Mission 66 Structures at Zion

Newspaper articles about poor condition of parks before start of Mission 66 improvements
Newspaper articles about the poor condition of parks prior to the start of Mission 66 improvement work.

National Park Service

After World War II, the development of the interstate highway system and availability of affordable cars sparked an exponential increase in automobile tourism across the country. This led to an explosion in visitation to national parks, from seventeen million visits in 1940 to fifty-four million in 1956.

Unfortunately, very few parks were ready to welcome that many visitors. With a budget that had not increased since before World War II, increased use led to perpetual traffic jams, long bathroom lines, overflowing parking lots, and no vacancy signs at campgrounds and other lodging options in parks. Because rangers lacked the resources to address these problems, the overall experience of visiting a national park suffered tremendously during this time. In response, the National Park Service began developing plans to address these problems.

In the 1955, director of the National Park Service Conrad L. Wirth, began to gather plans from park superintendents about the work that needed to be done in their parks, no matter how involved those projects might be. Wirth used the information to outline a ten-year plan for the National Park Service designed to culminate alongside its fiftieth anniversary in 1966 which he aptly named “Mission 66.” The goals of the program were to:

  • Develop facilities.
  • Modernize structures.
  • Improve visitor experiences.

The initial scope and budget of the plan were presented at a cabinet meeting in January of 1956 and endorsed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A budget proposal was then sent to Congress to increase appropriations given to the National Park Service. The proposal successfully increased NPS appropriations to $68 million for the 1957 fiscal year (up from $32 million in 1955) and allowed for even larger increases over the course of the ten-year program. By 1966, Congress had allocated approximately $1 billion to the National Park Service. The funds made it possible for parks to construct:

  • Thousands of miles of roads.

  • Hundreds of miles of trails.

  • Park staff residences.

  • Administration buildings.

  • Examples of this infrastructure can still be seen across the national park system today, including here at Zion.

  • Comfort stations.

  • Training centers for NPS staff.

  • Over one hundred visitor centers.

A building stands next to a parking lot with trees in the background.
Completed Mission 66 Visitor Center and Museum from northwest.

National Park Service - ZION Museum and Archives Image 004_01086 ; ZION 15933

Mission 66 at Zion

Zion Visitor Center

Under the Mission 66 program, Zion National Park built a new visitor center complete with professional museum exhibits, outdoor terrace, administrative offices, and an information desk. Because it was built along a slope, the front public view was single story and unobtrusive to the surrounding landscape. However, hidden from public view along the backside of the building were two stories of maintenance and administrative offices. Thus, the new building was able to serve both visitor and administrative needs without disrupting the park experience. The building opened on June 17, 1960 and served as the park’s visitor center until 2002 when the Zion Canyon Visitor Center opened. This Mission 66 building is now home to the Zion Human History Museum.

Restroom building on a small hill.
New comfort station in South Campground, Zion National Park.

ZION Museum and Archives Image 003_01078 ; ZION 7952

Comfort stations

Zion is home to one of the first comfort stations constructed during Mission 66. Built in 1956, it is located in South Campground.

Ranch Style homes at staff housing area in Zion National Park
New ranch style homes at Zion National Park.

National Park Service - ZION Museum and Archives Image 004_03_112 ; ZION 7831

Park residences

Watchman Housing in Zion serves as an example of the park residences which were constructed during Mission 66.
A historic pot photographed inside the park museum building.
Museum Collections & Archives

Explore museum and archives collections of Zion.

A person and a horse stand in water in a slot canyon.

Learn more about the diverse peoples who have called Zion home for thousands of years.

Painting of Zion Canyon with the Virgin River in shadow

Discover historic places and structures at Zion.

Last updated: November 2, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.

Springdale, UT 84767


If you have questions, please email zion_park_information@nps.gov. Listen to recorded information by calling anytime 24 hours a day. Rangers answer phone calls from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. MT, but a ranger may not answer if they are already speaking with someone else.

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