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InDestinations, National Parks, Utah, Zion

Epic Zion National Park Itinerary Guide: How to Plan 1, 2, and 3 Perfect Days in Zion National Park

With soaring red rock cliffs, hidden slot canons, and miles of hiking trails, its no secret why Zion National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the United States. Whether you have 1, 2, or 3 days to explore this breathtaking destination, this guide has all the information you need to plan the perfect trip. From must-see sights and can’t-miss hikes, to tips for avoiding crowds and where to stay, this epic Zion National Park itinerary guide has you covered.

So, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to immerse yourself in the stunning red rock canyons and soaring sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park.

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links where I earn a small commission from any purchase – at no extra cost to you. This commission helps keep Brooke In Boots up and running. As always, all opinions are 100% honest and my own!

Why Visit Zion National Park?

With stunning red rock canyon vistas around every corner, soaring sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons, Zion National Park is a jewel of the National Park system. Whether you’re into strenuous hikes, family-friendly strolls, climbing, canyoneering, or scenic driving, there is bucket-list adventure to be found in Zion National Park.

The awe-inspiring scenery and world-famous hikes and canyon climbs makes Zion one of the most popular National Parks in the United States.

In 2022, nearly 4.7 million visitors made their way to Zion National Park. Although Zion National Park is nearly 230 square miles (146,597 acres) in size (the 36th largest National Park) most of those 4.7 million visitors congregate in the narrow but beautiful Zion Canyon.

Zion Canyon is the beating heart of Zion National Park. Only one road, Zion Canyon Drive, runs 6 miles through the Canyon from the entrance of the Park in Springdale, Utah to the Temple of Sinawava, where the Virgin River forms the stunning slot canyon known as The Narrows.

Powerful flash floods along the Virgin River carved through layers of Navajo Sandstone to form Zion Canyon. Over time, the river sliced the narrow Zion Canyon as we know it today. The Canyon is nearly 3,000 feet deep in some places, and is known for its famous slot canyons and soaring sandstone peaks like Angel’s Landing.

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks, in addition to Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef, In addition to visiting Zion, it’s possible to see dozens of other National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments and State Parks within a few short hours of this Park, making Zion one of the ultimate US Road Trip destinations!

Zion National Park Quick Facts

Where: Springdale, Utah

Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle. $20 per person if entering as a pedestrian or via the Springdale Shuttle. (More about Shuttles in ‘Getting Around Zion National Park’ below).

Traveling to more than 2 National Parks or National Forests this year? Purchase an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass for $80, which covers entrance fees at all National Parks and NPS managed sites.

Zion Canyon

Kid Friendly: Yes. Several trails in Zion are easy enough for even young children. Note that some trails, like Angel’s Landing, are not appropriate for children, and many trails feature steep canyon drop offs with no railings. Watch your children carefully at all times.

Dog Friendly: No. Dogs are only permitted on the paved Pa’rus Trail. Toxic algae blooms in the Virgin River are toxic to dogs, and have resulted in pet fatalities. Do not let any pets enter or drink from the Virgin River.

Zion National Park is divided into two districts: Zion Canyon and the Kolob Canyons. Most visitors will spend their trip in the Zion Canyon area. The Kolob Canyons area is not accessible from Zion Canyon. It takes approximately 1 hour to drive to Zion Canyon to Kolob Canyons.

Check Out These Blog Posts for More Resources on Visiting Zion & Bryce Canyon

Epic Zion National Park Itinerary Guide

7 Easy Family-Friendly Hikes in Zion National Park

One Epic Day in Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion Permits & Reservations: Everything You Need to Know

Closest Airports to Bryce Canyon & How to Get to There

Zion National Park is Indigenous Land

Zion National Park was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people until approximately 1300 AD/CE. Ancestral Puebloan rock houses and petroglyph carvings are found throughout the Park and the Southwest.

The Southern Paiute called Zion Valley home when Mormon settlers began arriving to the area in 1858. The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah continue to live in the Zion and Bryce Canyon area to this day.

Explorer John Wesley Powell is alleged to have coined the name “Mukuntuweap” for Zion Canyon, thought to be an Indigenous name for the canyon meaning, “straight canyon.” Zion was first designated Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, and re-designated Zion National Park in 1919.

Never deface or disturb archaeological sites and always practice respect and Leave No Trace when visiting.

Highlights of Visiting Zion National Park

Here is a quick look at the best things to do when visiting Zion National Park.

Take an Epic Hike

Zion National Park is home to some of the best and most famous hikes in the United States. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly easy hike or strenuous adventure, there are dozens of amazing trails to choose from.

Zion Planning Tip: Zion is an ever-changing environment, prone to flash floods and rock falls. Multiple trails are subject to short and long term closures, as noted below. Always check the NPS website for updates.

Here are 9 of the best day hikes to explore in Zion National Park.

Emerald Pools Trail

Visit Zion’s most famous waterfalls on this extremely popular hike. The trail is paved until the Lower Emerald Pool. Kids (and adults) will love exploring the easy trail behind the waterfall. Continue up the rocky trail to the Middle and Upper Pools. Lower Emerald Pools is an easy 1.5 miles round trip. Middle and Upper Pools is a moderate 2.5 miles round trip.

