Blog: Utah Park Travel: What are the Summer Hotspots?

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Blog: Utah Park Travel: What are the Summer Hotspots?

By: Jennifer Leaver

Summer is here and so is the heat! With Utah temperatures hovering around and surpassing 100 degrees lately, I began thinking about summer vacation and pondering Utah’s travel hotspots (no pun intended). In other words, where in Utah can we expect to see the most visitors this summer, and when is the best time to join ‘em…or avoid ‘em?

In Utah, warm-weather travel and tourism centers on Utah’s national and state parks, where there are natural amenities aplenty and recreation opportunities a-many. Based on 2018 National Park Service recreation visitation data, Zion and Arches National Park experienced the greatest visitation between May and July, with Zion visits peaking at over a half-million (541,464) in June and Arches receiving over 200,000 visits in May. Bryce Canyon, which has a higher base elevation than Zion and Arches, had its peak visitation mid-summer (July). Capitol Reef and Canyonlands both welcomed the most visits in May, followed by September. All national parks (less Canyonlands) saw a slight dip in visitation in August.

Utah National Parks Visits by Month, 2018

Source: National Park Service

Utah national places (monuments, recreation areas, and historic sites) experienced similar trends, with southern national places receiving peak visitation in May and September and higher-base-elevation and/or northern national places receiving peak visitation in July. However, there was one outlier: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, located on the Utah-Arizona border, reported record and peak visitation of 874,675 in June 2018, followed by July and August. Over the past ten years, June and July have been Glen Canyon’s busiest months, despite the region’s scorching summer temps—I guess it helps that half of the recreation area consists of cold reservoir water!

Unlike Utah’s national parks and places, which are mostly located in the southern third of the state, Utah’s 43 state parks spread across the state. Here are Utah’s top 10 most visited state parks in 2018:

  1. Dead Horse Point
  2. Sand Hollow
  3. Jordanelle
  4. Willard Bay
  5. Antelope Island
  6. Deer Creek
  7. Snow Canyon
  8. Bear Lake
  9. Wasatch Mountain
  10. Goblin Valley

Although each of these parks received upwards of a quarter-million visits last year, their busiest months varied. Dead Horse Point, Sand Hollow, Snow Canyon, and Goblin Valley, all located in southern Utah, received the majority of their visitation in April/May and September/Oct (cooler, shoulder-season months). Not surprisingly, the remaining six northern state parks received the greatest visitation in June through August, with July as the most popular month all year (see Table 1).

Table 1: Top 10 Utah State Parks by Visitation, 2018

Source: Utah State Parks

If you plan to visit a Utah park this year, but want to avoid the crowds, visiting in November through February is your best bet, as is August for southern Utah parks, and spring/fall for northern Utah parks. Otherwise, you might as well go when the weather is good and join ‘em (the crowds, that is). No matter when you decide to visit Utah parks, trust me…you will be glad you did!

Jennifer Leaver is a Senior Research Analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.