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What You Need to Know Before You Go to Zion Zion National Park is one of America’s most drama ..Read more
Zion National Park is one of America’s most dramatic national parks, and is a must-see in our books. Located in southern Utah, near Springdale, Zion National Park is a three-hour drive from Las Vegas or a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City. However, a trip to Zion National Park is certainly worth the drive. From the Virgin River Valley’s floor, visitors awe at the steep red cliffs as they soar to meet the brilliant sky above. With an array of hiking, biking, canyoneering, and climbing options, there’s a dose of outdoor adventure for all ages and abilities in Zion. It is no wonder why Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It had nearly four and a half million visitors in 2019 and over three and a half million in 2020. If this year is your first time visiting Zion or you are a returning explorer, you will want to read our expert tips and tricks, including the best time to visit Zion National Park.
Let’s begin by stating that you can visit Zion National Park year-round; however, you must be prepared. As Alfred Wainwright said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” When you visit Zion National Park depends a lot on what activities you would like to do while in the park as well as when you can take a well-deserved vacation. To make your best decision, below are general seasonal weather and visitor patterns.
In the summer months, July through September, expect temperatures to be hot, sometimes one hundred degrees and above. This is also typically the most crowded time in the park. You will want to hydrate and protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, hat, and SPF clothing. Typically, most recommend starting early in the day for hikes and biking routes. In our hiking section below, the Emerald Pools hike is a highly recommended hike for summer due to it’s shade. Or beat the heat kayaking at Quail Creek nearby Zion – more details in the activities near Zion section below.
Additionally, the summer is monsoon season, which means lightning and thunderstorms. For summer visits, you need to be aware of changing weather conditions. Thus, if you are planning canyoneering trips, it is wise to have local knowledge of which canyons are shaded and which are more prone to flash flooding and when. Taking a trip with a local expert guide is highly recommended.
The best time of year to visit Zion National Park depends on what you are looking for. Just like summer, the rest of the seasons in Zion have their pluses and minuses. The fall months bring fewer people, cooler temperatures and a higher chance for flash floods in the slot canyons. It is wise to layer up. In the winter, Zion can be cold and wet with evenings dropping below freezing. But winter is the best time of year to visit Zion National Park to avoid the crowds, since the majority of visitors come to the park in spring, summer and fall. Additionally, seeing Zion with a dusting of snow makes the red rock even more beautiful (photo above Watchman Trail in winter). If you are considering a winter visit, bring warm layers, gloves, hats, and rent a drysuit if you are planning to explore the Narrows or another wet canyon.
The best month to visit Zion National Park may be November. The crowds are gone for the most part, but the weather is still pleasant and you have a good chance of getting that hiking permit! In spring, Zion can be warm and sunny (typically not above ninety degrees), but it can rain on a dime. Remember that quote from Wainwright.
Most would say one day in Zion is too little time. The majority of visitors take three days to explore in and around Zion National Park. However, if you and your group are avid hikers, canyoneering enthusiasts, or climbers, plan for seven days.
If you are a lover of the outdoors or a seasonal adventurer, Zion National Park has oodles of activities for all ages and fitness abilities. There are expert lead canyoneering and climbing tours, e-bike rentals and hikes for the whole family. If you desire a more independent way to discover the Zion area, there are options for kayaking, SUP and mountain biking.
Whether you want an easy hike with beautiful visitas, a challenging all-day hike, or a moderate scenic hike, Zion National Park has almost as many hikes as Baskins Robbins has flavors. Which one you choose is based on your style, physical abilities, and time. However, to narrow down the list a bit, these are some of Zion National Park’s best hikes:
This is a moderate, 2.7 mile out-and-back hike, which takes you into the foothills of Zion. Hikers enjoy views of Bridge Mountain, the Watchman, and the Virgin Towers. Access to the trail is only a half-mile from the south entrance of the park.
This is probably the most bang for your buck in the park. The trail is an easy mile, out-and-back hike. Walkers are delighted by stunning views of East and West Temples, Bridge Mountain, and Pine Creek Slot Canyon.
Angels Landing is a strenuous, 5.4 miles out-and-back hike. The steep incline and decline requires switchbacks. Once you are near the top, hikers reach Scout Landing with impressive panoramic views (pictured above). This is where all have a decision to make: continue up the ridge with a series of chains along steep drop-offs or not to continue. Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with views for miles across the park and beyond. Because of the difficulty and length of the hike, it is not recommended for young children.
This is an easy to moderate three-mile hike great for families, couples, and solo hikers. It can be accessed via the shuttle system across from the Zion Lodge. The trail follows a stream so there is plenty of lush vegetation, providing a bit of shade in the summer months. As the name implies, hikers are delighted by the three pools along the trek.
