Traffic Congestion Management Plan

Arches National Park developed a Traffic Congestion Management Plan (TCMP) to address vehicle traffic and parking congestion problems that affect visitor access, visitor enjoyment, and resource conditions.

The TCMP proposes a reservation system for entrance during high-visitation season and peak visitation hours. This system would give visitors certainty of entry, reduce or eliminate long entrance lines, spread visitation more evenly across the day, and improve the visitor experience by ensuring available parking space.


Open Transcript


KATE CANNON, Superintendent: So what do I like about Arches? There's so many things. I love the stunning views, the beautiful, huge sweeps of landscape that you can see from so many places in the park across the red cliffs and up to the mountains, but I also like the little bitty things: the patterns in the rocks underfoot, the channels carved in the slickrock by water over many, many years, even the sudden flowers in the spring. All of those are wonderful. It's a great place,  endlessly fascinating.

What concerns me is that visitation has doubled in recent years, and most pronounced in the last five years, and that trajectory of rising visitation shows no signs of stopping. What that does for our visitors, on entry to the park, they face long lines to get in, and once they're in the park, they spend their time searching for a place to park in the overcrowded parking lots.

SCOTT BROWN, Chief Ranger: Arches is an incredibly iconic park, and it's become incredibly popular too. So as you can expect, we have many days where the traffic is incredibly heavy. Our capacity to handle those vehicles and those visitors is limited.

When we have vehicles parked all alongside the road, it's hard for drivers to see pedestrians, it's hard for pedestrians to see vehicles pulling out into the roadway.

On busy days when we've had high traffic volumes, we have actually implemented closures at the gate here for short periods of time, and what we've had to do is turn people around here at the entrance station and ask them to come back in a little while. We give them as much information as we can to help them plan the rest of their day, and I feel sorry for a lot of these folks. They really have done a nice job planning and so it throws those folks off, and that's too bad.

CANNON: And it's a frustrating visit for them. It's not what they had hoped for. We know we have a crowding problem. We know that that reduces the enjoyment that people have when they come here.

The park has been working on managing visitation since at least 2006, and we've done a number of things in that time: chief among them we've almost doubled parking, so that people can find a parking place proximate to the place they want to go.

Unfortunately the visitation increase has outstripped that, and we know that if we keep adding parking at some point we'll adversely affect the very thing that people are coming here to see, so we know that simply building more and more and more parking is not the answer.

We also looked at a shuttle bus system. The problem with that became that it was extraordinarily expensive, especially for a small park like Arches, and it wouldn't solve the problems we have. It wouldn't keep up, even with two years' growth in visitation. We'd be back right where we started after millions of dollars of investment, so we started to look elsewhere for an answer.

Right now what we're considering is implementing a reservation system for entry into the park.

BROWN: It's really a timing issue. We have high volume in the late morning to early afternoon hours, and if we can just get people to choose a different time of the day, it really helps out.

CANNON: The purpose of the reservation system is to change the pattern of visitation so that instead of having everybody come in at once, in other words, having too many people at one time, we will have a more regulated flow of visitors across all the available space, all the time in the day that's  good to come to Arches, all the time in the year, so if we can implement this system, it will meter people across time so that the park remains full, but not over full.

If we can manage visitation in that way, it will actually enable us to get more visitors into the park without having that crowded condition that is so disillusioning to them.

People are used to making reservations, so even though this is kind of different for a park, we don't think it will be too hard for people. They make reservations for their hotel on the trip. They make their reservations for their campsite. They make dinner reservations. They make reservations for a river trip. All those things are part and parcel of what people currently do on their vacations, and we think this will fit right in.

BROWN: We can create a better visitor experience and a safer visitor experience if we're conscious about how we're dealing with our traffic.

CANNON: What I'd like the public to have when they come to Arches is a great experience, and to me that means they approach the park, they drive through, they talk to the ranger at the gate, and then they proceed on into the park exploring at will, finding parking where they want it, and out exploring the trails to their hearts' content.

What I recall, and what sold me on national parks, was when my family would visit when I was a child. And we would drive freely, we'd go into the parks, we could drive where we wanted, park,  find a camping space, park at the trailhead, go for a great hike, and that was a freedom and excitement and adventure that I won't ever forget about. I want people to have that now.

And the impediment at Arches, to their having that great visitor experience, is the crowding.

So we want to deal with that so that they get back the freedom to enter, the freedom to travel around and explore, and the freedom to do that without too high a degree of crowding.

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7 minutes

Information about the proposed Traffic Congestion Management Plan for Arches National Park.


