The best time to visit Zion National Park
When is the best time to visit Zion National Park? That is a question that I get asked a lot and I must say, it's a hard one to answer. In truth, I think any time is a great time to visit Zion but with any outdoor destination, there are things you need to think about and prepare for so that you can have the best time possible.
Visiting Zion in The Summer (May-September)
Visiting Zion in the Summer is when you are going to have to work around the most crowds and also when the heat is going to be the most intense but I would never tell anyone not to visit in the summer. In my opinion, summer is when Zion is at her most beautiful. Everything is so green and lush in the canyon and if you like water, well this is the best time to play in the Virgin River.
To avoid the crowds make sure to get out first thing in the morning. Never, never, never try to get on the shuttles anytime after 8:00 am if you want to avoid crowds and lines to get on the shuttles. The early start time is so worth it you guys! Having that little bit of solitude in the mornings is priceless. If you are hiking one of the more popular trails like Angels Landing or The Narrows I suggest you line up for the shuttles at 6:00 am.
Click here to view the Zion shuttle schedule.
A few of my favorite hikes to beat the crowds in Zion are Lower Pine Creek trail, Sand Bench Loop trail, East Mesa trail, or Clear Creek. Clear Creek isn't an actual hiking trail but you can turn it into one pretty easily by walking along the dry stream bed for miles.
Another way to beat the crowds in the summer is by entering the park in the later part of the day. By 3:00 pm the lines for the shuttle have usually died down and visitors have started heading back to their hotels and campsites for the day. Stay in the park until sunset or even after with a headlamp. Evenings in Zion are magical. The shuttles usually go as late as 9 pm and if you are on the east side of Zion you can explore in the dark as long as you like.
Heading out first thing in the morning or later in the day is also a great way to beat the heat. Bring more than enough water and wear light breathable clothing. Hiking along a stream or river is my favorite way to hike in the summer. Riverside Walk/The Narrows is by far the best hike in Zion to beat the summer heat. It's crowded though so getting out first thing in the morning is a must.
Visiting Zion in Spring/Fall (Oct-Nov & March-April)
The great thing about visiting Zion in the spring or fall is that you won't have to deal with the intense heat or cold and the crowds won't be quite as bad. I still suggest getting out first thing in the morning but it will be harder to stay in the park later in the day since the days aren't quite as long as in the summer.
Dressing in layers is a must in the spring and fall. Mornings and evenings can get pretty cold but the days usually warm up nicely so having layers to peel off when it starts to warm up is essential.
Be aware of the shuttle schedule when you are visiting. In the offseason, the shuttles shut down or run on a reduced schedule. I'm hoping this year that the shuttles go longer and start earlier. It may seem like a luxury to be able to drive your car into the canyon but in reality, it isn't. Parking in the canyon is extremely limited and it turns into a mess really fast. When parking reaches capacity the canyon gets shut down and traffic turns into a disaster. If you are visiting on a weekend or holiday and the shuttles have limited service either avoid the canyon altogether or go in and get parking at the crack of dawn.
Visiting Zion in the Winter (Dec-Feb)
Visiting Zion in the winter is when you will have to deal with the least amount of crowds (Except for over Thanksgiving breatk and Christmas/New Years see below), but the temps can get pretty cold, and you may have to deal with snowy or icy conditions. The trails can also get pretty muddy. During this time it is essential to have the proper gear and warm clothing. Some great winter hikes include Watchman Trail, Riverside Walk, and Pa'Rus Trail.
For sightseeing, photography, and cold weather hiking visiting Zion in the winter is quite spectacular. Be aware that during the winter season the shuttles are typically not running and many of the restaurants and shops in Springdale tend to close down.
When To Not Visit Zion
I don't usually tell people not to visit Zion but there are certain times of the year that Zion can get pretty crowded. Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, Thanksgiving holiday (if the weather is nice) and Christmas holiday (if the weather is nice) are times when Zion reaches max capacity and you are really going to have to work around the crowds..
If you are going to be in Southern Utah during these times try visiting more off the beaten path spots like Snow Canyon State Park, Kanab Ut, Yant Flat, and Red Cliffs Reserve.