12

Frequent advice to avoid crowds when visiting national parks in the USA is to travel outside summer (example: (1), (2)). However, some parks have more visitors in May than in July or August. For example, in Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, or Capitol Reef National Park, May is the busiest month of the year. Clearly, visiting in May is not necessarily effective in avoiding crowds in the Southwest². I suppose it's the climate motivating people to visit in May.

Is there any higher temporal resolution information to avoid crowds, specifically in southern Utah, in parks like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante¹? In other words, might specific weeks in April or May be much more crowded than others? Official visitor statistics are monthly. I thought of avoiding spring break, but apparently “spring” break is in February (!) or March. National park week was 21–29 April 2012, 20–28 April 2013, 19–27 April 2014, and 18–26 April 2015, so will presumably be 16–24 April 2016. Memorial day is in late May. Apparently, teaching at universities ends in June, the same for other public schools. So, I'm confused how May is the busiest month — I wonder who all those visitors are, considering that neither students nor families can visit for more than a long weekend, and there anyway aren't any long weekends in April and May except for Memorial Day. How can I find a 2–3 week period around April/May where one can expect the least crowds in southern Utah?


¹Of course, 6 parks is way too many for 3 weeks, but one reason to travel during a less crowded time is that one can hope to remain flexible and choose the specific park less than a year ahead.

²I know this is a popular area, so asking for solitude is not realistic, but I suppose a park as large as Grand Staircase-Escalante should not always be as busy as central New York City, or at least not everywhere.

  • 1
    Be careful when you count visitors - there a difference between a massive jam during say Memorial Day Weekend when many additional tens of thousands will come, compared to a sustained attendance. – Matthew Herbst Jun 8 '15 at 17:43
  • 1
    @MatthewHerbst Right. That's yet another reason reason why empirical evidence from a frequent visitor could provide a valuable addition to the bare statistics. – gerrit Jun 8 '15 at 18:19
  • Maybe ask the Park Service if they have any more granular data? If they do and wont' give it to you, you could file a FOIA request for it – Matthew Herbst Jun 8 '15 at 18:59
  • @MatthewHerbst I could. However, even if I had daily data going 10 years back, it might require some serious statistical analysis to detect signals from recurring events other than weekends. – gerrit Jun 8 '15 at 19:14
  • Some universities finish in May (and start in August). – mkennedy Jun 8 '15 at 21:09
4
+100

In response to your confusion about how can May be busy, you have to keep in mind in terms of travelers, there are more singles, couples without children and retirees, than there are families. And these folks can take vacations as they please, such as spring or fall when weather is great in the southern Utah parks. Also the region surrounding that area is a popular place to live for snowbirds and retirees, all of whom can pop over whenever the urge hits them.

If your timeframe for visiting is only April May, then I would suggest hitting the popular parks (Zion, Bryce, etc) mid-week as crowds would be slightly less. Other parks such as Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Grand Staircase are huge, put your walking shoes on and you will find you have the parks to yourself.

  • Midweek in the popular parks, weekends in more remote or less popular areas, that sounds like an excellent idea! I can see how Zion would get weekend visitors from Las Vegas but for Capitol Reef or Grand Staircase I would imagine the distance makes weekend visitors less dominant. – gerrit Oct 27 '15 at 9:34
  • When you live in that part of the US, driving for 2 to 3 hours to go somewhere cool is not uncommon, so within reach of folks living in Salt Lake, Provo, etc. PS be sure to drive Highway 12 Boulder to Escalante, dramatic to say the least. – user13044 Oct 27 '15 at 9:58
  • If Google Maps can be trusted Escalante appears to be almost 5 hours from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, Page is slightly less from Las Vegas but slightly more from Salt Lake City. I know many Americans love to drive so I suppose 10–12 hours for a weekend does not scare them, but maybe it does make it somewhat less crowded than the areas 3x closer to major urban areas. As for the exact route, one of the motivations behind the question is that I hope to keep some flexibility and not have to reserve everything 3 months in advance! Thanks for the hint, details to be decided. :) – gerrit Oct 27 '15 at 10:38
2

The reason spring and fall are so popular in these parks is that the temperatures in the summer can can be scorching.

Some tips for avoiding crowds at any time:

  1. Most visitors never go much farther than a few feet from the parking lot. If you walk for more than 5 minutes on any but the most popular trails, the number of people is significantly smaller. Ask a ranger at the visitor center for recommendations.

  2. Get an early start to your day. The light is spectacular on the red rocks early in the morning.

  3. Go to less visited but equally scenic sections of the parks - Kolub Canyon in Zion, Needles section of Canyonlands or Dead Horse State Park, etc.

  4. The Fiery Furnace in Arches is only accessible on a ranger walk or with a permit. Not going to be crowded. Take a jet boat tour of the Colorado River from Moab.

  5. Look into Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon. Also, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a no-brainer addition to a Zion/Bryce trip (and less crowded than the South Rim).

  6. State Parks and out of the way National Park sections are great also - Goblin Valley and Horseshoe Canyon of Canyonlands, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Valley of Fire, etc.

  7. Go in winter. We once went between Christmas and New Year's and had a great time. Snow on the red rocks is incredible and Bryce has ranger led snow shoe hikes.

  • I can confirm; some hikes we did in Zion National Park we saw only 2 people all day! – gerrit Dec 4 '16 at 21:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.