We found Snow Canyon 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 were our footsteps and the calls of ravens. It’s a gem of a park. And it’s remarkably peaceful—which cannot 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.
Pardon Me While I Rant About The Utah Office Of Tourism
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. Instead, they 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 backcountry and avoid the crowds—but meanwhile, what’s happening to our sacred wildlands?
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.
Utah Is Turning Our National Parks Into Tourist Traps
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” is working 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.
Rant Over, Back To Snow Canyon
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 campsites are much more private. The campground offers nice restrooms with free hot showers, a dump station, and fair Verizon coverage; 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.
We really appreciate your comments about the over-use of the Utah National Parks. It’s the same in Arizona and most of the other National Parks because of the Park Services’ centennial promotion of “Find your park”. At this point visitation is up everywhere and out of frustration, Park rangers that we know are saying “Find someone else’s park…” The NPS budget has been cut continuously for years and they simply can no longer manage the resource.
You guys certainly have an “insider’s view” from the work you’ve done in national parks. The park rangers you know are expressing the same sentiments I’ve heard and read from other rangers in overly stressed parks. We need to stop cutting the NPS budget and give the parks the support they need.
Gorgeous photos! We avoid people whenever we can. 😉
We do, too, Brenda. But in some parks now, it’s impossible to avoid crowds. It’s painful to see what’s happening to our beautiful, fragile national parks.
Aaaahhh, little Snow Canyon has been my “happy place” since my first visit there 10 years ago. Thankfully, I have always been able to time it when it’s cooler, so as to avoid the “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” hook-up sites. What were they thinking? I laughed out loud at the view of Joshua Tree!
I am with you 100% on the overrunning of the National Parks. I don’t like the thought of limiting either, but for goodness sakes, stop the marketing campaign! In this past year, I have seen Arches advertised by being “wrapped” on the San Francisco city bus, and a pull-out insert in the American Airlines inflight magazine. Why do they think they need promoting, when the line is out to the highway already?
And don’t get me started on the selfie stick and Go Pro Drive-by tourists! Last week, I watched a half a dozen kids climb out over the Blue Pool in OR onto a dangerous precipice and leap 70 ft into an unknown depth, all for the sake of yet another 30 second youtube video.
I’ll get off my soapbox now before I hijack your comment section….lovely photos of a favorite place!
Haha, a “Grey Poupon” moment! Despite the close quarters, we loved Snow Canyon. I hope the latest short-sighted Utah advertising blitz doesn’t ruin it.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Suzanne. I appreciate a good soapbox rant.
I so totally agree with your frustrations with the Utah National Parks, most of the western National Parks for that matter. Compulsive selfies drive me mad! People don’t bother to look at the beauty, they spend most of their time with their backs to it!
We had such a nice time in Moab this year because we simply avoided the big parks and sought other, smaller but just as fantastic sights.
Snow Canyon sounds like one of those places, it will go on my “list”
You are so right, Sue! Those capturing their “experience” with selfie sticks rarely even turn around to look at their surroundings!
We avoid the big parks, too, in favor of smaller, more remote sights—but I fear for the peace and beauty of those places, too, with Utah’s newest advertising campaign.
Hi Laurel, thanks as always for the stunning photos and sharing your journey. You make me glad I saw the big five when I did so long ago now. I’ve been thinking of you and miss you. Are you on the island now?
Ann, I’m glad you’re accompanying us on our journey. Like you, I’m happy we saw the big 5 back before the tsunami of tourists hit. There are still many beautiful, peaceful places—but sadly, Arches and Zion no longer qualify.
(Yes, we’re on Lopez and loving it. Still remote and peaceful here. :-)) Miss you, too!
Definitely a gem of a park. When we find our way back to Utah we will have to spend some (cool month) time there. Glorious photos – yuccas are so amazing. We are surely loving our parks to death with inadequate funding for proper staffing to control the crowds. I’m amazed and frustrated by how many drive long distances (license plates) to walk through a national park talking loudly about their work week, crowding around a selfie stick, and barely taking in the wonder around them. Wish I had the answer :-)
Jodee, you and Bill will love this park. So will Tessa—the paved trail is paws friendly. :-) Glad you enjoyed the photos.
I don’t think there’s any easy answer for what’s happening to our parks, but at least we could fund them adequately and stop the stupid advertising campaigns that encourage people to swoop in and take selfies.
Snow Canyon looks amazing. Can you believe we have yet to travel to Zion? I am not looking forward to the hordes we will most likely encounter when we visit. I am afraid we are loving our national parks to death. I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly Laurel.
