Visitor use research and planning

A graphic with a green background and a scale that balances the elements of a VUM plan, graphics of shoes, a person hiking, an arrowhead, and a health cross
The four elements of a visitor use management plan: providing visitor access, improving visitor experiences, protecting park resources, and promoting staff and visitor safety.
A tree with a box (trail counter) and a woman writing down data with sandstone cliffs in the background.
A Zion employee records visitor use data from a trail counter.

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Zion National Park is known worldwide for its stunning landscapes, including the soaring sandstone canyon walls along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the beauty of the winding Virgin River, and the engineering marvel of the Zion–Mt. Carmel tunnel. Since 2010, the park has witnessed a steep increase in visitation. While it's great more and more people can experience the park, increased visitation also comes with some challenges. Today, visitors are likely to experience long wait times to board shuttles and find parking, crowding on trails and at popular destinations, and harmful impacts of concentrated human use on natural and cultural resources as well as visitor experiences. Increased visitation has also added pressure on park staff and infrastructure, including emergency services, restrooms, septic systems, janitorial services, roads, and trails. The current backlog of deferred infrastructure maintenance for Zion is approximately $69.1 million, which elevates concerns for public health and safety.

To help improve visitor access and experiences, protect park resources, promote visitor and staff safety, the National Park Service (NPS) is preparing a Visitor Use Management Plan (draft VUM Plan) that is being analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) through an environmental assessment (EA).

This draft VUM Plan will propose an innovative set of strategies to manage and support visitor recreation. Public involvement in this planning process is important, and the draft VUM plan and EA will be available for public feedback this winter.

This website provides information on Zion’s history of visitor use management and strategies NPS is evaluating, as well as additional information important to this planning effort.

4 photos, left to right: a long line of people up an orange sandstone cliff, a person cleaning graffiti off of beige canyon walls, people with gloves, masks, and aprons sorting trash, a large group of people hiking in a river between canyon walls
Issues visitor use management efforts are trying to tackle. From left to right: Angels Landing lines prior to the permit system, an employee cleaning graffiti off canyon walls, volunteers sorting through trash, and a large group of people hiking the Narrows in September.

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A color coded graph of the annual recreation visits in Zion National Park from 1919 to 2022 showing exponential growth
Figure 1 Annual Recreation Visits to Zion National Park from 1919 through 2023. Visitation has nearly doubled between 2010 and 2021. Visitation reached 1 million in 1975, 2 million in 1990, 3 million in 2014, 4 million in 2016, and 5 million in 2021 Data from:

Visitor Use Management in Action

The NPS began working on the Zion VUM Plan in 2016. Since then, staff have gathered input from the public and stakeholders, worked with cooperating agencies and tribal partners, and collected data to inform the planning process. More information on previous planning phases is available on the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website for the plan. More information on key research and monitoring efforts as well as temporary or pilot projects that have been conducted at Zion is presented below.

Research and Monitoring

Zion began investing in visitor use related data collection in 2013. NPS staff continue to collect data and to work with researchers and partners on targeted studies. During initial scoping for the plan, data needs were identified to better understand trends, patterns, and visitor expectations. Since 2016, NPS staff have monitored conditions in the park and gathered important information through:



Temporary and Pilot Programs

Recent events and changes in visitation have led the NPS to temporarily implement or pilot visitor use management strategies throughout the National Park System, including at Zion. Those efforts inform our current work on the draft VUM Plan. Some of the actions Zion has taken include: 


Strategies the NPS is evaluating

The NPS has used a variety of strategies to accomplish visitor use management goals across the United States, some of which are described in the table below. The NPS is currently evaluating if and how implementation of these strategies could help Zion address issues and provide visitors improved access. The draft VUM Plan and EA may involve these or other tactics.

Seasonality is an important consideration when implementing any of the strategies below. Practices may vary depending on the time of year, particularly between the main season (March through November) to the winter season (December through February).

The best system will allow NPS flexibility to respond to changing visitor use patterns and to implement NPS best practices for visitor use management.

Parkwide Reservations 

Reservations could provide park access and be managed at key access points such as entrance stations.  


Reservations could have a timing component, where visitors would enter the park within a specific time window.

Trip Planning

Multiple timeframes to book reservations could be provided to allow visitors flexibility for trip planning, including longer-term and near-term options.

Existing Permits and Reservations

Existing permits (e.g. wilderness permits) or reservations (e.g. campgrounds) currently in place would continue to be required and would generally provide access to the park. Implementing additional site-specific permits, including at Angels Landing, may be considered.

New Permits

Implementing additional site-specific permits, including at Angels Landing, would be considered.

Scenic and Thru Driving 

Opportunities for scenic and thru driving without a reservation on the Kolob Terrace Road and the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway could be provided.

Commuter access through Zion (e.g. along Kolob Terrace Rd or Zion-Mt Carmel Highway) would continue as currently provided.

Non-reservation periods 

There could be hours or times of the year, particularly in winter months, when a reservation would not be required to enter the Park. 

Commercial Services 

Opportunities for new commercial scenic tours could be considered.


Clear and consistent communications for trip planning and arrival to the Park will be key to any new strategy. Park staff would provide visitors with guidance and orientation to any new system. Park partners, cooperators, and stakeholders will help the park share accurate and timely information with park visitors.

