Buttes, canyons, mesas, monoliths, natural arches, mountains, rivers, and slot canyons dominate the landscape of the American Southwest. Zion National Park contains many extraordinary features, making it a perfect destination for your next national park trip.
Whether it’s already on your itinerary or not, many potential park-goers wonder when is the best time to visit Zion National Park.
One of the most important factors is you and your traveling companions. Are you bringing along two toddlers or adventuring with kayaking experts? How you enjoy the park will affect the best time to visit Zion National Park.
We have recommendations of all sorts, from the best times for an affordable trip to when you should reconsider the timing of your national park vacation.
Why You Should Visit Zion National Park
The biggest draw to Zion National Park is the jutting dramatic landscape of stone formed over millions of years. Look to the tall cliffs in this park to glimpse how the region has changed over time through the colorful layers of sediment.
Traversing this rugged landscape can be challenging, and for thrill-seekers, the park offers expert-level kayaking, rock climbing, and canyoneering for those wanting more.
If you’re hoping for a more easygoing hike, Zion has numerous options. Many visitors come to the park specifically for birdwatching, but other types of wildlife live here, too.
Overall Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
Although it attracts many visitors all year long, October is our pick for the best time to visit Zion National Park overall.
We recommend planning a trip earlier in the month for the best chance at warmer weather and a higher chance of the park being less busy. October visitors to Zion take advantage of the free shuttle system running through the park.
The shuttle operates from spring to fall, taking visitors down into Zion Canyon. The shuttle, which is the only way into the canyon most of the year, makes multiple stops, with nine trails to explore on this side of the park.
Exploring the Virgin River is safer this time of year.
Flash flooding most commonly occurs during the summer and early fall. October is a safe bet for those hoping to avoid dangerous flooding situations, but always check conditions before hiking along the river.
Cheapest Time to Visit Zion National Park
For the cheapest trip to Zion National Park, plan a trip sometime in winter, at least a week away from any major holidays.
January tends to see a decrease in travel, so airfare prices usually go down. Buy plane tickets at the end of the month and aim for Wednesday or later in the week to get the best-priced tickets.
Nearby accommodations lower their prices during this slower period. This includes the Zion Lodge inside the park, which offers rooms for significantly less than in the summer.
Several campgrounds in the national park provide affordable options year-round. Getting into the park is the same low cost at any time of year.
Weekly passes for individual vehicles are $35, valid for seven days, and cover everyone traveling inside. If you live nearby Zion or plan on visiting more than twice during the year, consider buying an annual pass for $70.
Least Busy Time to Visit Zion National Park
By the numbers, the least busy time to visit this national park is January. However, the popularity of Zion National Park, and the relatively warm climate, make this park active year-round.
Traveling to the park during the winter offers some unique opportunities that coming mid-summer doesn’t. January happens to be one of the cheaper times to travel, and visitors can also drive into the canyon.
Road closures still occur when parking lots are full, but there’s a good chance you can park right next to the trailhead at this time of year. Visitors seeking a little less congestion explore the northern Kolob Canyons region of the park.
The park’s northern area has a separate entrance and isn’t as popular as the Zion Canyon area. The hidden gem of Zion hosts three trails, one of which leads to one of the largest freestanding arches in the world, the Kolob Arch.
Worst Time to Visit Zion National Park
In our experience, the worst time to visit Zion National Park is July. The average high sits right at 100°, which is fairly hot for many hiking activities.
July marks the start of monsoon season, which can cause flashing flooding in the park. Even if you can handle the heat, this is the month when the park is most busy. Expect the park to be packed, especially with families, since kids are out of school.
We’re not saying you’ll have a lousy time visiting this park in July.
It’s simply hotter and more congested during this month. Many people take advantage of the hot weather to explore The Narrows. The trail up river has the warmest water during this time.
Things to Consider
Deciding the best time to visit Zion National Park has a lot to do with your preferences and what you’re looking for out of a vacation. The cheapest vacation in winter might cramp your style with cold conditions while you’re trying to explore the Virgin River.
Alternatively, a mid-summer trip might overwhelm some visitors with extreme heat and crowded attractions.
If you’re not sure when the best time to visit Zion National Park is for you, consider these factors before creating your itinerary.
- Think about what you like to do in national parks. Certain activities are seasonal inside Zion National Park, and many are dependent on weather. River trips are only available when the river flows more than 150 cubic feet per second. Getting the most out of a kayaking trip would meaning planning to arrive in spring when water levels are highest — research what you’d like to do and when the safest time to participate in your preferred activity.
- Check your budget. Cost is the number one consideration for many travelers when planning a vacation — research prices before heading out. Look for cost-friendly options like camping and consider traveling out of season for lower prices. If you’re looking for a low-budget Zion adventure, consider the winter months and avoid holidays.
- Consider your comfort level. Something to weigh alongside the budget in the planning phase is your comfort level. Camping may be the least expensive option, but not everyone can handle ground sleeping. Think about the basic level of comfort you’d like to have on your trip and plan accordingly.
- Prepare for your safety. No matter the time of year you travel, you’ll want to plan for your safety. Each season brings different safety concerns, while other dangers are present year-round. Remember, choose activities within your skill level to prevent putting yourself in danger when hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, or canyoneering. If you need help deciding what activities are safe for your group, ask a park ranger.
