Best Time to Visit Zion National Park ~ In this article, we’re checking out one of the coolest natural areas in the United States – Zion National Park. We’ll be giving you a full guide to Zion, starting with the best time to visit the park. After that, we’ll give you a full rundown of Zion, including geography, history, and what to do while there. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?
To the title question of our article. Obviously, it goes without saying the best time to visit Zion National Park is the time that works best for your schedule, and the time that best matches your ideal travel conditions. This being said, there is a definite high and low season in Zion National Park, which corresponds to the weather:
Tourist Season – “High” and “Low” Season
High season in Zion National Park lasts roughly from May to November of each year. This is also when the weather is warmer, and the days are longer. Low season makes up the winter months in the park. This being said, the park receives many visitors year round, even during winter.
Some tourists prefer the low season, because the park is less crowded, and hotels are cheaper. Some tourists also prefer colder conditions for hiking, as opposed to sweltering summer heat.
But do note that the free shuttle service in Zion ceases operation during the winter months (December-February). This means that tourists to Zion during winter will be responsible for navigating the park themselves. Zion is fully of sharp turns and steep ascents, which can make it quite intimidating for inexperienced drivers. This might be reason alone for some tourists to visit the park during the summer months.
Zion National Park has a very diverse climate throughout the year. In other words, as a tourist, your experience will differ depending on when you go.
Zion is characterized as a “high desert climate”. Being a desert, temperatures tend to be much hotter through the day, and drop significantly at night.
Daytime highs hover around 30C (86F) in summer months, and between 15C to 20C during spring and fall (59F to 68F). During winter, daytime highs reach are around 10C (50F). The park generally goes below freezing at night during the winter, which makes snow a real and frequent possibility (although it often melts during the day).
Getting to Zion
Planning your trip to Zion can be a bit tricky. Upon first glance, the park appears to be “in the middle of nowhere”. This is kind of true, but it’s also what gives the park its isolated beauty.
The closest major airport to Zion National Park is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. From Las Vegas, it’s roughly a 3-hour drive northeast to the park. There are buses and shuttles which run from the airport, or you can rent a car. Once at the park, you’ll be required to pay a $30 entrance fee by car, or a $15 fee without a car or via free shuttle. This fee nets you a ticket which is good for one week.
Where to Stay
Zion’s isolated nature can also make it difficult for tourists to the area to plan their lodging. But being such a massive tourist destination, there are actually no shortage of options for tourists. Visitors to Zion can choose between hotels, motels, AirBnBs, campground, trailer parks, and more.
The town of Springdale is located directly outside Zion. Springdale houses plenty of lodging options. Being a tourist hotspot, Springdale also offers everything a visitor to Zion would need, including shops, guided tours, restaurants, and more. A free shuttle to the park runs from Springdale, except during the winter months. Being directly beside the park, lodging in Springdale is somewhat more expensive than in other towns in the area.
If you’re looking for less expensive lodgings, the towns of Hurricane or St. George are located under an hour drive from the park. Both have budget hotel and motel options.
Zion also offers free camping on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land surrounding the park in designated areas.
There are also plenty of lodging options outside of towns, especially with the popularity of AirBnB.
All this is to say that there are plenty of options for tourists. You’ll have to decide the type of lodging you want, your ideal vicinity to the park, how much you want to spend, and more. Here’s an example of some of the most popular lodging options on TripAdvisor.
About Zion National Park
Now that we’ve covered all the logistical concerns that you might have as a tourist to Zion, let’s get to the fun stuff. What makes Zion so great? Simply put, Zion National Park is one of the most beautiful natural areas in the entire world. People arrive from the world over to gaze upon its natural beauty, and explore everything this region has to offer.
Let’s take a deep dive into the history and geography of Zion, and then get into some specifics about the best ways to experience the park:
Location & History
Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah, and was officially established as a national park by the United states in 1919. The official mission of the park is to:
“Preserve the dramatic geology including Zion canyon and a labyrinth of deep and brilliantly colored Navajo sandstone canyons formed by extraordinary process of erosion at the margin of the Colorado plateau; to safeguard the park’s wilderness character and its wild and scenic river values; to protect evidence of human history; and to provide for scientific research and the enjoyment and enlightenment of the public.”
The Park sits near the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions of the United States.
Zion National Park is most famous for its fascinating landscape and breathtaking sites. The park features a varied landscape which includes rivers, canyons, mountains, arches, and more. The park includes desert, woodland, riparian, and coniferous zones. There are also many animal species which are native to the region.
The park’s most notable feature is Zion Canyon, which is a deep gorge of Navajo sandstone, carved by the Virgin River. The canyon varies in its width and depth, but reaches up to 3000 feet deep in places. More on this below.
What to Do in Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is a haven for hikers, climbers, and adventurers of all sorts. Wanderers pack the region to gaze upon incredible rock formations, winding rivers, lush riverbeds, steep canyons, and so much more. With so much to do in Zion, it can become quite overwhelming. How can you soak in thousands of years worth of natural beauty in a few short days?
If you need help planning your trip, head over to the Canyon Visitor Center upon arrival. Located at the main entrance of the park, the visitor center is full of people and resources which can answer your every question. This includes info on the park itself, how to get around, how to book tours, and more. There’s even a mini 3D model of the park to help you visualize your experience.
