The Windows at Arches National Park. [Alison Harford/Moab Sun News]

The temporary timed entry program at Arches National Park will conclude on October 4. Reservations will no longer be required to enter the park, but will the timed entry system return? NPS officials say that data gathered from the program, which began in April, and meetings with stakeholders will inform next year’s plan. The 2023 congestion management strategy is expected to be announced in the next few months. 

The timed entry reservation system is the National Park Service’s attempt to address overcrowding in Arches National Park. From 2009 to 2019, visitation to Arches grew by over 66%. In 2021, the park broke its attendance record with over 1.8 million visitors. 

With visitation numbers that high, trailhead parking lots were overflowing and the line to enter the park sometimes backed up onto Highway 191. Park officials began closing the entry gates when internal parking lots reached capacity. During some high-traffic months, gates were closed for hours and visitors who showed up at the wrong time were turned away.

For years, officials were urged to try a timed-entry system similar to that at other national parks like Yosemite, Glacier, Rocky Mountain and Acadia. There was also staunch opposition from some business stakeholders. In 2021, both the Moab City Council and the Grand County Commission requested a timed entry system, while that same year the United States Travel Association argued that reservation systems make it difficult for international travelers to visit. 

“With the conclusion of the timed entry pilot, we would like to extend our gratitude to visitors, local community members, and park partners for their support of this program,” said Arches Superintendent Patricia Trap in a statement. “The pilot met many of the goals we set out to achieve, including distributing visitation throughout the day and improving visitor experiences, and it provided data that will inform our next steps.”

NPS officials caution that with the end of the timed entry program, visitors once again may face increased traffic, crowding and delays lasting 3-5 hours at the entrance gate.