ST. GEORGE — As fall approaches and visitors consider heading to Zion National Park, there are some protocols and closures in place to help protect staff and guests both from health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other safety issues in the park.
For those coming for the busy Labor Day weekend and beyond, here is what you need to know.
Those wishing to visit Zion’s Main Canyon scenic drive will need to purchase a shuttle ticket for each passenger over the age of 2. Children under 2 years old who sit on an adult’s lap do not need a ticket. Tickets are $1 per person and must be purchased in advance.
Information from Zion National Park said the following regarding shuttle services:
- Passengers must have a ticket to board.
- Seating on each shuttle has been reduced. There is no standing allowed.
- Tickets are only valid for the date purchased.
- The assigned boarding time for stop 1 at the visitor center is on the ticket.
- Stops 5, 6, 8 and 9 can be boarded at any time with a same-day ticket.
- Stops 2, 4 and 7 are out of service.
- Visitors should not return to the visitor center until they are done for the day. Once a passenger returns to the visitor center their ticket is expired.
- Shuttle tickets are not included in the park entrance fee nor does it guarantee parking inside the park.
- The last shuttle leaves stop 9, the Temple of Sinawava, at 8:15 p.m. and only holds 33 people. Visitors are advised not to wait for the last shuttle.
The shuttle ticket system was implemented as a COVID-19 precaution so visitors to Zion would be able to avoid standing in the long shuttle lines. In a normal year, park guests would be seen standing in close proximity for an hour or more to board, Park Volunteer Coordinator Eleanor Seibers said.
So far, Seibers said they are impressed with the system and how it is working to still allow visitors to access Zion’s Main Canyon.
The shuttle ticket system has been put into effect until Dec. 31, 2020, after which park staff, along with state and local health officials, will reassess the health risks, she said.
For guests who are unable to obtain a shuttle ticket, there are still other options to access the canyon. Visitors can bike up the canyon or rent space on a commercial shuttle operating out of Springdale.
Guests riding bikes up the canyon are encouraged to ride single file, exercise caution around vehicles, and pull over and completely stop for shuttles passing by.
Though people have been walking up the canyon, Seibers said they highly discourage it.
“It is not safe with all the vehicles, and it is definitely not safe in the heat,” she said.
State Route 9, which travels through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel to Zion’s east side, remains open to vehicles. Parking at trailheads on the east side is limited.
Visitors to Zion can also find alternate activities on the Kolob Terrace road, the Kolob Canyons section of Zion, which is reached via Interstate-15 or other nearby attractions.
Entrance fees and parking
There is an entrance fee to enter Zion National Park, which is paid as visitors enter from the south or the east entrance stations or at the pedestrian bridge, which enters the park from Springdale bordering Zion National Park’s south entrance.
The entrance fee does not include the shuttle ticket, lodging, activities or items purchased in the park.
Parking in Zion is limited and guests who arrive later in the day are not guaranteed a spot, Seibers said. There is paid parking in Springdale.
As Labor Day weekend approaches, Siebers said they expect the parking lot at the Visitor Center to fill up early.
While Labor Day weekend is not the park’s busiest, Seibers said, it will by no means be quiet.
There are two campgrounds open in Zion National Park. Both the Watchman Campground and South Campground are open by reservation only.
Safety and planning ahead
Though many people look forward to cooling fall temperatures, Zion National Park can still be quite hot.
A post to the park’s Facebook page said they expect temperatures to reach 109 degrees over the holiday weekend.
As such, Seibers said they caution guests to use good judgment when doing activities in the heat. Visitors should plan to arrive early, drink plenty of water and bring along salty snacks, she said.
Park guests should also respect trail closures such as the chains portion of the Angel’s Landing Trail as it is impossible to social distance in that area.
The Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, Observation Point and East Rim trails from the Weeping Rock shuttle stop remain closed due to a rock avalanche that occurred in 2019.
Currently, there is a toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the Virgin River and the streams of Zion National Park. The National Park Service recommends avoiding contact with the North Fork of the Virgin River, which runs through the park, until further notice.
“We’re trying to get the word out that there is a danger there that we don’t really know the extent of, and we are erring on the side of caution,” Seibers said.
That said, the popular Narrows hike, which is accessed from the Temple of Sinawava, is not closed, Seibers said. However, she added they want to warn people of what they are intentionally exposing themselves to if they choose to go into the Narrows or swim along the Pa’Rus.
Seibers said animals and young children should definitely not be exposed and visitors should not submerge themselves in or drink the water.
Whether visitors are coming for the holiday weekend, a mid-week or alternative weekend visit, planning ahead is crucial to get the most out of their stay.
As the seasons shift, Seibers said park operation hours will be changing. Potential guests can stay up-to-date with the most current Zion National Park information on the park’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account, Seibers said.
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