Arches National Park entrance

Visitors line up to pay entrance fees at Arches National Park. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Timed-entry tickets to enter Arches National Park for the month of April were released on Jan. 3, and a few of the one-hour time slots have already sold out. As of Jan. 11, 18% of all the April tickets, roughly 7,000, have sold, according to Kaitlyn Thomas, a public affairs specialist for the park.

April is the first month that visitors to Arches will have to reserve a day and time to enter the park through a pilot timed entry system. The timed entry system works like this: to enter Arches National Park from April to October 2022, visitors will have to reserve a day and time to enter the park. Time slots per day are broken up by the hour, starting with the hour between 6 and 7 a.m. and ending with the hour between 4 and 5 p.m. Tickets are limited to around 120 per hour, but the park is planning to ultimately let in 2,700 vehicles per day.

Patricia Trap, superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks, which includes Arches, presented to the Moab City Council about the timed entry program and its intended benefits at a meeting in September 2021.

“Our goal is to distribute visitation, not limit it,” she said.

Timed entry tickets are not required for anyone with camping, backcountry, Fiery Furnace, or special use permits; for anyone with commercial use authorization; or for any tribal members. Those arriving at the entrance station on bicycles may enter without a reservation, though they must still pay the entry fee. Everyone else, however—Moab locals included—will need to reserve a ticket.

Officials at Arches have been seriously considering a timed entry system for years, notably in 2019 when the annual park visitation hit a then-record 1,659,702 visitors. Since then, increasing visitation and a lack of parking spaces has defined the park—in 2020, Arches had to shut its gates at least temporarily due to the park being full nearly every day in October, and in 2021, the park shut its gates nearly every day in October and September.

This year’s pilot program is subject to change, Thomas said. The park will be continually collecting feedback and using that to tweak aspects of the system, such as increasing or decreasing the number of vehicles the park allows in each day or hour. The dates of the program—April to October—will not change, she said.

The Southeast Utah Group conducted a visitor use study last year in conjunction with the design of the timed entry system. The study found that the majority of visitors to Arches visit Delicate Arch, the Windows, and Devil’s Garden; it found that most visitors are arriving between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.; and most importantly, it found that visitor’s experiences are being diminished—more and more visitors said they would not return to the park due to overcrowding. On any given Saturday in June, the study found that during those peak hours, the queue to enter the park was anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour.

The hope with the timed entry system is that annual visitation will remain the same, but will be more spread out throughout the year, Trap said. Arches is also considering a shuttle system, similar to the one in Zion National Park, and a hiking permit system to further limit crowding. Zion National Park recently instituted a permit system for the hugely popular Angel’s Landing hike. Beginning in April 2022, those wishing to visit the top of the iconic trail will need to reserve a permit in advance.

In the past, Moab businesses have feared an economic slump following the timed entry system—in 2019, an economic impact analysis found that a timed entry system could lead to slower economic growth, since fewer people would be coming to Moab specifically to go to Arches National Park.

Since then, a surge in outdoor recreation prompted some popular parks to implement reservation systems, including Yosemite and Rocky Mountain national parks. Rocky Mountain plans to use a timed entry system for the third year in a row in the summer of 2022.

“Moab Chamber has been following this very closely for the last year and a half,” said Laici Shumway, director of the Moab Chamber of Commerce, in an email to the Moab Sun News. “The Arches National Park team has been great at including us in the conversations in recent months, and has taken some of our comments and feedback from businesses to implement and mitigate into their system design. We are hoping as a chamber to be able to help our businesses communicate to our visitors and help navigate the transition.”

One of the other issues some Moabites had with the system was that locals won’t be able to enter the park as frequently as they’re used to. In a public meeting held in September, park officials said they wouldn’t provide different allocations for different visitors based on locality.

“There’s always going to be a community just on the edge of a boundary, making it impossible to determine a fair and equitable way to define local,” Amy Tendick, park planner for Arches, said at the meeting. “It’s important that fees for parks are collected fairly and equitably.”

The timed entry system will be in place from April through October 2022, with slots opening up three months in advance—tickets for the month of May, for example, will become available on February 1. There will be a limited number of tickets available 24 hours in advance. Tickets can be booked on recreation.gov for a fee of $2.