2023 Update: The bridge to access the trail from Zion Lodge / Shuttle Stop #5 is closed indefinitely due to structural issues. Unfortunately, that means there are no easy ways to access this trail while the bridge is closed. To access the Lower Pools trail, bridge access is available from Shuttle Stop #4, Court of the Patriarchs, which adds 3 miles of moderate hiking, and Stop #6, the Grotto, which adds 2 miles of moderate hiking. Check trail updates, here.

Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail

Weeping Rock Trail

This short but sweet trail leads to Weeping Rock, a naturally occurring spring dripping from the canyon walls, as well as views of the Great White Throne formation. Weeping Rock is an easy 0.4 mile round trip hike.

Watchman Trail

Explore one of Zion’s largest sandstone towers, the Watchman, on this moderately easy trail. The Trail leaves directly from the Zion Visitor Center and campgrounds. The Watchman Trail is 3.1 miles round trip and 650 feet of elevation gain.

Pa’rus Trail

This easy, paved trail follows the Virgin River from the Zion Visitor Center to the  Canyon Junction intersection. The trail has great views of the Watchman formation and is an easy 3.2 miles round trip. This is the only trail in Zion where pets are allowed.

Canyon Overlook Trail

The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is one of Zion’s best moderate hikes, and a must-do when visiting Zion National Park. The Overlook has breathtaking views of Zion Canyon, comparable to Angel’s Landing, without the strenuous climbing. The 1 mile out and back trail is mostly flat and easy, with steep canyons drop offs on the side of the trail.

Observation Point

Climb through the narrow Echo Canyon to arguably the best view in Zion National Park on this strenuous hike. This 7-mile hike starts at the Weeping Rock trailhead and climbs a series of switchbacks to the East Rim Trail. After 2,650 feet of elevation gain, hikers are rewarded with incredible views looking down on Zion Canyon and Angel’s Landing.

East Rim Trail is closed until further notice due to a major rockfall. Observation Point can be accessed via a 7.0 mile round trip hike via the East Mesa Trail, located outside the National Park. A 4×4 vehicle is required to make it to the trailhead. East Zion Adventures offers a paid seasonal shuttle to the trailhead.

Riverside Walk

This easy, paved trail begins at the Temple of Sinawava and follows the Virgin River as the wide Zion Canyon narrows around you. The trail ends at the Virgin River where prepared hikers can continue on to The Narrows, using the river as a trail. Riverside Walk is an easy 2 mile out and back trail, with 200 feet of elevation gain.

The Narrows (Bottom – Up)

For a strenuous but super-rewarding day hiking experience, continue past the end of the paved Riverside Walk trail and explore The Narrows, one of the most unique hikes in any National Park. There are multiple routes to access this 16 mile slot canyon, and this route, commonly called “bottom-up,” is the most popular. There is no trail here, just follow the Virgin River up to 5 miles upstream, before turning around. This route does not require a permit or canyoneering experience. Flash floods are deadly in this canyon. Learn more about safety and hiking the Narrows, here.

Do not ever drink the water or submerge your head in the river. The Virgin River has experienced high-levels of cyanobacteria, a toxic algae, in recent years. Learn more, here.

What Gear Do I Need for Hiking The Narrows?

You WILL get wet on this hike. Depending on conditions and how far you hike, you may be wading through water up to your waist. Wear moisture-wicking layers you don’t mind taking a swim in (not jeans or cotton), and don’t forget to bring a warm layer jacket – it gets chilly in the shaded canyon, even in summer. For shoes, it’s best to choose sturdy, closed-toed shoes with a good grip like hiking boots, trail runners, or canyoneering boots. Some hikers opt to wear closed-toe water sandals, but the riverbed is full of small sharp rocks and slippery boulders, so I was glad for the stability and production of real shoes.

Trekking poles will help you keep your balance, and a dry bag will keep your electronics, snacks, and warm layers safe if you take a fall or have to wade through high water.

In colder temps, you may need to wear waterproof pants, or dry suits to protect yourself from the cold water temperatures.

Waterproof gear can be rented from outfitters in Springdale like Zion Outfitter.

Angel’s Landing

A warning sign posted at the entrance to Angels Landing
Carefully consider before committing to Angel’s Landing

No list of the best hikes in Zion would be complete without Angel’s Landing, Zion’s most famous, and infamous, hike. This 4.3 mile, 1,850′ gain strenuous hike is commonly called “The Most Dangerous Hike in America.”

After ascending 21 steep switchbacks to Scout’s Lookout, hikers must climb the final 0.5 miles over a narrow ridge with 1000’+ cliff drops on either side. At times the trail is only a few feet wide and requires the use of anchored chains to climb up and down.

Make no mistake, this is NOT the hike for you if you have any fear of heights, and fatalities do occur. Brave hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of Zion Canyon below.

About Angel’s Landing Permit Reservations : As of April 1, 2022, a permit is required to hike to Angel’s Landing past Scout’s Lookout. A permit is not required to visit Scout’s Lookout, a canyon overlook that does not require chains to access and is a worthy hike in its own right. More info is included on these permits, below, or read everything you need to know about Angel’s Landing Permits and every Zion permit process, here.

Looking for more easy hiking suggestions in Zion? Check out 7 Easy Family-Friendly Hikes in Zion National Park.

