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A tourist walks a trail in Bryce Canyon.

Tourist Season Brings Pretty Normal March Visitation

Here in Bryce, we don’t all love the tourist season, but many of us depend upon it. In fact 80% of Garfield’s economy centers around tourism. As temperatures warm and the snow melts, we see more cars coming down Scenic Byway 12. The restaurants, touring companies and motels all open up, and Bryce Valley comes alive with tourist attractions.

The Number of Tourist Visitors

Each year Bryce Canyon receives over 1.5 million visitors. The highest volume of visitors usually starts to arrive around March and April, the beginning of the tourist season. This year in March Bryce received 79,911 visitors, which doesn’t quite touch the record March numbers for 2021 and 2022, but it’s not bad either.

In 2022 the numbers represented a steady rise since 2020 when the effects of COVID hit. In fact Bryce Canyon was the only park out of the “Mighty 5” in Utah that didn’t decrease in visitation between 2021 and 2022. But 2022’s later summer numbers were still 9% below those in 2019 before the world shut down.

This year’s March numbers are comparable to those of 2017 and 2019. They are encouraging, but they don’t necessarily predict how the visitation will be for the rest of the season.

Decline in Park Visitation

Unfortunately over the past few years, there has been a slight decline in Utah national park visitation. Tourism officials blamed inflation, rising gas prices, and foreign factors. There is also a perception that national parks are overcrowded — an assumption that is not true of Bryce. And COVID put an extra wrench in predictions.

What we do know is that world travel has taken a hit. “International travelers still haven’t returned in high volume,” Vicki Varela, managing director at the Utah Office of Tourism, told ksl. “We saw lots of research that said that people are going to stay closer to home, they’re going to consolidate their travel plans.”

But the season has barely started. 

Rising temperatures and the possibility of less uncertainty could bring numbers to their usual rising rate this year. In addition, this tourist season crowds could get bigger in May and June as Bryce Canyon celebrates its centennial year as a national park.

The Byway

Feature image caption: Bryce Canyon has received pretty normal visitation this year. Tourists like this one have enjoyed the open trails despite the small amounts of snow and closures. Courtesy Pixabay.