Future Infrastructure Adjustments 

After initial implementation, the potential for targeted infrastructure adjustments or additions would be limited but future improvements could be identified as needed.

Resource Monitoring 

Monitoring of key indicators for resource conditions and visitor experience to stay within acceptable limits will be part of any new system.  Periodic condition assessments will be used to monitor infrastructure related to public health and safety.

System Monitoring and Adjustment

Monitoring would allow managers to adjust any systems that are implemented. Monitoring would include trends such as no-show rates, visitor arrival times, demand, and changing visitor use patterns. Adjustments to reservation periods, purchase lead times, entry windows and other aspects of the system could then be made.


Next Steps and Future Public Involvement

The steps of VUM planning detailed on a drawn graphic of people on a trail with trees, signage, and cliffs behind them.
Steps in a visitor use management plan.

The NPS is currently developing the draft VUM Plan and EA and anticipates sharing the draft plan with the public this coming winter. The park will continue to work with tribes and cooperating agencies during plan development.

Public engagement is an important part of this decision process. When the NPS solicits public comment, we will propose several different strategies (including an NPS -preferred option) and invite members of the public to share feedback. When the draft VUM Plan and EA is released, information will be shared online and at public meetings to provide opportunities to comment. Public comments will be considered as the NPS refines and finalizes the VUM Plan. To learn more about how the NPS uses planning to conserve park resources and values and the important role of public engagement in planning, please visit: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (U.S. National Park Service) (

Depending on the final VUM Plan adopted, NPS will take appropriate next steps to continue communicating with prospective visitors, neighbors, elected officials, tribes, and other stakeholders.

Text: 1 WHY: Build the Foundation, 2 WHAT: Define Visitor Use Management Direction, 3 HOW identify Management Strategies, 4 DO Implement, Monitor, Evaluate and Adjust. Universal to the Framework: Law Agency Policy Sliding Scale Public Involvement

A History of VUM in Zion

What is Visitor Use Management?

Visitor use management (VUM) is the term used by land management agencies like the Nation Park Service (NPS) to describe proactively administering the number, type, timing, and distribution of visitors throughout a park. VUM employs a variety of strategies and tools to accomplish the NPS mission to protect landscapes, plants, animals, and human history (which are collectively referred to as resources) and to provide high quality visitor experiences.

Visitor use management at Zion is informed by best practices from the Interagency Visitor Use Management Council’s (IVUMC) Visitor Use Management Framework (Visitor Use Management Framework, A Guide to Providing Sustainable Outdoor Recreation, Edition One, July 2016 (

This framework provides clear steps to support effective planning, implementation, and monitoring for visitor use and fulfills legal requirements to identity visitor capacity as specified in the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. All parks within the NPS, as well as public lands managed by five other federal agencies, follow this process to inform and guide visitor use management.  

VUM Success at Zion

The draft VUM Plan will complement and further the strategies and management actions Zion National Park has successfully used to support high quality visitor experiences and to protect resources. The draft VUM Plan will build on the 100+ year history of infrastructure development and maintenance, educational programing, scientific study, and innovative transportation solutions the NPS has used to conserve the resources that make Zion National Park special and to provide visitors opportunities to enjoy them sustainably.

Since the park was established by Congress in 1919, the NPS has taken many actions to enhance visitor experiences. Some of these have involved infrastructure development and others have involved changes to how visitors access opportunities in the park. In the last 25 years, some of the improvements include:

  • Adoption of Wilderness Permit Program to manage backcountry camping, canyoneering, and other visitor uses of the park’s Wilderness and backcountry areas (1998)

  • Establishment of the Zion Canyon Shuttle System (2000)

  • Pa’Rus multimodal trail improvement project (circa 2000)

  • Reconfiguring the South Entrance Fee Station to increase efficiency and traffic flow (2017)

  • Expanding parking at Zion Canyon Visitor Center (2016 & 2018)

  • Implementing campsite reservation systems at Watchman, South, and Lava Point Campgrounds (2000, 2018 & 2021, respectively)

  • Implementing the Angels Landing Pilot Permit Program (2022)

  • Constructing new, accessible restrooms at the Grotto and the Zion Human History Museum (2016 & 2022, respectively)

  • Enlarging and improving accessibility of restrooms at Kolob Canyons Visitor Center (2023)

  • Rehabilitating South Campground (2024-2025)

  • Introduction of the new electric shuttle bus fleet (current and ongoing)

Planning Context

Planning in the NPS informs decisions that provide relevant and timely direction to park management and informs future decision-making for each national park in accord with its stated mission. Planning also provides methods and tools for resolving issues in ways that minimize conflicts and promotes mutually beneficial solutions that articulate how public enjoyment of the parks can be part of a strategy to protect and conserve park resources.

The NPS has completed several complementary plans to manage many aspects of Zion National Park, which help conserve Zion by setting priorities for ongoing management actions. The draft VUM Plan builds on the guidance previously established in relevant planning documents by adding more specific guidance on the topics of visitor use and experience. Key existing plans that address visitor use have previously identified the need for visitor use management planning. To learn more about these plans, expand the section below.


A quote of the park's purpose statement with  an aerial view of the park showing the canyon, large sandstone cliffs and the river.
Zion National Park purpose statement.

NPS / Abi Farish


Last updated: July 10, 2024

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Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.

Springdale, UT 84767


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