Drive the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway

The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway connects Zion Canyon with Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon North Rim via Highway 89. Spend a half-day exploring this magnificent scenic drive, with views of Pine Creek Canyon and Zion’s famous sandstone rock formations. Along the drive, stop and explore the overlooks and short hikes like Grand Arch, Checkerboard Mesa and the Canyon Overlook hike.

There are also dozens of unmarked slot canyons and slickrock hiking routes along this highway. Be careful when exploring these off-trail routes. These routes are unmaintained by the Park service, some require scrambling and wading, and some require technical canyoneering experience.

The 1.1 mile Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel is an engineering marvel. Constructed over 3 years and completed in 1930, the Highway and Tunnel are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Driving the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway – a must-see stop on a Zion National Park itinerary

Enjoy A Stunning Sunset (And Stay for the Stars!)

Watching the sun set over the red rock canyon walls is the perfect way to end your Zion National Park itinerary. As the sun dips low, the orange and red canyon walls glow with incredible vibrant colors. The Canyon Overlook, Pa’rus Trail, and and Watchmen Trails all have spectacular sunset views.

Don’t forget – half the park is after dark. Zion is a certified International Dark Sky Park. The stargazing here is some of the best in the Southwest. Under good conditions we were able to see the milky way from our cabin at Zion Lodge!

Check out the Clear Sky Chart, which forecasts the best conditions for stargazing. And click here for more tips on viewing sunset and stargazing in Zion.

Try Canyoneering

Get up close and personal with Zion’s famous canyons by trying canyoneering. Canyoneering is the sport of exploring and navigating canyons by use of rappelling, rock climbing, and hiking.

There are hundreds of marked and unmarked routes within the Zion area to explore, making Zion one of the best canyoneering destinations in the world.

Not an experienced climber? Several reputable guiding companies offer canyoneering skills classes, whether you’re a true novice or advanced climber looking to expand your skills.

Zion Adventures offers skills classes and guided canyon trips. They even offer a half-day “Ground School” which covers the exact skills and routes you’ll need to explore some of Zion’s most famous backcountry routes, like The Subway, Keyhole, Orderville or Echo Canyon. (NPS does not allow guides to accompany you to backcountry canyons).

Zion Guru and Rock Odysseys (women-owned and operated!) also offer family-friendly and advanced canyoneering classes and guided trips in the area.

Click here to shop Zion National Park Itinerary Guides.
Click here to shop Zion National Park Itinerary Guides.

How Many Days Should I Spend in Zion National Park?

First time visitors should try and spend at least two full days exploring Zion National Park. With two full days, you’ll have time to experience both the Narrows and Angel’s Landing (or another canyon rim hike), as well as drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

When deciding how many days to spend in Zion, think about the major hikes and activities you want to do. I suggest planning at least one full day each for hiking The Narrows, Angel’s Landing, and any other hikes over 5-6 miles in length. If you want to try canyoneering or take a day trip to Bryce Canyon, plan on allocating a full day to each.

Short on time? If you only have one day in Zion, it’s still possible to see some of the best sights and hikes. Check out How to Spend One Epic Day in Zion National Park, here.

If you have three or more days to spend in Zion, you can explore both the Narrows and Zion’s famous canyon hikes, as well as some of Zion’s lesser known trails, spend a night or two backpacking in the red-rock wilderness, or take a day trip to nearby Bryce Canyon National Park.

Planning an Epic Zion National Park Itinerary

No matter if you’re spending one, two, or three plus days in Zion, there are a few important tips I’ve learned from my visits to remember when planning your Zion National Park itinerary.

First, start early. Zion is a very busy park, so to avoid the worst crowds, try and start your day as early as possible. The first shuttle leaves the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at 6 a.m. during peak season.

Zion Canyon Overlook
The views from Zion Canyon Overlook

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to personal vehicles when the Zion Canyon Shuttle is operating (usually late-May to Thanksgiving). That means most visitors will have to use the Shuttle system to access most stops on their itinerary, including Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and Emerald Pools.

Check updated Shuttle schedules here, and learn more about Getting Around Zion, below.

Plan your hardest hikes (Angel’s Landing, Observation Point, the Narrows) first thing in the morning when desert temperatures are at their lowest and crowds are at their smallest.

Don’t forget lunch! Hiking in the desert is hard work, and you’ll want a midday break to relax, re-energize, and avoid the peak crowds during your Zion National Park itinerary. Pack a lunch to enjoy at the Visitor Center or on the grassy area in front of Zion Lodge.

The Castle Dome Cafe at Zion Lodge offers coffee and breakfast pastries in the a.m. and burgers, hot dogs, and french fries for lunch.

If you are staying multiple days outside the Park, consider returning to your hotel in Springdale for a few hours to grab lunch before returning to do some easier hikes in the afternoon.

One Day Zion National Park Itinerary

If you only have one day to visit Zion National Park, you’ll need to make the most of your time! Make sure to start early and prioritize the hikes you really want to do! For a more in-depth look at how to spend just one day in Zion, check out How to Spend One Epic Day in Zion National Park.

Consider this one day Zion National Park itinerary for an action-packed introduction to this Park.

