Mar 20, 2024 - News

Glen Canyon surpasses Zion tourism as Utah national park numbers stay below peak

A parade of tourists hiking in Arches National Park

A parade of tourists hikes in Arches National Park in October 2023.

For the second year in a row, attendance at Utah's five national parks has stayed below 2021's tourism explosion, according to recent federal data.

Why it matters: In recent years, record numbers of park visitors have encountered full parking lots before 8am, crowds obscuring views, thin camping options and air pollution.

Meanwhile, residents of nearby communities have seen housing costs rise and so many dwellings converted to vacation rentals that tourism industry employees can't find places to live.

By the numbers: The Mighty Five — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion — tallied 10.6 million visits in 2023.

  • That's a slight increase from 2022, but below the 11.3 million visits in 2021.
  • 2019 also brought more tourists, and 2018 was close behind.

The intrigue: Utah's park traffic departed from the rest of the country, where national park visitation has continued to climb sharply following 2021.

Zoom in: Bryce Canyon is Utah's only national park where visitation has continuously increased since COVID began four years ago.

  • Zion, the nation's third-busiest national park last year with 4.6 million visits, saw attendance decline slightly from 2022.

Yes, but: At Glen Canyon, which is operated by the National Park Service, tourism soared to record highs last year — surpassing even Zion.

  • Utah's record snowmelt last spring allowed multiple boat ramps to reopen following closures because years of drought shrunk Lake Powell.
  • Visits jumped from 2.8 million in 2022 to 5.2 million last year.

Zoom out: The 63 national parks in the U.S. saw a record 92.4 million visits in 2023.

  • As usual, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most visited, followed by the Grand Canyon.
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