ST. GEORGE — The clickety-clack sound of hoofs in Bryce Canyon National Park is increasing and the National Park Service is asking for public input on a new policy. Comments on the issue are due Dec. 31.
“Riding a horse or mule along the trails of Bryce Canyon National Park is an unforgettable and increasingly popular experience,” Bryce Canyon National Park Visual Information Specialist Peter Densmore told St. George News. “That said, we’re committed to providing access to these recreational opportunities in a safe and environmentally sound manner.”
Densmore said the park has seen a nearly 650% increase in private riders over the last nine years. It increased from 124 private riders in 2015 to 923 riders in 2023.
Bryce Canyon National Park proposes managing private horse and mule reservations online through Recreation.gov. This change would require riders bringing private stock into Bryce Canyon to pay a $1 processing fee per reservation.
Densmore said the change will improve visitor service and trip planning. He said the $1 reservation fee covers managing reservations through Recreation.gov.
“So this online self-reservation system proposes a way that we can help meet this rising demand,” he said. “These additional reservations are looking to be made in a way that’s more convenient for the visitor. As far as the reservation fee goes, the park went with the absolute minimum fee that would be required to get this online system going.
“We’re looking to impose the least financial burden possible while still moving to a more efficient system as demand continues to increase.”
There are two ways to enjoy a horse or mule ride within the park, either through private stock a person owns or through the park’s concessionaire. Densmore said the park contracts with Canyon Trail Rides.
“The vast majority of our visitors end up going through the concessionaire route; they don’t own private stock and are able to enjoy a lead ride from May through October here in the park,” Densmore said.
All riders must make a reservation to ride animals in the park. Densmore added that if one uses their own stock, they must submit documentation of horse inoculations to ensure no health-related safety concerns between private and concessionaire stock. To fill out the paperwork, go to this website.
“We have an entire page on horse riding and private stock use. And you can review the requirements that are in place for scheduling a ride in the park there,” Densmore said.
Rod Player, who serves as the southwestern regional public lands chairman for the Back Country Horsemen of America, told St. George News that their chapters out of St. George, Kanab and Las Vegas, Nevada, are very active in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Player said the proposed reservation system is a “huge improvement” over the previous one.
“It’s a huge change because it’s available to make reservations 24/7,” he said. “You don’t have to send an email and wait for a couple of days or over a weekend to hear back.”
The Peekaboo Loop Trail is the only place private stock can travel inside the park. Player said he hopes the National Park Service will allow more routes to be developed for horse riders. The occasionally narrow trail also allows hikers.
Player said horse riders come from all across the nation, most from southern and central Utah, Nevada and California. He has also noticed increased visitors to the canyon in the last two years after a new horse campground was constructed near Tropic.
Before 2015, no reservation system was in place at the park, which led to increasing conflicts between private riders and the concessionaire. Since 2015, Bryce National Park has had a scheduling system. However, Densmore said the increase in ridership led the park to pursue an online strategy. He said that with the new system and fee, riders will have more transparency so people can see the entire calendar at a glance and decide when they should make a booking.
Another Back Country Horseman’s group member, Deja Schweitzer, said the dollar fee for reservations isn’t a big deal.
“But once they start charging for something that should be free, they will always find reasons to increase the fees,” Schweitzer said. “You still have to buy a park pass like everyone else and pay for all the necessary animal health certifications to take an animal in the park.”
Schweitzer added that the Peekaboo Loop Trail is like “riding in a fairyland.”
“(It’s) a top 10 bucket-list list ride that draws riders from all over the country to ride this area,” Schweitzer added. “It’s extremely important to organizations like the Back Country Horsemen to keep these trails open for equestrian users.”
Private stock rides for up to 10 riders will remain available every half-hour from 4:30-7:30 p.m. from May through October, but these times are dependent on weather and trail conditions.
“You certainly want to plan ahead,” Densmore said. “Look at things like sunset time and the duration of ride that you’d like to have to make sure that you’re booking a time that gives you ample amount of daylight to enjoy your Bryce Canyon experience.”
He also advised visitors on animals to know how far they plan to ride, bring adequate equipment such as light reflectors and be aware of cars.
“Visitor safety starts with you,” Densmore said. “So make sure you plan and have adequate equipment, whether lighting or reflectors, if you plan to be out beyond sunset time.”
To comment, go online or mail comments to the park by Dec. 31. To send a letter to the park superintendent directly, mail it to P.O Box 640201 Bryce, UT 84764.
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