Start your day on the earliest shuttle possible and head directly towards the big hike of your choice. If you are lucky enough to have scored Angel’s Landing permits, you will head to the Grotto Shuttle Stop.

A hiker exploring the Narrows in Zion National Park
Exploring the Narrows is a favorite on any Zion National Park itinerary!

To get to Zion’s famous Narrows hike, take the shuttle all the way to the last stop at the Temple of Sinawava. If you only have time for one hike in Zion National Park, I recommend the Narrows. Not only is hiking upriver a totally unique experience, you’ll avoid the stomach-churning fear (and possible injury) of Angel’s Landing.

It is possible for fit and determined hikers to do both hikes in one day. I would recommend starting with Angel’s Landing (again, beating the crowds and heat is top priority), taking a break to recharge, then hiking the Narrows bottom-up midday.

After finishing your hike, return on the shuttle and enjoy lunch in Springdale, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the visitor center, or grab a burger from the Cafe at Zion Lodge.

In the afternoon, drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to the Canyon Overlook parking area. (There is no shuttle here, a private car is required). Hike the short but super-rewarding Canyon Overlook trail for panoramic views of Zion Canyon as the sun sets on your one day in Zion National Park itinerary.

Two Day Itinerary Zion National Park

With two full days, you’ll have time to experience both the Narrows and Angel’s Landing (or another canyon rim hike), as well as drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Check out this sample two day Zion National Park itinerary that covers the best must-see highlights of Zion National Park.

Day 1: Angel’s Landing & Canyon Overlook

Views of Zion Canyon from Scout's Lookout and Angel's Landing
Unbeatable Views of Zion Canyon from Scout’s Lookout and Angel’s Landing

Don’t have an Angel’s Landing permit? Traveling with kids? Or just don’t love the idea of dangling 1000 feet above the canyon floor? You can still hike the Angel’s Landing trail until Scout’s Lookout, a 3.6 mile round trip hike with 1,200′ elevation gain and great views of the Canyon.

Or, for a longer hike, with arguably even BETTER views than Angels Landing, hike to Observation Point via the East Rim Trail.

To access the trail, take the Zion shuttle to Weeping Rock (Shuttle Stop #7) and climb a grueling series of switchback to the East Rim Trail. After 2,650 feet of total elevation gain, hikers are rewarded with incredible views looking down on Zion Canyon and Angel’s Landing.

After finishing your hike, return on the shuttle and enjoy a well deserved lunch in Springdale, and a quick rest at your hotel or campsite.

If you plan on renting gear for the Narrows tomorrow, now is a good time to pick it up in Springdale. Here you can also get updated information of conditions on the Virgin River and inside the Narrows.

In the afternoon, drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to the Canyon Overlook parking area. (There is no shuttle here, a private car is required). Hike the short but super-rewarding Canyon Overlook trail for panoramic views of Zion Canyon as the sun sets.

Lower Emerald Pools in Zion National Park
Dripping water from Lower Emerald Pools

Day 2: Zion Narrows & Emerald Pools

On day 2, you’ll get up early again to tackle my favorite hike in Zion, The Narrows. Don’t forget to wear sturdy shoes, your quick-drying clothes (no jeans or cotton), bring a waterproof drybag with electronics and warm layers, as well as snacks and plenty of water.

This time, ride the shuttle all the way to the last stop (#9) the Temple of Sinawava. The paved Riverside trail takes you from the Shuttle to the river. Here the wide Zion Canyon narrows significantly until it is just wide enough for the Virgin River to flow through. There is no trail here, just follow the Virgin River up to 5 miles upstream, before turning around.

After finishing your hike, return on the shuttle and enjoy a picnic lunch in front of Zion Lodge or grab a burger and fries from the Castle Dome Cafe.

If you still have the energy, cross the street and over the bridge from the Zion Lodge to access the Lower Emerald Pools Trail. Lower Emerald Pools is an easy 1.5 miles round trip. Middle and Upper Pools is a moderate 2.5 miles round trip. Explore the verdant cascades before returning to your hotel or campsite after day two of your Zion National Park itinerary.

2023 Update: The bridge to access the trail from Zion Lodge / Shuttle Stop #5 is closed indefinitely due to structural issues. Unfortunately, that means there are no easy ways to access this trail while the bridge is closed. To access the Lower Pools trail, bridge access is available from Shuttle Stop #4, Court of the Patriarchs, which adds 3 miles of moderate hiking, and Stop #6, the Grotto, which adds 2 miles of moderate hiking. Check trail updates, here.

Want to take this itinerary to-go? Check out the printable PDF Zion National Park Itinerary Guide now available here!

Click here to shop Zion National Park PDF itinerary guides.
Click here to shop Zion National Park PDF itinerary guides.
The Virgin River and Zion Canyon

Three or More Days in Zion National Park Itinerary

With three or more full days in Zion National Park, you can really explore the highlights of the Park and get to know some more hidden gems of Zion.

For days 1 and 2, follow the two day itinerary outlined above. On your remaining days, consider adding some of the following adventures to your Zion National Park itinerary:

Observation Point:

With 3+ days you’ll have time to explore Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point. We didn’t get a chance to do this hike on our trips yet due to trail closure. (FYI East Zion Adventures now offers a paid shuttle to the East Mesa trailhead!) But the word is that the views are even better than Angel’s Landing!

