If you have been keeping up with the news about our National Park System you have to know that they are becoming crowded. Very crowded. Enough so, in fact, that serious thought is now being given to find ways to alleviate the problem.
You may know that fees have been raised in many of the parks. Even with the increase in fees the increase in visitation in places like Zion and Yellowstone has amounted to 25% or more in the past year. Parking has become a serious problem. Automobile traffic has become a serious problem. Even with a shuttle system in Zion during the busy summer months the parking problem exists. The nearby community of Springdale is overrun with cars parked in every available space . . . and, in some spaces that are not available – at least not legally.
But parking is not the sole problem. The quality of the park experience is naturally diminished when one is squeezed into a shuttle bus as though it was a sardine can and you’re just one of the many little fish trying to get to a trailhead. Then when you get on the trail there is the feeling that maybe you took the wrong turn somewhere and you’re walking through a mall on Black Friday. Not many people who plan what is perhaps a once in a lifetime trip to a majestic place like Zion National Park want to be jostled by the crowds on a beautiful trail. If you’ve seen Utube or movie clips of the climbers waiting to cross the ice ladders on the way up to the summit of Everest you have an idea of what it can be like on a busy day in Zion for hikers hoping to climb to the iconic Angel’s Landing. Standing on a very narrow ridge and holding on to a chain anchored into the rock while trying to get around people coming from the other direction can be challenging, not only physically but to the nerves of someone who may not be very comfortable at what may be a bit more altitude than that to which they might be accustomed.
It is not clear at this time what solutions may be forthcoming for the overcrowded national parks but there are alternatives for the individual traveler. Zion National Park is truly spectacular, but so is the surrounding area and that is where one can find an individual solution. And, while this is only one example, it can be followed in many areas around many of the parks.
If you are not familiar with the BLM it may be time for you to do a little research before your next park visit. Surrounding many parks there are national forests which offer inexpensive camping areas that may not be nearly as crowded as the parks. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can provide an even greater expanse of recreational land around and near to the parks. The BLM has field offices scattered across the country and they can be found easily on the internet. For current updates about recreational opportunities including hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, canoeing, kayaking, etc. the information is just a phone call away. Check the websites first to learn what is available, then make a phone call to get current conditions for the weather, roads, available campsites, fees, etc.
Zion National Park, for example, is surrounded by the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Snow Canyon State Park and a wonderful expanse of red rock country that could all qualify for national park status if all it took was scenic beauty and great wilderness hiking areas.
If you truly feel that you have to visit a national park please do so. Our park system in the U.S. is spectacular. Just go with the realization that it may be crowded when you get there. But, don’t get discouraged. Do your research before you go and learn as much as possible about the surrounding areas. You may be much better served by cutting your 5 day vacation to a park down to 2 or 3 days in the park itself and then escaping the crowds and spending the remainder of your time in a nearby national forest, state park or BLM recreational area.
Of course, if Zion is on your list, you can escape to nearby Cedar Breaks or Bryce Canyon. Not every park is surrounded by so many other national parks and monuments, but most have excellent natural resources nearby for your enjoyment.
Whatever you decide, just be prepared for the crowds, be aware of the alternatives and . . . Keep on Traveling!