The Best (and Worst) Time to Visit Zion National Park
There are some places in the U.S. that are just a bit more jaw-dropping than the rest — corners of the country with landscapes that have us reaching for our phones and habitats that support life not found just anywhere.
One of these magical places is Zion National Park. Utah's first and oldest national park, Zion encompasses 232 square miles and boasts narrow sandstone canyons, soaring red cliffs, and pockets of lush vegetation in otherwise desert-like terrain. Thanks to the park's 5,000 feet of elevation change — from Coalpits Wash at 3,666 feet to Horse Ranch Mountain at 8,726 feet — the terrain is varied, offering something for everyone, including serious rock climbers and casual day hikers.
But the varied elevation also means the park sees drastic weather changes, from sun-scorched afternoons to summer thunderstorms and cold winter nights. In addition to weather, visitors have to consider the park's apparent popularity; Zion saw four and a half million tourists in 2019, making it the fourth most-visited national park. These factors make deciding when to go crucial. And since the best time to visit Zion National Park will be different for everyone, we've gathered the data, so you can make that decision for yourself.
The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park for Avoiding the Crowds
Zion National Park is open year-round, but a whopping 70% of visitors come between April and September. If you have the flexibility, planning a trip during the park's off-peak months of October through March will ensure you have to deal with fewer view-blocking selfie sticks and crowded hiking trails.
If you're really looking for a quiet escape, January is the best time to avoid the crowds. The park, which sees 557,200 visitors during the July peak, historically only gets around 91,562 people in this quiet winter month. And while it may be the middle of winter, the daily temperatures often reach a surprisingly warm 52 degrees — the perfect weather for exploring the trails with a light jacket.
The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park for Hiking the Narrows
The Narrows is easily one of the park's most popular hikes, and for good reason — this truly narrow section of Zion Canyon has neck-breaking, thousand-foot-tall walls split by a coursing river. You can get a sense of the area by walking along the paved and wheelchair-accessible Riverside Walk, but for a true Narrows experience, you'll want to throw on a pair of waterproof shoes (or shoes you don't mind getting wet) and walk up the Virgin River, which takes you further into the canyon.
Because you'll be walking up the river, the Narrows is often closed during the spring, when snowmelt causes the river to rise dramatically. And in the fall and winter, the water can be cold. Because of this, people tend to hike the Narrows in late spring, once water levels have evened out, and summer, when the water is warmer.
The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park for Canyoneering
Due to its narrow canyons and numerous waterways, Zion National Park has become one of the country's premier canyoneering destinations — an activity that requires scrambling, climbing, and swimming up, down, and through canyons, often with the aid of ropes.
Beginners can book a tour into the lower end of the Narrows, while more experienced visitors should head to the Subway or Orderville Canyon. You can go canyoneering in Zion year-round, but certain routes will be limited. The most comfortable time to try out the activity is during the summer, when the river levels are manageable and the water is warm. Keep in mind that canyoneering permits have to be reserved online up to three months in advance.
The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park for Camping
There's nothing like waking up in the beauty of Zion National Park, which is likely why camping is one of the park's most popular activities. That being said, you'll want to make reservations early, since Zion has just three campgrounds — South, Watchman, and Lava Point — and they fill up fast.
Typically, South and Watchman Campgrounds, which are in Zion Canyon, are open from March to October, while Lava Point Campground, the more primitive camping option off Kolob Terrace Road, is open May through September. As long as you have appropriate camping gear (or a camper or RV), you can come anytime during the window, although those who want to avoid the heat might want to skip a visit in July.
The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park for Hiking Angels Landing
There's a reason why hiking Angels Landing is a popular bucket list item. The last part of the trail is cut into solid rock and leads hikers up a narrow, 1,488-foot-tall rock formation, also known as Angels Landing. The nearly five-and-a-half-mile round-trip hike can be done year-round, but should only be attempted in fair weather. Most people tackle this hike in the summer months, but you'll want to be mindful of the weather — thunderstorms and extreme heat are common, especially in July and August.
The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park for Driving the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
If all you want is to check out the renowned Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and hop in and out of the car at your own leisure, you'll want to visit the park before the holidays in December or in January and February — the only time private vehicles are allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
During the rest of the year, you can still see the sights, but you'll just have to do it from one of the park shuttles, which run daily from spring to late November, before picking up again for the winter holiday.
The Best Months to Visit Zion National Park for Good Weather
Due to its unique climate and elevation changes, Zion National Park has a wide range of weather conditions throughout the year. July is the hottest time to visit (daily temperatures can reach a maximum of 100 degrees), while January tends to be the coldest month. Thunderstorms are more common in July and August, and the winter months see the most precipitation, including snow.
For park accessibility, summer is hard to beat — Zion's operating hours are longer and the park is typically fully open and accessible. But this is also when you'll see crowds; July is historically the busiest month at Zion. For access to most — if not all — of the park without the summer crowds, visiting during the fall months (October and early November) may be your best bet. The temperature can fluctuate as the weather shifts toward winter, but the fall colors can be stunning and there's nothing an extra layer won't fix.