Here are a few sites, landmarks, and tours that will help you get the most out of your stay at Zion:
Zion Canyon is a highlight of the national park, and The Narrows are one of its most interesting features. The Narrows are the slimmest sections of Zion Canyon (some sections only 20 feet across). Its natural beauty makes it one of the park’s most popular experiences. You’ve probably seen photos of The Narrows, even if you weren’t familiar with the region.
You can view the Narrows via a tourist trail leading from Sinawava Temple. Those who want to venture through The Narrows can continue on foot, but they’ll be wading through the shallow water which separates each side of the Canyon. But if they’re willing to get their feet wet, they’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of sandstone walls, towering high above them.
Canyon Overlook Trail
One of the most popular overlook trails in the entirety of Zion National Park, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s also one of the busiest hikes in the park, because it’s an easy, short jaunt of only about 1-mile round-trip. And it’s more than worth it, because you’re rewarded with one of the best views of Zion Canyon in the entire park. A huge, sweeping expanse which helps you grasp the canyon’s true depth and significance.
The trailhead is situated at the east end of Mt. Carmel Tunnel, where there is a parking lot for easy access. From the parking lot to the overlook point is only about 100 feet, but the terrain is somewhat rocky, and may be a challenge for those with mobility requirements.
Definitely for more experienced thrill-seekers, the hike to Angel’s Landing is steep, narrow, and dangerous. The 5-mile hike takes travelers across 1488 feet of elevation, to an eventual perch atop Angel’s Landing, which offers a breathtaking view of Zion Canyon.
But the hike itself is what you’ll remember most. Across narrow ledges, rocky ascents, and difficult traversals. It’s all capped off by the final section – Hogsback, a narrow ridge with steep drops on both sides, taking you right up to Angel’s Landing perch. Chains have been installed to help travellers keep their balance in challenging areas, but it is still a hike not suited for beginners, and not recommended for children.
To check out guide tours of Angel’s Landing, click here.
Observation Point trail is a challenging 8-mile hike that covers an elevation of over 2000 feet. It ends at Observation Point atop Mt. Baldy, offering an excellent panoramic view of many of Zion’s most famous landmarks and sites. This is another hike for experienced hikers and not for those with a fear of heights.
Many hikers recommend starting early, to avoid the harsh mid-day rays. In fact, you should probably heed this advice for just about any Zion hike, especially during the summer.
Observation Point is accessed via the Weeping Rock shuttle stop, and along the East Rim to the summit of Mt. Baldy.
Zion Scenic Drive & Mt. Carmel Highway
Prefer to experience Zion by car? It’s easy to do, and there are several options available. Zion Scenic Drive is a 57-mile stretch of road that takes travelers right through the base of Zion Canyon, along the Virgin River. But be warned, it is a harrowing drive, with plenty of steep drops and hairpin turns. You might want to opt for the free shuttle instead.
Alternatively, you could soak it all in with a drive on Zion’s Mt. Carmel Highway, which is a 26-mile stretch of road to the west of Zion Scenic Drive. Mt. Carmel Highway takes you through the historic Mt. Carmel Tunnel, and past popular landmarks including Checkerboard Mesa, a large sandstone butte formation.
Lower Emerald Pool
Emerald Pool is one of Zion’s most accessible natural wonders. Located along a 1-mile tourist trail from Zion Lodge, Lower Emerald Pool is a collection of pools named for their unique color. Pools are situated beneath a large rock ledge (home to Middle Emerald Pool), where runoff drips down to form the lower pools. Sometimes, the runoff forms a series of waterfalls.
Festivals and Events in Zion National Park
There are numerous festivals and events to experience in Zion National Park, and may affect the time you plan to attend. Most of the major events take place in the neighboring town of Springdale. Events within the park itself are pretty limited outside of guided tours and kids’ programs (many of which were mentioned above). Nonetheless, you can find a schedule of official park scheduled programs here.
In Springdale, there are a few events we recommend checking out. For a full schedule, click here. Here are some events we recommend:
- Kane County Fair: Taking place each year in August (since 1948), the county fair is a great way to experience local culture. Shop the various vendors, see local animals, and take part in various local customs.
- Spring Festival: The Spring Festival is done annually to celebrate the arrival of Spring, and takes place each year near St. Patrick’s Day. The event involves local Utah performers, bands, and even a parade.
- Concerts and Festivals: You’ll find various concerts and festivals scheduled throughout the year at OC Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale. Currently, the venue is closed for renovations (damage due to flash flooding), but should be back in action next Spring (2022).
- And More: You can check out more events and things-to-do in Zion National Park and surrounding areas on TripAdvisor.
Which Activity Do You Prefer?
At the end of the day, your ideal vacation to Zion will depend on which activities interest you most. Are you there to climb, hike, bike, or just to gaze upon its beauty? There are all sorts of options that make the park accessible to all sorts of tourists, so don’t be intimated by the park’s grandeur.
There are many more things to see and do in Zion on top of what we’ve mentioned above. Your vacation adventure is what you make of it. There’s truly something for everyone, and it’s impossible not to appreciate Zion’s natural magnificence.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Zion National Park?
It depends how much you want to see. We recommend spending 4-7 days in Zion National Park if you want to get a varied mix of experiences. A park ticket is good for 7 days, but it only costs $30USD. You can easily see most of the tourist sites in 3 or 4 days, but experienced hikers might want to stay longer.
Is the Park Shuttle Free?
Yes, the park shuttle is free and runs out of Springdale, with various stops throughout the park. But do note that the park shuttle closes during the winter months (December-February). During this time, visitors will have to sort their own ride through Zion National Park.