We first visited Snow Canyon about 15 years ago while on a trip to nearby Zion National Park. All these years, we’ve planned to return—and finally did, in mid-May.
We found it just as enchanting the second time around. We hiked through stands of blooming yucca, admiring the magnificent red cliffs of Navajo sandstone surrounding us; the only sounds our footsteps and the calls of ravens. It’s a gem of a park. And it’s remarkably peaceful—which can’t be said for Zion, just 50 miles away.
We would love to return to Zion. But honestly, we’re not sure that we’re willing to endure the hordes of people that descend on the park from early spring through late fall. Some of the Utah national parks have become too much like Disneyworld—minus the excellent crowd control.
In large part, the Utah Office of Tourism and their wildly successful “Mighty Five” campaign are to blame. The international advertising campaign, launched in 2012, has put the Mighty Five (Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion) on the bucket list of travelers from all over the world.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share the vast beauty of our country with others. But it’s a problem when the infrastructure is inadequate to support the tidal wave of people who have responded to the allure.
The result is too many cars, too many tour buses, too many people, and a disturbingly large percentage of loud, brash visitors who aren’t there to immerse themselves in the stunning beauty of our national treasures, but instead seem more interested in snapping selfies in front of iconic landmarks while they overwhelm and trample the fragile ecosystem.
We experienced this first-hand several years ago when we visited Arches National Park in late September. At that time, I remarked to Eric that I felt like we were at an amusement park, not in a national park. We know how to get out into the back country and avoid the crowds—but meanwhile, what’s happening to our sacred wild lands?
Utah’s ad blitz is all about bringing in tourism dollars, not about supporting the parks. They’ve succeeded in overwhelming the little gateway towns with hordes of tourists. But they’ve done nothing to provide the towns with money for necessary improvements to handle the increase in visitors, including water, sanitation, health clinics, and law enforcement.
Here’s the most outrageous part: Utah is cashing in big time on the national parks—but the state is notorious for voting against funding for parks. Basically, Utah is turning our national parks into tourist traps.
Meanwhile, the advertising team that brought the world the “Mighty Five” has been hard at work on their next crusade. They’re unveiling a campaign promoting lesser known parks, monuments, and byways, apparently in an effort to leave no red rock unturned.
I cringe at the thought of hordes of tourists and tour buses careening along narrow Highway 12 and descending on Calf Creek and other remote places that are even less prepared for huge numbers of visitors. And yes, Snow Canyon is on the target list.
Don’t get me wrong— I’m all for humanity reconnecting with nature. It’s beneficial if people get to know and love these special places to ensure their long-term protection. But it does little good if we love them to death in the process.
Building more roads and parking lots is not the answer. We certainly don’t need to pave more of paradise. Limiting traffic—even banning vehicles within the parks and instituting public transportation (as they do in Zion part of the year) seems reasonable. Perhaps limit the number of people on the most popular trails. Or limit the number of people allowed into the park on any given day.
It all seems to come down to limits, which goes against my free spirited nature. But to my way of thinking, preservation should be given top priority.
About the park:
Snow Canyon State Park is brutally hot in the summer, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. But spring and fall are delightful. (We were pushing our luck visiting in mid-May, but with a cool snap, the temperatures were wonderful.)
More than 16 miles of trails (including a 6-mile paved multi-use, dog friendly trail) meander through a landscape of red rock canyons, lava flows, dry streambeds, and petrified sand dunes. The variety of hikes and terrain offer something for everyone. If you go, don’t miss early morning on the trail—the rising sun sets the red rock aglow.
The little 31-site campground is situated in the beautiful red rocks, with wonderful views all around. But the 12 electric and water sites are extremely tight, even for our relatively modest 27’ trailer. When our neighbors pulled in for the night, they were no more than two feet from our door. We had to laugh when we looked out the window and suddenly had a view of Joshua Tree National Park—it was a mural painted onto the side of their rental RV.
Had we not been concerned about the possibility of 95-degree days, we would have opted for a non-hookup site. Scattered throughout little side canyons, these spacious sites are much more private. Nice restrooms with free hot showers, dump station, and fair Verizon coverage (usable with our booster); campsites with hookups are $20, those without are $16. The town of St. George is just a few miles away, with every amenity you could possibly desire.
Next Up: Wonderfully Remote Great Basin National Park