Will timed entry system at Arches National Park become permanent?

Apr 1, 2024, 10:41 PM | Updated: Apr 2, 2024, 9:00 am

MOAB — It’s the start of the busy season at Arches National Park.

For the third year in a row, the park is testing a timed entry system to spread out crowds throughout the day.

Officials say it’s still just a “pilot program” even though it’s been in use for several years. So, will it become permanent?

“Great question,” said Karen Garthwait, acting public affairs specialist at Arches National Park, noting a plan is actively being developed for the future. “Stay tuned.”

But, Garthwait said, the benefits of the timed entry system are already clear.

“It is working,” she said.

Big crowds at national parks

It was a beautiful, sunny day Monday as crowds hiked to Delicate Arch, the premier attraction at Arches National Park. A nearby parking lot was full of vehicles.

Down near the park’s entrance, just outside Moab, Jennifer and Joe Boles and their kids got into the car to go into Arches. They just arrived from North Carolina for their first trip to Utah.

“We want to drive around, see some of the sights, and then maybe do a couple of short hikes that the kids can handle,” said Jennifer Boles.

But they learned getting inside the park is a process. The Boles were not aware until Sunday night that timed entry was a requirement at Arches from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Once they realized that, they went online and reserved a time slot to enter.

“We got our timed entry from 2:00 to 3:00,” Joe Boles said, “so we’re going to go in and see what we can see.”

For the third year in a row, Arches National Park is testing a timed entry system to spread out crowds throughout the day. (KSL TV)

‘Possible future’ for timed entry system

For the last two years, Arches has used a timed entry system to try to manage crowds.

“The purpose of timed entry is not actually to reduce visitation,” Garthwait said. “It’s to spread out visitation a little more evenly throughout the day and throughout the year.”

Some visitors who have been to Arches before notice a difference with the timed entry system in place – even if it isn’t their favorite thing.

“I am not a planner,” said Chris Burton, “so it forces me to plan ahead, which is inconvenient sometimes.”

Burton and his family stopped at Arches National Park on Monday on their way to Texas to see the solar eclipse.

“I’ve come in here in the past where it’s just bumper to bumper going through the road up there,” Burton said, “and it’s probably nice to have a little more space in the park.”

Visitors to Arches peaked in 2021 coming out of the pandemic. According to park figures, over the last two years, it’s dipped to about 1.5 million people who visit Arches annually.

While officials say timed entry is still just a pilot program, it could stick around well into the future.

“We are working hard on a plan right now that looks at a possible future of timed entry,” Garthwait said. “It looks at a couple of other alternatives. And I hope that we’ll be able to publish the first draft of that plan within the next couple of months.”

For now, the timed entry system is in place until Oct. 31. The Boles are glad they figured it out – and got to see part of what Utah is famous for.

“We’ve been wanting to get to a national park out west,” Jennifer Boles said, “so we’re pretty excited.”

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Will timed entry system at Arches National Park become permanent?