Utah’s Zion National Park so popular that even ‘offseason’ has gridlock

Even by Utah standards, few things are as beautiful as snow on redrock, especially in Zion Canyon where visitors can take in this lovely sight this week in the stillness of winter — if they can get there.

It may be the middle of the “offseason,” but the canyon, the centerpiece of Zion National Park, has been so packed since Christmas that park officials have had to exclude tour buses and oversize vehicles and close the canyon road because no more vehicles can fit in the parking areas.

Traffic has periodically backed so far into Springdale from the south entrance that officials had to “flush” the vehicles through the toll gate, foregoing the revenue that comes with the $30-per-vehicle charge. And that was even before the long New Year’s weekend had quite arrived.

Visitation is expected to exceed a record 4 million visits in 2016, up from 2.7 million six years ago, prompting officials to initiate a process to craft a “visitor use management plan.” December and January are typically the least busy time for the park, with monthly visitation below 100,000. But the winter months have seen the greatest percentage increases in recent years, growing by nearly 70 percent since 2010.

Utah’s busiest park has become a year-round destination, and overcrowding is no longer limited to the high season of spring, summer and fall — the park’s shoulder-season window is closing.

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