Zion National Park will soon require reservations to hike a famous southern Utah trail perched on the edge of a red-rock cliff, officials announced Friday.
As of April 1, people who want to hike the narrow Angels Landing hike will need permits provided through a lottery system.
The lottery will be fairer to visitors and reduce crowding on the trail, said superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh. Crowding is a major concern on the trail edged by a sheer cliff, where a small number of people typically fall and die every year, park officials have said.
The number of people visiting Zion has been growing rapidly in recent years, swelling from about 2.8 million visits in 2011 to nearly 4.5 million visits in 2019.
Angels Landing is one of the most sought-after destinations and more than 300,000 people hiked it in 2019, according to park officials.
There will be two lotteries, one seasonal and another for one day ahead of planned hikes. Each drawing costs US$6 ($8.90) per person to enter and people who win must pay a $4.50 per person fee. That will cover the cost of running the lottery and rangers to check permits on the trail.
The permit system will apply specifically to the narrowest section of the trail, often called the "chain section" because it has metal handholds driven into the rock.
Park officials did not immediately say how many people will be allowed per day, but planning documents outlined a previous experiment that limited visitors over Memorial Day weekend to 120 people per hour on the trail.
The idea was first announced in August, and the new trail lottery plan reflects comments from more than 1,000 people, officials said.
The new system is considered a pilot project and could be adjusted as needed. Zion is located about 250 kilometers northeast of Las Vegas and 483 kilometers south of Salt Lake City.
Beautiful by deadly
The 453.5-metre-tall ridge plateau is breathtaking, but not without risk.
Increased pressures on the trail have also led to potentially more dangours conditions. 14 hikers have died on ther track over the last two decades.
Utah tourism board refers to it as "one of the most dangerous hikes in the country".
A combination of easy access via the national park and social media fame from the photogentic red rocks have seen the number or hikers climb to unsustainable levels.
- Associated Press wtih additional reporting