A visit to Zion National Park in Winter can be a magical experience. In the winter months, Zion is often a place of solitude and beauty with less visitors resulting in quieter trails and less expensive accommodation. The trade off is cooler temperatures and the prospect of weather related trail closures.
So is a trip to Zion National Park in Winter worth it? Having recently visited Zion National Park in Winter we wanted to share our experience and our tips for visiting Zion in Winter.
Where to stay in Zion
- Camping: There are two campsites, Watchman Campground and South Campground, within the park. Both campsites are located near the visitors center at the South entrance. At the Watchman sites are released for reservation on a 6 month rolling basis while in the South Campground it is on a 14 day rolling basis.
- Zion Lodge: located deep within the park the historic lodge offers a mix of cabins and hotel rooms. We’ve stayed in the Lodge and it’s a nice traditional option which really allows you to immerse yourself in the park. The lodge fills up well in advance so it’s worth checking your dates well in advance of your trip. We highly recommend staying here as its an incredible location – check prices here!
With limited accommodation in the park itself visitors to Zion typically stay in Springdale, a small town next to the south entrance. The Springdale Shuttle connects Springdale to the Zion Visitors Center and the Zion Shuttle so it is just as easy to stay adjacent to Zion and there are more food options in the town.
- Cable Mountain Lodge: great selection of family friendly rooms, excellent food and an outdoor pool overlooked by the Zion Watchman! Its location, adjacent to the Zion Visitors Center, means you can hop on the park shuttle bus and reach any of the trails within minutes. Our Zion favorite – check prices now!
- Flanigan’s Inn: just 10 minutes walk from the Zion entrance and located on a Springdale Shuttle stop, Flanigan’s Inn is a reasonably priced option with good sized clean rooms, a pool and a hot tub – check prices now!
Zion National Park Winter Weather
Zion winters tend to be relatively mild.
- Temperatures: On average, daytime temperatures tend to reach the 50’s °F from November through February. Freezing temperatures are common at night, with an average temperature in the low 20’s °F during the same period.
- Rain: The winter rains in Zion tend to be heavier than in summer, and on average it rains on 6 or 7 days during the winter months.
- Snow: Zion’s low elevation means that snow doesn’t reach the canyon often and, when it does, it clears quite quickly. It’s common to see snow on the higher elevation peaks.
- Ice: due to the freezing night temperatures, the more shaded Zion trails tend to be icy in winter. Popular trails including Angels Landing, Weeping Rock, Observation Point and the Emerald Pools are all prone to icy sections during the winter months.
Zion National Park in Winter tip: Having spent our winters between Ireland and New York, we found the weather in Zion to be quite pleasant during our winter visit!
Zion National Park Trails in Winter
The most popular Zion trails are relatively protected in winter due to the low elevation of the Zion Canyon. Although the trails can be icy, they rarely close as a result of the winter weather conditions and many of the best hikes in Zion remain open.
Angels Landing, the Narrows and the Kolob Canyon section are the most impacted due to winter weather:
Angels Landing is one of the most exhilarating and stunning hike in Zion. We were very lucky to experience perfect, dry conditions during our visit to Zion in Winter and were able to make the hike for sunrise.
If conditions are wet or icy, a possibility during the winter months, the Angels Landing hike becomes significantly more challenging and, as a result, it can be very dangerous. The sandstone trail is extremely slippery when wet and even more so when icy. If Angels Landing is on your Zion wish list then you might want to allow a few days in Zion and monitor the forecasts during your visit. Had conditions been wet or icy during our visit there was no way we would have attempted the hike.
If you are not a fan of the cold, it’s pretty safe to say that the Narrows Hike is much more fun in the summer months!
While it’s possible to do the Narrows hike during the winter months, you will need to hire winter gear such as dry suits as the water is too cold to walk through. These can be rented from the outdoor stores in Springdale either on the day of your hike or the previous evening.
Timber Creek Overlook (Kolob Canyons)
Timber Creek Overlook is located in the Kolob Canyon section of Zion. It’s much less visited than the Zion Canyon section of the park. The higher altitude of the Kolob Canyons section mean that snow fall often lingers and roads can be closed as a result.