East Rim Trail is closed until further notice due to a major rockfall. Observation Point can be accessed via a 7.0 mile round trip hike via the East Mesa Trail, located outside the National Park. A 4×4 vehicle is required to make it to the trailhead. East Zion Adventures offers a paid seasonal shuttle to the trailhead.

Canyoneering Classes:

The Zion area is famous as one of the best canyoneering destinations in the world. There are hundreds of marked and unmarked routes within the Zion area to explore on an extended Zion itinerary, if you have the technical skills.

Not an experienced climber? Consider adding a canyoneering class to your Zion National Park itinerary. Several reputable guiding companies offer canyoneering skills classes from half-day introductions to multi-day courses

Zion Adventures offers skills classes and guided canyon trips. Zion Guru and Rock Odysseys (women-owned and operated!) also offer family-friendly and advanced canyoneering classes and guided trips in the area.

Visit Kolob Canyons:

Located about 45 minutes north of Zion Canyon, the Kolob Canyons area is a stunning but seldom visited area of the Park. In fact, only a tiny fraction of visitors to Zion ever make it to the Kolob Canyons District. Drive the 5 mile scenic drive, or take a hike on one of the several trails like Taylor Canyon (5 miles) that lead into a narrow box canyon to a double sandstone arch.

Take a Day Trip to Bryce Canyon National Park:

If you’re spending extended time in Zion, consider taking a day trip to nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. Only 2 hours away along the Zion-Mt.Carmel Scenic Highway, Bryce Canyon is a smaller National Park with a unique attraction!

Bryce Canyon is home to the densest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) on earth. The orange and pink hues of this canyon are magical at sunrise and sunset, and a number of scenic drives and hikes wind through the Park.

For the best experience, head straight to the Sunset Point Parking area, then walk along the paved rim trail to Sunrise Point. Here you can descend into the canyon on the Queens Garden Trail and return to Sunset Point via the Navajo or Wall Street trails for a moderate and magical 3.2 mile hike.

Come back soon! More Bryce Canyon guides are in the works!

The Best Times to Visit Zion National Park

Zion National Park is open all year. During summer, expect scorching hot temperatures and big crowds. The shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall are my favorite times to visit Zion. There are far fewer visitors and generally mild weather.  

Spring in Zion National Park (March – April)

Spring is a popular time to visit Zion. Crowds are especially large during spring break when kids are out of school. Daytime temperatures are in the 60s and 70’s nighttime lows in the 30s.

Pine Creek Canyon and a distant bridge of the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway
Pine Creek Canyon and the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway

Snow and ice are still possible well into spring. When we visited in March we experienced a full snowstorm and ice on Angel’s Landing!

The Zion Canyon shuttle resumes operations in spring, which means you will not be able to drive your own car on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Be aware, that you may not be able to hike the Narrows in spring. Water levels on the Virgin River can get very high. The Park service closes the canyon when the river flow is over 150 cubic feet per second, or when there is a flash flood warning.

If you do plan on hiking the Narrows in spring, be sure to visit one of the outfitters in Springdale to rent waders and canyoneering boots with waterproof socks to keep dry in the cold, deep water.

Summer in Zion National Park (May – September)

Summer is the most popular time to visit Zion National Park. That means you’ll need to book lodging, rental cars, and other reservations as far in advance as possible.

If you plan on visiting Zion between and early September, prepare for VERY hot temperatures and lots of crowds.

During the day, temps regularly soar above 100, and fall to the70s at night. Make sure to stay hydrated and bring plenty of water on hikes.  

Fall in Zion National Park (October – November)

Fall is my favorite time to visit Zion National Park. Daytime temperatures hover around a reasonable 60s, and nighttime temps dip down to the 30s. Visitor numbers also go down after Labor Day, so you’ll be able to enjoy the Park with far fewer crowds.  

Fall is also the best time for hiking in Zion. Water levels in the Narrows are low after a long hot summer, and ice and snow haven’t yet settled on higher elevations like Angel’s Landing.

If you time it right, you’ll also get to see beautiful fall color on the trees in Zion Canyon.

Winter in Zion National Park (December – February)

the Virgin River and Zion Canyon in late Winter
A quiet Zion Canyon in late Winter

Winter in Zion is a quiet and magical time. It can also be cold, wet, and icy. Temperatures range from the 50’s during the day, to below freezing at night.

The Zion Canyon shuttle generally does not run during winter. The Shuttle may run during the holidays, and between Christmas and New Years. When the shuttle is not running you can drive your car directly to the trailhead. But be aware, parking is very limited, so make sure to arrive early.

Ice and snow can cover most hiking trails during winter. Bring appropriate winter hiking gear and plenty of warm layers. Do not attempt Angel’s Landing when ice or snow is present. The Narrows will be very cold – make sure to bring or rent drysuits and winter-appropriate canyoneering gear.

Backpacking Trips in Zion National Park

If you want to experience the more wild and quiet side of Zion National Park, consider a backpacking trip into the vast Zion Wilderness.

Don’t forget, a wilderness or canyoneering permit is required for all overnight backcountry trips, and all canyoneering trips, including day-hiking the Narrows from the top-down. Learn more about wilderness and canyoneering permits here.