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Project Timeline

November 1, 2017 - Proposed TCMP Environmental Assessment (EA) released for public comment
November 16, 2017 - Public open house
December 18, 2017 - Comment period closed; analysis of public comments began
March 2018 - Park engaged an outside expert to evaluate potential economic impacts resulting from TCMP.
July 2018 - EA revised based on public comments received; submitted revised draft EA for internal regional review


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Increased the total number of parking spaces in the park by 91 percent since 1989 including doubling parking capacity at Delicate Arch and Sand Dune Arch trailheads, and significantly increasing the number of parking spaces at Devils Garden and The Windows Section trailheads.
  • Implemented a temporary entrance bypass lane for pass-holders during busy hours.
  • Stationed parking lot attendants in key parking areas throughout the busy season to direct traffic, improve parking efficiency, report on conditions to guide incoming visitors, and provide assistance and information to visitors.
  • Upgraded roadside pullouts and increased their number to relieve some pressure from key parking areas.
  • Installed an additional park entrance lane in June 2017, and the Utah Division of Transportation installed a traffic light at the intersection of US Highway 191 and the park entrance road in January 2017.
  • Developed a messaging system including: a park radio station, social media, webpages, webcams showing entrance road conditions, and targeted messaging to local businesses and area visitors through the Moab Area Travel Council website and mailings.
  • Trained local tourism sector employees, in collaboration with the Moab Information Center, Moab Tourism Council and the Moab Chamber of Commerce, to suggest less crowded locations to visit.

Yes, some of the ideas considered and rejected include:

  • Shuttles In 2011, Arches National Park contracted a study to examine the feasibility of a shuttle-bus system as a solution to parking congestion. The study, completed in 2012, made it clear that it would be cost-prohibitive to implement a shuttle system that could adequately solve the congestion problem.
  • A “one-in-one-out” system Under this method, once the park was full, cars would only be allowed to enter when another car departed the park. This idea was rejected because it would exacerbate problems like long entrance lines and unsafe traffic congestion at the highway intersection. Also, this system would not provide visitors any predictability in terms of access to the park.
  • Building a second park entrance at the northern end of Arches This would require upgrading miles of existing dirt roads across Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and NPS lands. It was rejected because it would be inconsistent with the park’s current General Management Plan, and it would not resolve the most pressing traffic congestion problems, which are in the parking areas rather than on the roads themselves.

The Traffic Congestion Management Plan proposes a reservation system for entrance during peak visitation season and peak visitation hours. The plan will improve visitor access, safety, and enjoyment of the park by:

  • reducing or eliminating long lines at the park entrance
  • spreading visitation out more evenly across the day
  • improving the overall visitor experience by giving them certainty of entry and ensuring they can find parking as needed while they tour the park.

To use the reservation system, park visitors would reserve an entry time online or by phone prior to their arrival during the peak visitation season (currently April-October, but may shift if visitation patterns change). This system would give visitors certainty of entry, reduce/eliminate long entrance lines, spread visitation more evenly across the day, and improve the visitor experience by ensuring available parking space.

Visitors entering before 7 am or after 6 pm, or visitors entering the park at any time between November and February, would not need to make a reservation. Online booking would begin six months prior to the date reservations would be required. Commercial users of the park, including tour buses, would not be subject to the reservation system. Their access would continue to be managed separately, through their Commercial Use Authorizations.

The plan calls for a certain number (25 percent of the total supply) of reservations to be available on a day-before / day-of basis. Visitors arriving at the park without reservations may check on-line or at one or more locations in the town of Moab to make reservations for any available time slots.
Visitors with reservations for Devils Garden Campground or a Fiery Furnace tour can enter at any time, and will not need to make a separate entrance reservation.
No, you can enter the park any time within the reserved time period.
You may stay in the park as long as you like once you have entered.
Clients arriving in a commercial guide vehicle will not need to make a reservation to enter the park. Clients meeting their guide in the park will be required to have a reservation to enter the park in their own vehicle. Commercial park entrances will be managed through each company's Commercial Use Authorization.
Only motorized vehicles will need reservations to enter the park. Visitors who bicycle or walk into the park will not.
No, the Traffic Congestion Management Plan is only for Arches National Park. The National Park Service is not currently proposing a reservation system for entrance at Canyonlands National Park. Visitation at Canyonlands has also increased dramatically in recent years, and if that trend continues, a separate planning effort may be needed to address traffic congestion there as well.

Planning History

Read more about past traffic planning efforts, including newsletters, and a study about operating shuttles in the park, visit our Transportation planning page.


News Releases

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    Last updated: December 12, 2018

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