LuAnn, I think the only time to visit Zion now is in late fall (maybe November). That’s when we’re planning to return. It will be cold, but that’s preferable to enduring an amusement park experience. Snow Canyon is a lovely little park—nowhere near the challenge or diversity of hiking as in Zion, but beautiful. You guys would enjoy it—but choose a non hookup site if possible. :-)
Hans and I first visited Arches together in 2007…a 100% different experience from our recent visit in 2015! It is a shame the advertising campaigns have so adversely affected our National Parks…I would hate to see that same thing happen to other parks.
Lisa, we’ve had exactly the same experience. Eric and I first visited Arches in 2000, and were alone on many of the trails. Our subsequent visits—up until 2012—were also peaceful. But since then, the increase in crowds in Arches and Zion has been overwhelming. I just can’t imagine what Utah’s newest campaign is going to do to much smaller places, like Snow Canyon.
I don’t know what the solution is to the parks problem but they better find something as they are all suffering. We didn’t go to Yellowstone this year, but apparently they had record numbers. The tour buses bring in thousands of people.
Jane, I hope they do something about the situation, and soon. More money and more staffing for the parks would help. So would instituting some limits on visitation and vehicles. And definitely stop promoting parks that can’t handle huge numbers of people!
I’m not even going to get into my feelings on the overcrowded Utah parks! Anyway…we loved Snow Canyon! It was such a fun place and we enjoyed crawling all over those gorgeous red mounds:) There is some really deep sand on a few trails. I had to laugh at your view…haha! Hey, at least it was a nice picture:) Your photos are so gorgeous. You had wonderful weather and the sky was perfect!
Pam, I’m sure you and I share the same feelings about the overcrowding in Utah parks. So glad you enjoyed the photos of Snow Canyon—we did have perfect weather! It’s such a sweet park. Let’s hope the new Utah advertising campaign doesn’t destroy it.
Thank you so much for introducing me to this gorgeous place with such fantastic photographs and thanks even more for saying so much better than I can how I feel about Utah and its tourism business. I just hate it that the Utah parks are becoming Yosemite. Their beauty over run. I would definitely support limits on daily park attendance although it is quite possible I will never go to any of these sacred lands again for just the reasons you state. Thanks Laurel for your beautiful art and powerful words of truth.
You’re welcome, Sherry. I know you feel the same as we do—and you speak up about what’s important. We need to fund our parks and stop promoting them for superficial tourism.
I share your frustrations. Although we managed to avoid the crowd by getting there by sunrise still crowd control should be the NPS priority to preserve the parks beauty. Even here at Glacier NP the trails are crowded by the time we finished our hikes and traffic is so bad on a narrow road.
Snow Canyon is on our list for next year thanks for the peek.
You guys will enjoy Snow Canyon, ML (as long as the new Utah campaign doesn’t overwhelm the little park). I’m not surprised to hear that Glacier is suffering.There are just way too many people in the parks—seems to me that daily limits on attendance would help a lot.
Ah, such beautiful red rock photos. We’ve been in southern Utah numerous times and still haven’t made it to Snow Canyon. Maybe this fall, but not in one of those hookup sites!
We love Zion, and luckily there is good boondocking near Virgin, and great trails both in and out of the park where hardly anyone else hikes. We’re planning to be back there in late Oct/early Nov. One of our favorite things to do is biking up the Pa’rus trail and through the canyon. With the shuttle buses there is very little traffic and it almost feels like you have the place to yourself.
I do hate the promotions that Utah is doing, when there is no need for it. It really spoils the national park experience with so many people around.
Snow Canyon is lovely—I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Gayle. If you’re there in late October you won’t need a hookup site.
We’ve been wanting to explore more of Zion outside of the most visited areas—sounds like you’ve found some great spots. We biked in the canyon years ago and have wanted to do it again. It’s a great experience!
Wow, what terrific photos. Thanks. You mentioned you’re headed to Great Basin National Park. If you have time stop by a nearby unique state park to see the charcoal ovens. I discovered it just by luck and camped there in July while on my two week road-trip before school starts [elementary teacher].
I need to get this blog up to date so that I can take advantage of tips like yours, Rick. Wish we had stopped at the charcoal ovens—next time, we will. Glad you’re enjoying the photos. :-)
There is now a push in Utah to allow mountain biking in the Wilderness areas in Utah. There is only 1% of Utah that is Wilderness Protected. It makes me sad to see the Wilderness Protection Act being manipulated since there is so little to be kept this way.
It makes me sad and mad, Debbie. We need to do whatever it takes to keep our wild lands wild.