A pair of pilot programs implemented in 2022 to quell overcrowding issues at two of Utah's national parks will return in 2023.

Arches National Park will bring back its timed entry system, which will be in place from April 1 through Oct. 31 in 2023. It ran from April 3 through Oct. 3 this year in an effort to redistribute visitation throughout the day.

Meanwhile, Zion National Park will also bring back its permit lottery for the park's popular Angels Landing hike, as officials called its 2022 debut "successful." The program, which was set to expire at the end of February 2023, will now remain in place through at least Feb. 29, 2024.

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Arches' timed entry returns with changes

Arches National Park officials contend that a timed entry ticket program helped solve traffic congestion programs getting into the park while also improving the visitor experience. The system allowed for people to reserve when they'd enter the park in advance so that the park wouldn't have to close its gates when its parking lots were full.

But the program also had its critics, especially within the travel and tourism industry. The Utah Tourism Industry Association was among a group of organizations that signed a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, calling on them to reconsider reservation policies because they made it complicated for international travelers to book vacations.

Arches officials did exclude motorcoaches and tour operator buses from the program in 2022 to ease this concern. Ultimately, the return of traffic congestion and shutdowns in October, after the pilot program ended for the year, highlighted the overall value of the system.

In 2023, Arches National Park superintendent Patricia Trap said there will be "operational improvements" to make it easier on everyone. The biggest change is that a visitor can purchase their entrance fees or annual passes in advance and not have to worry about making a reservation during extended hours. The other change is the park added a few additional weeks, ending on Oct. 31 instead of Oct. 3.

Tickets for the 2023 timed entry program will go on sale Jan. 10 for those planning on visiting the park from April 1 through April 30. It costs $2 to purchase an entry ticket. Those with a ticket will be able to enter the park during a one-hour "specified window of availability" between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the day they plan to visit the park. Once in, they can stay in the park for the duration of the day or exit and re-enter the park as long as it's the same day on their validated ticket.

Tickets for other days during the 2023 timed entry program go on sale for the first time on:

  • Feb. 1 (for visits in May)
  • March 1 (for visits in June)
  • April 1 (for visits in July)
  • May 1 (for visits in August)
  • June 1 (for visits in September)
  • July 1 (for visits in October)

Zion program extended after 'successful' debut

Zion National Park officials say they are happy with the results of the Angels Landing permit lottery so far but it still remains in a testing phase. That's why they're extending the program through at least February 2024 as they continue to gather feedback before making it a permanent fixture.

"Issuing permits is something we did after substantial public input, and it has been effective," said Jeff Bradybaugh, the park's superintendent, in a statement on Dec. 16. "In 2023, park rangers will continue recording data and enhancing the pilot program to maximize the number of people making the hike while minimizing crowding and congestion on this half-mile, perennially popular trail."

The program began as a result of overcrowding the narrow chains section of the hike, which posed safety concerns.

The lottery for hiking Angels Landing on dates between March 1 and May 31, 2023, begins on New Year's Day and closes on Jan. 20. It means that people planning on making a trip to the park between March 1 and May 31 can enter the lottery online in January for a shot at hiking the iconic trail. The permits for those hikes will be issued on Jan. 25.

It costs $6 to apply for a permit through the seasonal lottery, which covers up to six people. The permit itself, for those who win, costs an additional $3 per person registered on the application. This $3 per person fee is refundable if the person or group cancels at least two days before the date on their permit.

The other lotteries will be held on:

  • April 1 to April 20 (for hikes on June 1 through Aug. 31)
  • July 1 to July 20 (for hikes on Sept. 1 through Nov. 30)
  • Oct. 1 to Oct. 20 (for hikes on Dec. 1 through Feb. 29, 2024)

Similar to the first lottery of 2023, the results of every lottery will be announced to participants five days after that lottery ends.

If you don't win the lottery or forget to enter, there is still a chance to snag a permit to summit Angels Landing. Visitors can apply for a day-before permit by 3 p.m. the day before the date on their permit. It also costs the same price as the seasonal lottery, aside from the $3 per person permit cost being nonrefundable.