The Narrows (Top – Down)

Exploring all 16 miles of The Narrows is the ultimate backcountry adventure in Zion. This strenuous, but non-technical route, can be done as an epic day hike, or multi-day backpacking trip.

Top-down hikers will enter the Canyon via the Chamberlin Ranch, about 1 hour’s drive from Zion Canyon. There is no public transportation to the trailhead. You’ll either need to drive your own car (and find a way back – this hike is one way!) or pay a shuttle in Springdale to drop you off.

Day-hikers will have to complete all 16 miles in one long day. Backpackers are assigned a campsite along the Virgin River, then hike out to the Temple of Sinawava the next day.

Overnight and day-hikers completing the Narrows Top Down both need permits to complete this hike. Learn how to apply for Narrows top-down permits, here.

West Rim Trail

Solitude and epic canyon views make the West Rim Trail one of the best backpacking routes in Zion.

This 14 mile point-to-point trail starts off Lava Point Road, in the open desert and grasslands of the Kolob Terrace area of the Park. The trail travels North-to-South to the edge of Zion Canyon. Here, your solitude will finally be interrupted from other hikers ascending and descending from Angel’s Landing.

There are two natural springs that serve as your water sources on this trail. The springs are generally flowing year-round, but make sure to check with the wilderness desk at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center about spring conditions and water sources before starting your hike.

At 14 miles, you can theoretically hike this as a long day hike. But remember this is a point-to-point hike, so you’ll need 2 cars or to arrange a shuttle from Springdale.

Read up on more wilderness trails in Zion, here.

Angel’s Landing Permits, Wilderness & Canyoneering Permits in Zion

There are 3 types of permits commonly required for visiting Zion National Park:

  • Angel’s Landing Permit
  • Canyoneering Permits, including the Zion Narrows (Top-down) and The Subway (Left Fork of the Virgin River)
  • Wilderness Backpacking Permits

Angel’s Landing Permits

In order to reduce crowding on the dangerous chains scramble section of the trail, Zion National Park started requiring permits for all hikers traveling all the way to Angel’s Landing, as of April 1, 2022.

A permit is required for all hikers traveling beyond “Scout’s Lookout” to Angel’s Landing (aka all “chains” sections). A permit is NOT required to visit Scout’s Lookout (worth the hike even if you don’t have a permit!) or the West Rim Trail.

This map from Zion National Park shows which sections of the Angel’s Landing trail require a permit:

Angel’s Landing permits are issued by 2 different lotteries.

Most lottery permits will be issued through quarterly preseason lotteries. A select number of permits will be issued in daily day-before lotteries.

Angel’s Landing Quarterly Permit Lottery

Most Angel’s Landing permits are issued by the Quarterly Permit lottery. The Quarterly lottery is held 4 times a year, meaning you’ll need to apply for these permits well in advance of your trip.

This chart shows the quarterly permit lottery dates for 2024:

Hiking DatesLottery Application DatesLottery Results Announcement
Dec 1, 2023 – Feb 29, 2024Oct 1 – Oct 20, 2023Oct 25, 2023
Mar 1 – May 31, 2024Jan 1 – Jan 20, 2024Jan 25, 2024
Jun 1 – Aug 31, 2024Apr 1 – Apr 20, 2024Apr 25, 2024
Sep 1 – Nov 31, 2024Jul 1 – Jul 20, 2024Jul 25, 2024
December 1 to February 28, 2025Oct 1 – Oct 20, 2024Oct 25, 2024

Each Quarterly lottery is open for 20 days. You can apply at any time during that window.

To apply to the Angel’s Landing Quarterly Permit Lottery, login in to recreation.gov, and search for Zion National Park. Select the open lottery that covers your hopeful hiking dates. There is a $6 fee for applying, and your application fee covers up to 6 people in your hiking party.

You will get to pick seven ranked days and times or windows of days and times you want to hike.

An email will be sent to you 5 days after the lottery closes letting you know whether or not you received a permit. Winners will be charged $3 per hiker, refundable up to 2 days before your permit date.

A hiker rests next to the chains on Angel's Landing
The chains section of Angel’s Landing – we didn’t make it much further than this!

Angel’s Landing Day-Before Lottery

Didn’t win the Quarterly Lottery? Or maybe you’re trying to plan a last minute trip to Zion? There’s still a chance to climb Angel’s Landing using the Day-Before Lottery.

Day-before lottery applicants should apply on recration.gov between 12:01AM and and 3PM the day before they intend to hike.

Applicants will be notified by email by 4PM, letting them know whether or not they received a permit.

The Narrows, Subway and other Canyoneering Permits

A canyoneering permit is required for explorations of all Zion canyons requiring the use of descending gear or ropes.

A Narrows canyoneering permit or wilderness permit is required for hiking the Narrows “top-down.” A permit is also required for all trips to the Subway (left fork of North Creek) and Mystery Canyon.

In all cases, canyoneering is an inherently dangerous activity that requires specialized equipment and skills. Do not attempt these canyons if you do not have the proper experience.

Guiding companies offer canyoneering skills classes from half-day introductions to multi-day courses. Zion Adventures offers skills classes and guided canyon trips. Zion Guru and Rock Odysseys (women-owned and operated!) also offer family-friendly and advanced canyoneering classes and guided trips in the area.

