A traffic camera at the entrance stations at Arches National Park captured visitors waiting in line. [File photo]

National Park Service staff warned visitors to prepare for long waits and large crowds at Arches National Park after a timed entry reservation pilot ended on October 4. It didn’t take long to see proof of that caution: the popular park has reached full capacity almost every day since open visitation began again, resulting in temporary closures that turn visitors away for hours. 

Arches officials refuse further entry to the park when the number of vehicles and visitors already inside the boundaries is likely to result in overflowing parking lots at popular trailheads and overlooks. Each temporary closure lasts for an average of 2 to 4 hours, but they come at unpredictable times. In the days since the timed entry program stopped, overcrowding closures have come as early as 7 a.m., said park officials. Temporary closures and reopenings are announced on the park’s Twitter page at www.twitter.com/ArchesNPS.

After years of consideration, the timed entry program ran from April 3 to October 3 as an experiment to allow visitation to be spread throughout the day and for visitors to be able to plan a guaranteed entry time. Similar seasonal timed entry pilots have been launched at parks including Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, which ended its 2022 temporary timed entry program on October 10. 

NPS officials say no decision has been made on whether the reservation system will return and that data gathered from the Arches pilot meetings with stakeholders will inform next year’s plan. The 2023 congestion management strategy is expected to be announced in the next few months.