The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequential national closures beginning in March has resulted in both record high and low visitation rates at Utah’s five national parks during prime summer and fall months.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks both saw zero visitors during the month of April amid closures that began on March 28 and continued well into the month of May. This is the first time any national park in Utah has documented visitation with the unprecedented figure.
The other three national parks in Utah — Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef — did not shut down until several days into April allowing the parks to document visitation, but with numbers far below average for the month with only 40,396 at Zion, 3,223 at Bryce Canyon and 13,014 at Capitol Reef.
Following a phased reopening of the parks beginning in early May, visitation remained well below what is expected for the prime months of May through September at most parks.
However; Capitol Reef National Park, the last park to shut down and the first to welcome visitors back, set a monthly record high for visitors in June with 158,421 followed by a monthly record high in September with 178,879.
In similar fashion, Zion National Park set monthly records for visitation before the onset of the pandemic in the months of January with 126,994 and February with 133,718 followed by a monthly record high in September with 520,987.
Along with these national parks, Cedar Breaks National Monument has seen a drastic uptick in visitors. The monument never saw a shutdown, adding to visitation numbers far surpassing last year’s monthly totals beginning in February and setting a monthly visitation record of its own in September with 147,812.
Visitation for all five national parks made its initial nosedive after President Donald Trump first declared COVID-19 a national emergency on March 13. This declaration was soon followed by social distancing mandates and state and national closures on non-essential businesses.
The five national parks in Utah remained open for most of March while implementing restrictions and recommended health guidelines as they arose.
As conditions worsened, Utah Department of Health officials recommended full closure of the parks, prompting Canyonlands and Arches to be the first parks to shut down in Utah on March 28 followed by Zion on April 3, Bryce Canyon on April 6 and Capital Reef on April 9.
Parks were given the go-ahead to resume operation by the start of May. Each location implemented varying measures of “phased reopening” such as limiting visitors, canceling events and preventing access to areas of the park that saw the most congestion.
Today, all five national parks remain open and all are requesting that their visitors social distance and wear masks. Zion, Arches and Canyonlands are currently limiting access to some areas.
For those interested in visiting the national parks it is important to stay up to date on COVID-19 regulations as these continue to change frequently. Information about each park’s current status and restrictions can be found on their individual pages on the National Park Service website.
Story by: Mikyla Bagley
Photos Courtesy of SUU Journal Archives