pavement, thinking this is OK. Efforts to reduce this issue include moving boulders/barricades, etc closer to the pavement so vehicles cannot pull off, some of it of course is not to have the whole road signed on both sides. In effect, while traffic has increased, parking has been substantially reduced. It is a catch 22 situation as parking is reduced, more and more vehicles are allowed to enter. It puts everyone in a tough situation including the rangers that have to write the tickets because we are not dealing with the cause of the problem, to many vehicles at one time. There are some that say, well that is OK, I just want to drive, I will not stop, but the congestion on the roadways from this policy is a huge problem also. I am not sure I have any answers, but at some point, a visitor capacity maybe needed, be it shuttles or cars, that was the whole issue of the 15 years of litigation over the Yosemite Merced River Plan. It appears the issue is still unresolved in Yosemite as it is at Zion and other areas. It is interesting to note that when I was first employed in Yosemite NP in 1960, the only real peak days were the 3 summer holiday weekends. At that time people were allowed to pull off anywhere they could find, including all along both sides of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. It was quite a scene. Being 18, I had no idea this was an issue, I thought it was just the way it is. It began to change in 1968.

There are areas where visitor capacities have been set to deal with overcrowding in various forms. At Mammoth Cave NP, all the gateway communities have internet connections (including the local motels, campgrounds, etc.) with the Park. Signs tell you during the peak season if the cave walks are booked for the day, but if you stay at one of the out of park facilities they can make reservations for you. This done (and you may have to wait a day, which I did), you drive to the main VC and Cave entrance, no problem parking, and you are on a wonderful cave walk. This is a an excellent way to deal with the crowding issue, a win win for everyone. I do think that we have parks that have peak visitation periods that need to either build more facilities (and that is never ending) or have a system in place that permits only the entry allowed for the infrastructure in place. (let alone the ecological considerations). In fairness to Yosemite, their current Merced River Plan is an effort to do just that. Thank you Traveler for an interesting post.

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