Utah’s Arches National Park is well-known for its red rock formations. The downside of that fame, however, is that visitors flock to see its attractions.
In fact, more than 1.6 million people visit Arches each year, and that number continues to grow each year, according to the National Park Service (NPS). What’s more, Arches is expected to break its attendance record this year because nearly 1.7 million visitors had already visited the park by the end of October, Kait Thomas, Arches’ park spokesperson, said, an Associated Press story reports.
Now, in a plan intended to ease traffic and congestion, park officials have announced Arches will use timed-entry tickets next year (2022). It should be noted that the system is a pilot, and it will only be used temporarily.
“By implementing a temporary, timed-entry reservation system, our goal is to better spread visitation throughout the day to reduce traffic congestion and visitor crowding,” Patricia Trap, the superintendent of Arches, recently announced. “We believe this will create a higher-quality experience while maximizing access for our visitors. Additionally, we will use data gathered from this pilot to adapt and improve this system throughout the season.”
This type of entry system is becoming increasingly common at national parks. For instance, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain both used this type of system last summer. Furthermore, officials at Zion National Park, also in Utah, recently announced the park will use a reservation system next year to limit traffic and congestion in the area around the park’s most popular hike, Angels Landing.
A Majestic View Draws Crowds
Geologic forces have been at work in the area around Arches for roughly 65 million years — exposing and then eroding sandstone layers, the NPS explains. It seems mind boggling, but the national park is home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches, towers, pinnacles, and balanced rocks.
Now, if you haven’t been to Arches, you may be wondering how crowded it gets.
Put it this way: Arches’ rangers explain that visitors should expect to wait a long time to enter the park if they arrive between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. And when Arches reaches capacity, the rangers will close the entrance gates to temporarily restrict access.
How Timed-Entry Will Work
Growing attendance at Arches has led to congestion and crowding that “can negatively impact public safety, visitor experiences, and park resources,” Trap explains.
The decision to implement a timed-entry system came after NPS officials met with the public in two virtual meetings to discuss potential solutions to the crowding. After analyzing visitation patterns and considering comments from the public and stakeholders, NPS officials determined that a temporary timed-entry pilot could ease vehicle congestion and visitor crowding by pacing entrance to the park.
Here’s how the system will work: Beginning at 8 a.m. MST on January 3, 2022, Arches will release timed-entry reservations three months in advance in monthly blocks. Visitors will be able to book reservations on a first-come, first-served basis on Recreation.gov.
On January 3, reservations to visit the park from April 3 to April 30 will open. On February 1, reservations will open to visit the park in May, and any remaining reservations that have not been booked for April will be available then as well. Reservations will then continue to be released following that schedule.
After booking a reservation, visitors will receive a timed-entry ticket, which will be used to enter Arches from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. during a one-hour specified window of availability. After entering the park, visitors may stay in Arches as long as they want for the rest of the day.
“We’re not trying to limit visitation, we’re just trying to distribute it,” park spokesperson Thomas said in the AP story.
Know Before You (Plan To) Go
Timed-entry reservations are best made in advance through Recreation.gov. However, there is also an option to reserve over the phone by calling (877) 444-6777.
Finally, it must be pointed out that timed-entry reservations are only for entering the park and do not guarantee access to all park locations or parking at any locations. Rangers point out that visitors may need to remain flexible when it comes to seeing park attractions. If a particular parking lot is full, rangers recommend visiting another area of the park first instead.
You can find more information about the timed-entry reservation system here.
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to read the rest of our Arches coverage, including: