What to expect as Utah’s national parks reopen

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A scenic shot of a vista at Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon, one of Utah’s five national parks, has already started opening certain areas to the public as part of the state’s phased reopening process. (Preston Crawley)

Some Utah national parks have started allowing public access as the state loosens restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But visits aren’t completely back to normal yet. 

Vanessa Lacayo, a public affairs specialist for the National Parks Service (NPS), said that while many parks in Utah and across the country are increasing recreational access for visitors, the return to full operations will be phased and services will be temporarily limited for a time. 

“We know that parks often serve as places where the public goes to be inspired, to find solace and to connect with nature,” Lacayo said. “With this in mind, we want to approach our phased reopening by balancing how we can protect these places and keep them safe for visitors and staff.”

Here is an overview of the current status of Utah national parks as the state begins its gradual reopening process.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is closed to all public access until further notice. This includes the visitor center, park bookstore, campground, trails, backcountry areas and roads. Ranger-led programs are planned to resume late summer if they can comply with social distancing guidelines.

The NPS encourages people to explore the park through digital tools like park videos, Arches’ wildflowers gallery and the albums of park photos on the park’s website and Flickr account. Past visitors are also encouraged to view albums from past visits and share their memories with family and friends.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park has already started opening certain areas to the public, including the main park road and all viewing areas to Rainbow Point. The trails within the Bryce Amphitheater area are also open as well as the restrooms at Sunset Point.  

Areas that will remain closed until further notice are the visitor center, park campgrounds, Mossy Cave parking and trail area, backcountry trails, including Under the Rim, concessions, the Navajo Loop, and Horse Trail.

Canyonlands National Park

All public areas of Canyonlands National Park are closed for the time being. The campgrounds at Island in the Sky and The Needles will remain closed through May 31. Day use and overnight backcountry permits are not available until May 29. 

Capitol Reef National Park

Certain areas of Capitol Reef have reopened to the public, including day use in the North District (Cathedral Valley) and South District (Waterpocket Fold). Overnight camping in Cedar Mesa campground and Cathedral Valley campground is also available. 

Areas still closed are the visitor center, Gifford House, Fruita campground, Scenic Drive, all trailheads, trails and all canyoneering and climbing routes.

Zion National Park

On May 13, Zion National Park will start allowing recreational access to select areas within the park. Specific information regarding select areas will be accessible on the park’s website in the coming week. 

The loosening restrictions on national parks support the White House guidelines for Opening Up America Again and coordination with the State of Utah, southwest Utah elected leaders, park partners and local businesses, according to the NPS website.

“We are asking the public to please recreate safely and responsibly, avoid high-risk outdoor activities, follow local area health orders, practice ‘Leave No Trace’ principles and avoid crowding,” Lacayo said. “I’m sure there are lessons to be learned as we move forward. Part of this process will require us to think differently about how we manage recreation sites post COVID-19.”

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