Safety in Zion National Park
When traveling to the park is safety. In national parks, you’re responsible for your safety. Check the weather and conditions before heading to Zion.
Here are some of the most common safety concerns in Zion:
- Lightning: Keep an eye out for thunderstorms when visiting during the summer monsoon season.
- Flash Floods: Flash floods happen at all times of year, whenever there’s heavy rain but are most common in the summer months.
- Steep Cliffs: Many trails in the park traverse steep areas where falls can be fatal. Prepare by wearing proper footwear, staying on the trail, and picking hiking within your skill level.
- Dehydration: Don’t forget your water! This park is hot most of the year, so staying hydrated is crucial. Only drink treated water in the park.
- Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke: Stop if you start to feel queasy or faint on your hike. You may be experiencing heat exhaustion. Rest, drink water, and eat preferably in the shade. Left untreated, heat exhaustion escalates to heat stroke, which requires immediate care.
- Hypothermia: It’s as dangerous for your body to get too cold as it gets too hot. Hypothermia is most likely to occur when your body is wet — avoid this by eating high-energy food and wearing fast-drying materials.
- Animal-transmitted Diseases: Some animals in the park carry diseases that can spread to humans. Give wild creatures their space and never feed them.
- Rockfall: Falling rocks occur at times of year within the park. To avoid this hazard, check for area closures and stay alert on the trails. If you see or hear rockfall, move away from the cliff if possible. Otherwise, shelter under the largest nearby boulder.
Hiking in Zion National Park
Since hiking is one of the most popular activities, we wanted to give you a brief overview of the trails available in the Zion Canyon area of the park. We’ve organized these by difficulty, but other factors contribute to how challenging the hike will be during your visit.
- Pa’rus Trail: A fully paved trail that takes about 2 hours to travel along the Virgin River.
- The Grotto Trail: A mile-long trail connecting the Grotto and Zion Lodge.
- Lower Emerald Pool Trail: A paved trail leading to Lower Emerald Pool and waterfalls just over a mile long.
- Riverside Walk: A partially paved trail along the Virgin River through the bottom of the canyon spanning over two miles.
- Watchman Trail: A moderately challenging three-mile hike to a viewpoint to see many of the park’s most notable features.
- Sand Bench Trail: This trail passes through the canyon in an area of deep sand and very few shady spots for nearly eight miles.
- Kayenta Trail: A two-mile trail heading to the Emerald Pools that is slightly challenging.
- Middle Emerald Pool Trail: Another moderately challenging two-mile trail to the Emerald Pools area of the park.
- Scout Lookout via West Rim Trail: An extremely challenging trek with an elevation change of around 1,000 feet over four miles long. Hikers can continue to the Angels Landing summit from this trail, but a permit to hike in this area is required.
- The Narrows: Hike in and hike out through the Narrows. This route is incredibly challenging because it involves wading, walking, and swimming. Hikers can follow this trail nine miles up river.
Frequently Asked Questions
Looking for an answer we didn’t get to? Check out our list of frequently asked questions about Zion National Park.
When should you not go to Zion National Park?
Starting in July and continuing through September, Zion experiences the monsoon season. These periods of intense rain cause flash floods. Visitors don’t have to avoid the whole monsoon season, but it might be good to stick to the high ground during times of expected flash floods.
Check the park’s website for alerts about weather and other safety concerns in the national park.
Weather in the park can be volatile, so check for closures and dangers before heading out. The National Park Service lets people know what areas will be safe for your visit.
How many days do you need for Zion National Park?
How many days you spend in Zion National Park depends on what you want to see and do while inside the park. If you’re an avid hiker, you might want to spend up to a week in the park traversing challenging trails.
A three or four-day trip might work best if you’re just looking to see the highlights. A one-day tour of the park is possible, but you probably won’t see everything the park offers. We recommend taking at least two days in this unique national park.
What is the busiest time of year in Zion?
Zion National Park hosts lots of visitors year-round. The busiest times range from March through November. The park sees a significant rise in visitors during holidays and when kids aren’t in school.
Can I drive through Zion National Park?
Visitors can drive through Zion National Park on the Mount Carmel Highway at any time of year. However, to get the most out of a trip to Zion, you’ll probably want to check out Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
This road only opens for guests to drive in the winter, but the park provides a shuttle service spring through fall for people to access the canyon’s stunning sights and trailheads.
Where do you fly into Zion National Park?
Most visitors fly into Las Vegas at the closest major airport, Harry Reid International. Flights to Vegas are some of the most affordable, making it a popular choice for travelers. From here, Zion National Park is 163 miles to the north.
Alternatively, people fly into Salt Lake City and head south to Zion National Park. This route is nearly twice as long, but some people find it worth the trouble to avoid Las Vegas’ traffic and population density.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?
From this article, we’ve learned that the best time depends on what you want out of your trip to Zion! If you’re looking for a cheaper vacation during a less busy time, aim for January. If you love people visit in July when the park gets the most visitors.
The best time to visit Zion National Park is whatever time works best for you! We hope our suggestions help you plan your next great vacation, no matter your preferences. There are many great times of year to explore this beautiful park. Happy travels!