Depending on what canyon you are hoping to explore, canyoneering permits are made available 2 months, 1 month, or 7 days in advance. If you’re interested in exploring Zion’s incredible slot canyons and backcountry, learn more about Zion National Park Permits & Reservations: Everything You Need to Know

A hiker resting on a cliff in ion National Park.
After many trips to Zion National Park – I never tire of these views!

Backpacking Wilderness Permits in Zion

All overnight trips into the Zion wilderness require an overnight wilderness permit. Half of all wilderness campsites are available to reserve in advance, on recreation.gov. The rest are issued on a first-come first-served basis at the Wilderness Permit Desk in Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Learn more about how to obtain Backpacking Wilderness permits in Zion, here.

Getting to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah, near the borders of Arizona and Nevada. This area is not exactly remote compared to other Parks, but you will need to plan out your transportation as part of your Zion National Park itinerary.

This section covers the basics of getting to Zion National Park and how to get around Zion. For more details, check out this ultimate in-depth guide to the closest airports, driving directions, and

Ready to plan your trip to Zion National Park? Learn about the closest airports, driving directions, and more in my in-depth guide, here: Closest Airport To Zion National Park: How To Get To Utah’s Best National Park

Zion National park entrance sign
The east entrance to Zion National Park from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

Zion National Park is not easily accessible by public transportation. That means visitors to Zion will want to drive to the Park or fly into a nearby airport and rent a car. The nearest airport to Zion is St. George Regional Airport.

This map shows the nearest roads, major towns, and other Parks near Zion National Park.

Courtesy of NPS

The closest town to Zion is the city of Springdale, Utah. There are many hotels, restaurants, shops, and gear outfitters in town. Springdale is located directly outside the southern entrance to Zion Canyon, on Utah Scenic Byway 9 / Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway / Zion Park Blvd.

A free shuttle runs from Springdale to the Visitor Center inside Zion National Park. Learn more about the Springdale shuttle and Zion Canyon shuttle in the “Getting Round Zion National Park” section, below.

Flying to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is accessible from several regional airports and a few hours from major international airports.

The best airport to get to Zion is Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airpot. LAS is the best combination of inexpensive flights from major airlines and a reasonable driving distance from the Park.

This chart shows the approximate distance to the Zion Visitor Center outside Springdale, Utah.

AirportDistance
St. George Regional Airport (SGU)47 mi / 1 Hour
Cedar City Regional Airport (CDC)60 mi / 1 Hour
Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)*172 mi / 3 Hours
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)315 mi / 5 Hours
*LAS is in Pacific Time Zone, 1 hour behind Utah’s Mountain Time

Driving to Zion National Park

The Park is bordered by Utah Scenic Byway 9, which runs through the southern portion of the park to Zion Canyon, and Interstate 15, which runs along the western edge of the Park.

Zion Canyon is only accessible from Utah Scenic Byway 9. The Kolob Canyon area is only accessible from Interstate 15.

Zion is a relatively accessible Park, and is located within a day’s drive of many major cities and National Parks. This chart shows the approximate driving times to the Zion Visitor Center outside Springdale, Utah.

Distance
St. George, Utah47 mi / 1 Hour
Bryce Canyon National Park85 mi / 2 Hours
Las Vegas, NV172 mi / 3 Hours
Page, AZ115 mi / 2.5 Hours
Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim)150 mi / 3 Hours
Salt Lake City, UT315 mi / 5 Hours

Getting Around Zion National Park

There are a couple of important things to know about getting around when planning your Zion National Park itinerary. This section covers how and when to use the Zion Canyon Shuttle, biking around Zion, as well as shuttles into the Park from Springdale, and vehicle restrictions on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.

Zion Canyon Shuttle

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private cars when the Zion Canyon Shuttle is running.

The shuttle typically operates daily from March through November, as well as during the December holidays. That means you’ll likely be using the Shuttle when visiting most of your stops on this Zion National Park itinerary.

Guests of the Zion Lodge can drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in order to access the Lodge.

The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion National Park Visitor Center with trailheads and sights along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Most visitors board at the Visitor Center. Guests staying at the Zion Lodge can also board the bus to go up canyon from the Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop (#5).

Stops include: The Zion Canyon Visitor Center (Stop #1); the Zion Human History Museum (#2); Canyon Junction (#3); Court of the Patriarchs (#4); Zion Lodge (#5) – stop here for the Emerald Pools; The Grotto (#6) – stop here for Angel’s Landing; Weeping Rock (#7); Big Bend (#8); and The Temple of Sinawava (#9), stop here for the Narrows.

To board the shuttle, park at the visitor center (arrive early!) or take the free Sprindgale Shuttle.

Springdale Shuttle

The Springdale Shuttle runs through the town of Springdale and provides service to Zion’s pedestrian and bike entrance, a short walk from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

This Shuttle is free to use and runs April – October.

The Springdale line makes 9 stops along Zion Park Blvd (Utah Scenic Byway 9) throughout the town of Springdale. Most stops are located at popular hotels and restaurants. If you are within walking distance of the main road through town, Zion Park Blvd, chances are there is a Shuttle stop within easy walking distance.

