Arches National Park Ranger MacKenzie Lindley greeted visitors to the park. [Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Last year, Arches National Park introduced a timed-entry system in the hopes that doing so would reduce congestion in the park.

From 2009 to 2019, visitation to the park rose 66%—from 996,312 to 1,659,702 people—meaning that during popular times, parking lots were full, trails crowded, and park officials temporarily closed the gates.

The new system wasn’t perfect—the average wait time to enter the park increased, for example—but it wasn’t meant to be, officials said. As a pilot, they always planned to update the program to address new concerns or ideas as it continued.

Overall, park visitors like the reservation system: of the 8,275 reviews of the system on, the majority of reviewers gave five out of five stars.

According to the National Park Service, the main changes to the program this year include a new schedule: timed-entry hours have been shortened to this year to 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. through October 31. Showing photo ID is no longer required. 60% of tickets are available three months in advance and 40% become available at 6 p.m. the day before; and faster internet was installed at the entrance booths.

The Moab Sun News briefly chatted with Kait Thomas at the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks Office of Public Affairs about common questions regarding this year’s system.

Moab Sun News: Do reservation times sell out every day? What is the most popular time?

Thomas: Reservations sold out consistently in early April. The mornings are most popular.

Last week, we saw a slight dip in advanced reservations, particularly in the afternoons, which enabled more spontaneous visitors to make reservations for later the same day.

Now that the weather is improving, we expect reservations to continue selling out in advance, at least until temperatures rise in July and August.

MSN: Are you turning people away who don’t have a reservation, or does it seem like most visitors know they have to reserve a slot?

Thomas: The majority of visitors understand that they need a reservation before entering the park.

Depending on the day, an average of 14% of visitors arrive without a reservation. Fortunately, for those without a reservation, we can point them to the next-day tickets that are released every day at 6 p.m. on

We also encourage visitors to pick up a reservation for later in the afternoon, as long as those reservations are not sold out.

If those options don’t work for them, they can always return without a reservation after 4 p.m. the same day.

MSN: What causes long lines at the entrance gate to the park?

Thomas: Over the last few years, it has taken about 30-45 seconds on average to process a vehicle at the entrance booth (including scanning timed entry tickets, checking passes, collecting payment, and issuing maps), which means that a line is inevitable when we are processing more than 100 vehicles per hour.

This year, however, we are seeing a decrease in processing times and line length for two reasons: 1) the park installed faster internet at the entrance over the winter and 2) eliminated the photo ID requirement for timed entry tickets. Photo ID is still required for annual passes.

MSN: What have you seen as the benefits of the timed entry system, now that the program is in its second year?

Thomas: Before the pilot timed entry system, many park visitors tried to enter the park between the hours of 7 to 9 a.m., which caused significant congestion at the entrance station, safety concerns, and crowding on roads and trails.

Arches often had to swing its gate and delay entrance into the park for several hours until congestion lessened.

By spreading visitation throughout the day, the timed entry system has eliminated temporary park closures and mitigated line length, especially on busy holiday weekends. Congestion in parking lots and along popular trails has also been reduced, and this has improved visitor experience.

Thomas said she doesn’t know if the timed-entry system will continue in 2024: Arches will begin a National Environmental Policy Act planning process this summer to analyze alternatives.

“Be on the lookout for public comment opportunities later this year,” she said.