Memorial Day is Here: Surviving the Busiest National Park Weekend of the Year

May 23, 2019

For many Americans, Memorial Day is more than just a chance to remember the troops who have served our nation or given their lives for our freedom. While we do reflect on that aspect of the holiday with parades and flag ceremonies, the weekend also marks the unofficial start of summer! Many families flock to their favorite National Parks to celebrate the occasion and the beginning of warmer weather, making it one of the busiest weekends of the year for many parks.

For several Utah parks, it’s not just one of the busiest; it’s the busiest weekend of the entire year. Canyonlands, Arches, and Zion National Park all mark the weekend surround Memorial Day as their highest attendance days of the year. Last year, Zion had more than 86,000 people visited during the four-day weekend.

If you’re planning a visit to the park this weekend, you’ll want to plan ahead and adjust your plans to make the most of your trip. Keep reading to learn more.

Know that Park Hours Change for the Weekend

The first thing you should know about planning a Memorial Day weekend visit to Zion is that the park changes their visitor center and museum hours in anticipation of heavy traffic. While these locations are sure to attract plenty of visitors throughout the weekend, extended hours do help thin the crowds.

This year, the following changes have been made:

  • The Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the Wilderness Desk will remain open until 7 p.m.
  • The Human History Museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • The Zion Nature Center will be open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, Sunday, and Monday. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Plan Your Sightseeing for Friday or Monday

If your plans are flexible, one great thing you can do to avoid some of the crowds this holiday weekend is to plan your visit for Friday or Monday. These days typically see far fewer visitors, as many traveling to Zion from a long distance away will use these days for traveling to and from the area.

Check for Trail Closures

This winter and spring, snowmelt and storms led to rockfalls and dangerous conditions on some of Zion’s trails. This had led to trail closures that will likely continue through the Memorial Day weekend. Among the trail closures are several popular trails.

Trail closures expected to continue through the holiday weekend include:

  • Upper Emerald Pools
  • Kayenta Trail
  • Hidden Canyon
  • Observation Point (via the East Rim trail from Weeping Rock)
  • The Narrows (includes all routes that exit the Narrows)
  • The Subway (the top-down route is closed; permits are required for the Subway bottom-up route)

With these closed, you can expect additional crowding on other trails throughout the park. Last year, lines formed at Scout Lookout, with visitors waiting up to two hours to hike a very busy trail to Angels Landing. The closure of Observation Point, Upper Emerald Pools, and other trails may make the wait for Angels Landing even longer. This year, rangers are moving the line to the West Rim trailhead at the Grotto. This will give waiting hikers access to a water bottle refilling tap, flush toilets, and additional port-a johns to relieve the pressure on the evaporative toilets located at Scouts Lookout.

Consider Visiting a Different Park on Saturday and Sunday

If you want to avoid the crowds expected to descend on the park on Saturday and Sunday, consider visiting a different National or state park on those days instead.

Capitol Reef National Park, located three hours to the Northeast, and Bryce Canyon National Park, located just over an hour to the northeast of Zion, are not expected to be nearly as crowded. There are also plenty of Utah state parks less than an hour away, including Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Sand Hollow State Park, Quail Creek State Park, and more. All of these parks offer their own unique activities, as well as plenty of hiking and beautiful scenery.

Arrive Early or Plan to Park and Walk

Zion is expected to see its heaviest wave of visitors in the morning and early afternoon hours, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. Between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., park rangers are advising that lines at the park’s entrance gates could be an hour or even longer. Parking will also be a challenge during these hours. If the parking lots all become full, staff at the entrance gates may be forced to delay additional vehicles from entering until spaces open up again.

Keep in mind that long lines are never the fault of the park or it’s staff, and that delays are often used to keep visitors to the park safe. Avoid getting frustrated with staff or rangers, and instead plan ahead to avoid crowds or sit patiently to enter the park. As you approach the entrance gate, remember to keep up with the flow of traffic and have your entrance fees or National Park Pass ready to avoid causing additional delays. Remember, there are no restroom facilities or drinking water along the roads leading to the park’s entrances, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.

Zion National Park’s official Twitter account will also provide updates about current gate or road conditions throughout the weekend to help guests better prepare.

The free shuttle from Springdale to Zion’s River Entrance walk-in gate can help guests avoid the lines of cars waiting to enter the park. The shuttle is likely to have a line as well, but you can always walk to the gate instead if everyone in your group is able to. Check out the Springdale Parking website to find paid lots where you can legally park. Never park illegally; the last thing you want after spending a long day hiking in the park is to find out that you car has been towed.

Pack Your Own Food

With traffic at the entrance gates and throughout the park, and plenty of crowds at Zion Lodge, it’s a good idea to bring food and snacks with you into the park. This will not only help you avoid lengthy lines at local restaurants, but will also ensure that you have fuel if you have to wait longer than expected in your car or in lines at trailheads.

Don’t forget to also pack plenty of water. While there are water stations in the park, these may form lines or you may get delayed while traveling to them because of traffic.

Practice Extra Caution

Heavy crowds also means additional hazards. From pedestrians walking across busy roadways to delays in recovery efforts because of traffic, it’s important to practice extra caution if you choose to visit the park this weekend.

Always stay on trails and avoid jumping or climbing on rocks. If you are injured, it will take longer than usual for emergency vehicles to get to you on blocked roadways. While traffic is likely to keep you from speeding anyways, watch for people in and near roads. When backing out of parking spaces, be very careful about checking for walkers in every direction.

Planning Your Memorial Day Weekend Visit

There’s never a bad time to visit Zion National Park. But additional crowds and trail closures are sure to make Memorial Day a busy weekend in the park. If you still plan to visit over the holiday, plan ahead and be prepared for delays and traffic!