Visiting Zion National Park in Winter
Some things to consider about visiting Zion in Winter:
The park is less crowded in Winter
With the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas week, the crowds are significantly lower in Zion National Park during the winter months.
As a result, the trails are noticeably less busy and there were times when we had large sections all to ourselves. On our recent winter visit we were able to take a stroller on the Riverside Walk and Dave encountered very little traffic after making an early start on the Angels Landing trail.
It’s a very different experience in the summer months, when up to 20,000 visitors flock to the park every day with many focusing on the most popular trails. We’ve encountered huge queues on Angels Landing, congestion on the Riverside Walk and long waits for parking spaces at the Canyon Overlook Trail.
Outside of these months the crowds tend to be at their lowest (with the exception of major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. We visited Zion in late November and the park was very quiet. There were times when we had sections of trails all to ourselves.
Zion National Park in Winter tip: in 2019, 170,000 people visited the park in December and around 100,000 in each of January and February. In comparison, May through to September see crowds close to or in excess of 500,000 each month.
Driving is permitted in Zion through most of Winter
Most of Zion’s hikes are accessible from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a road which runs through the valley floor of Zion Canyon.
For most of the year, a free shuttle bus service operates along the Zion Scenic Drive, stopping at nine locations close to various trails. The route begins at the Zion Visitors Center and terminates at the Temple of Sinawava where the Narrows and Riverside Trails are accessed. Buses are frequent and run every few minutes.
Visitors must use the shuttle bus when it is in operation and private vehicles are not permitted on the Zion Scenic Drive. The only exception is guests of Zion Lodge, who are permitted to drive only as far as the Lodge itself.
The shuttle bus is typically suspended from early December to mid February and visitors are permitted to drive through the park instead. The only exception is Christmas week when crowds are high.
Being able to drive in the park is a nice perk of visiting Zion in Winter. There is no waiting in line for shuttles which is especially nice when the temperatures are cooler. However, you will have to make sure to arrive early as the park closes the scenic drive when all available parking is full.
Zion National Park in winter tip: in 2019 the shuttles were suspended from December 2 to December 21 and January 1 to February 15
Winter Clothing and Gear
In order to really enjoy Zion and stay warm in the winter months you are going to need to pack some additional gear. Lots of layered clothing for hikes and a warm jacket for hikes are a must.
We also highly recommend throwing a pair of YakTrax in your day bag. Yak Trax are hiking spikes that you clip onto your hiking trainers or boots and give you extra grip on wet or icy ground. We used ours on all our winter hikes in Utah – check prices now!
With the shorter days its also worth having a head torch in your bag in case you get caught out after dark. We use this USB rechargeable one and it comes everywhere with us – check prices now!
The shorter daylight hours of the winter months mean you won’t be able to cover as many miles compared with the long summer days. This may mean you’ll need to budget extra days in Zion if you wish to take in all the sights and hikes.
Winter is one of the best times of the year for photography in Zion National Park. If you’re lucky enough to visit when Zion gets snow the images of the white snow covering the iconic red rock walls makes for amazing images. The rivers and waterfalls are abundant with water and the partly cloudy skies during the winter months also make for great photography conditions.
Tips for visiting Zion in Winter
- Dress appropriately: layer up and stay warm on the trails. If you don’t own a pair, consider purchasing some Yaktrax which make it so much easier to navigate the icy trails.
- Bring a flask of hot water: we found warming up with a hot drink to be a post hike lifesaver when the trails were cold!
- Bring storage for muddy boots: some of the trails are muddy in Winter and having something to put your boots in post hike is essential to protect the inside of your car.
- Wildlife: keep an eye out for the Zion wildlife. Deer, elk, bald eagles and big horn sheep are often frequent visitors in winter.
- Camping: the Zion campgrounds are open in the winter months.
- Start and finish early: make the most of the shorter days and grab the best parking spots by getting out on the trails as early as possible.