This well-photographed trail through a slot canyon and its river is a highlight for many visitors. The Narrows is a day-hike that can be five miles to almost ten miles roundtrip. However, since you hike the river, you will get wet. A must for all doing the Narrows are closed toed hiking shoes. Other suggested items are walking pole, waterproof socks, drysack, and drysuit for the colder months. The best time to visit Zion National Park Narrows is late May or October to catch warm weather but still avoid the crowded summer months. The river can close in early spring due to high water levels.
If you’ve done any research on Zion, you’ve probably seen pictures of the Left Fork Subway. Don’t let this deter you from visiting it yourself, it’s just as stunning in person. This infamous permit-required hike off Kolob Terrace Road has two different routes to explore it (permits required for both). The bottom up route is a strenuous 9-mile round trip hike into the canyon shaped like a subway tunnel. Unless you have advanced canyoneering skills, the bottom up route is the hike you want to do. It still requires route finding, scrambling over boulders and creek crossings until you reach the Subway – the crown jewel of the hike. The top down route is a through-hike of the same Left Fork Subway canyon that requires more canyoneering and rope skills. It starts at the top of the canyon at Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and finishes at the same trailhead as the bottom up hike. For this route, you will need 60 feet of rope, rappelling skills, and extensive route finding experience, and it requires swimming through very cold water. It’s definitely an incredible adventure for those with the skills to complete it. You can apply for a permit for either hike here.
With a countless number of canyons and cliffs, the Zion National Park area is a favorite destination for those looking to try canyoneering and climbing. Both sports require appropriate gear and attire. Whether you are a seasoned climber or newbie canyoneer, many prefer to take a guided tour from the local experts to learn the basics or gain insider’s knowledge. Plus, when you go with an outfitter, you don’t have to worry about obtaining a permit or purchasing gear. Another bonus is you receive the do’s and dont’s of these favorite spots. Outfitters cannot guide trips inside the National Park, but there are so many spectacular canyons and cliffs outside the Park boundaries that they really don’t need to!
Learn more about the difference between canyoneering and rock climbing, hidden gems in Zion and all the Zion information you need from our podcast with Zion experts!
There are so many spectacular canyons and cliffs around the Zion area for guided canyoneering and climbing adventures, but here are just a couple examples!
This is a 12.3 mile slot canyon hike that is great for beginners to advanced. It does require ropes, harnesses, and repelling gear; so, it is best to go with a guided tour or with an experienced partner. Often called the little sister of The Narrows (mentioned above), Orderville Canyon packs a lot of beauty, but requires more technical canyoneering skills. It is most popular in summer and fall.
If you want to see Zion National Park from a bird’s eye view, climb one-thousand-foot Tooele Tower. For seasoned climbers, this is a relatively easy rock climbing experience. If you are new to the sport or just want to do it with a guide, find and book with top rated guides.
As the park doesn’t allow private vehicles during peak summer months, you have a couple of options to discover the beauty of Zion: take the park shuttles or explore the park on e-bike or bicycle. Although the shuttles eliminate a lot of traffic on the park road, there is often a long wait to get on a shuttle. Plus, most shuttles fill up quickly. An easy alternative to shuttles is to rent a bike to explore the park on your own. Bikes are only allowed on park roads, not trails.
Although Zion National Park has a ton of great outdoor activities to take advantage of on a visit, exploring just outside the park gives you access to other activities like kayaking, SUP and some of the best mountain biking in the country. For those that enjoy watersports and would like to beat the heat of the summer months, a great option is kayaking or SUP at Quail Creek State Park in Hurricane, UT, just 45 minutes from the park entrance in Springdale. For those that need a mountain biking fix, there is no mountain biking in the National Park; however, there are world renowned trails in Hurricane and La Verkin just outside the park. From riding on the top of mesas overlooking Zion to winding singletrack through the desert, there is something for all levels of riders. Over the Edge Sports in Hurricane can set you up with the perfect rental bike for hitting the outstanding network of trails. Don’t worry there is a mountain bike and trail for all abilities.
Whether you plan to visit Zion National Park this year or next, what you need to know before you go should help you map out your adventure. If you liked these expert tips and tricks for Zion National Park, you may want to check out the TripOutside Zion National Park podcast. If you have additional questions in the midst of planning, renting gear, or finding an outfitter for your Zion visit, please leave your questions in the comments below.
Post contributed by Author and Adventurer, Heidi Siefkas. Her last visit to Zion National Park was a 3-day adventure detour from her cross-country Route 66 journey.