If you aren’t staying in Springdale, you can park in one of the several paid parking lots around town and walk to the nearest shuttle stop.

Bike Riding and eBike Rentals in Zion

Want to skip the crowded shuttle line? During busy times wait times to board the shuttle from the Zion Visitor Center can be over an hour! During my last visit to Zion in April, I heard that visitors were waiting over 2 hours to get on the shuttle bus!

The solution? Rent an ebike! Bicycles and Class 1 eBikes (aka pedal assist bikes) are permitted on all paved roads and the Pa’rus Trail inside Zion National Park.

On an eBike you’ll be able to cruise from Springdale right into Zion without waiting for the Shuttle Line . To enter the park, you’ll use the Pedestrian / Bicycle Entrance next to Zion Canyon Brew Pub and Zion Outfitters.

It’s 8 miles from the Pedestrian Entrance to the end of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive at the Temple of Sinawava (aka the entrance to the Narrows hike). All shuttle stops and major trailheads have bike racks, so you can get off and explore at your own pace. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, deer, and the elusive (and very endangered) California Condor – we saw 4 on our bike trip!

There are tons of eBike and regular bicycle rentals throughout Springdale. I used Greater Zion eBikes on our visit and loved them. If you’ve never used an eBike before (don’t worry, neither had I), it’s not as scary as it looks. Greater Zion eBikes will walk you through everything you need to know, plus help you plan your route through Zion.

Learn more about biking in Zion, here.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway Vehicle Restrictions

A hiker viewing Checkerboard Mesa from Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway in winter.
Checkerboard Mesa from Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

If you’re driving an RV or towing a camper there are important things you need to know about driving during your Zion National Park itinerary.

The narrow and winding Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel was built well before modern RV’s and trailers became commonly used recreation vehicles. A 1989 study found that large vehicles cannot navigate the Tunnel without crossing the double yellow line, leading to several accidents and near-misses.

As a result, all large vehicles must be escorted through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel by an NPS Ranger. The ranger escort will temporarily limit tunnel traffic to one-way, to ensure safe passage.

A $15 tunnel permit is required to drive all vehicles over 7 feet 10 inches (2.4 meters) in width and/or 11 feet 4 inches (3.4 meters) in height or larger through the tunnel.

Large vehicle permit holders are only permitted to drive the Tunnel during posted seasonal hours. A ranger will assist oversized vehicles in safely navigating the narrow, winding tunnel. Learn more about Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel permits, here.

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

There are tons of options to consider when deciding where to stay during your Zion National Park itinerary. From rustic campgrounds, glamping tents, chain hotels to classic National Park lodges, there are dozens of accommodations available when staying in Zion.

Be aware, reservations during the peak season can book up months to a year in advance (especially for Zion Lodge).

Lodging Inside the Park

In my experience, staying at the Zion Lodge inside the Park is the best option if you really want to maximize your time inside the Park.

Staying inside the Park means you don’t have to battle long lines at the entrance station and can more easily get on an early shuttle to popular trailheads like the Grotto and Temple of Sinawava.

The Zion Lodge, like most National Park lodges, is fairly rustic but in a superb location. Rooms are comfortable and conveniently located. Wi-fi and cell service are both unreliable at the Lodge, so plan on unplugging!

The Red Rock dining room is open year round breakfast – dinner. The seasonal Castle Dome Café offers to-go food for breakfast and lunch.

Book your stay at the Zion Lodge, here.

Views of the red rock formations of Zion National park

Campgrounds Inside Zion National Park

There are two established campgrounds inside Zion Canyon. Both tents are RV spots are available at both campgrounds. All campgrounds include drinking water, fire pits, flush toilets, and dump stations.

The Watchman Campground is open year round and located next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Reservations are required and can be booked 6 months in advance.

The South Campground is located just south of the Visitor Center along the Pa’rus Trail and Virgin River. Reservations are available 2 weeks in advance.

The Lava Point Campground is located in the Kolob Canyons area of the Park, about 1 hour driving distance from Zion Canyon.

There are no showers or laundry services inside Zion. Both services can be found at retailers in Springdale.

Book Zion campgrounds on Recreation.gov, here.

Lodging Outside Zion National Park

Most visitors stay in the town of Springdale, which is located directly outside the Zion Canyon park entrance.

In Springdale, there are dozens of chain and independent hotels. Prices range from “budget” to luxury – but even the budget options may still cost a pretty penny in peak seasons.

The Springhill Suites by Marriott (Shuttle Stop #6) has particularly stunning views of the red rock formations, plus a pool and free breakfast. Other options include, The Best Western Plus (2.5 stars, free wifi, pools & breakfast) the Cliffrose Inn & Suites (4 Star luxury), or the budget-minded Bumbleberry Inn in downtown Springdale.

Explore more lodging near Zion National Park, here.

Click here to shop Zion National Park Itinerary Guides.
Click here to shop Zion National Park Itinerary Guides.

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Joshua Tree: The Perfect Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

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Yosemite: Epic Yosemite 2 Day Itinerary – How to Spend 2 Perfect Days in Yosemite

National Parks: Get the Ultimate National Parks Planning Guide (for free!) sent to your inbox, full of important planning information, printable packing lists, and the best things to do in all 63 National Parks.

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