Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Zion National Park. But that likely has more to do with when American children have time off from school or when most families choose to schedule their vacations.
Because it is the busiest season, it’s also the most crowded. Hotels and vacation rentals may be full or charge more than they do during less popular seasons. It’s also the hottest time of year, with temperatures regularly reaching into the triple digits in the canyon.
These drawbacks beg the question; is summer really the best time to visit Zion? Keep reading to learn a few benefits of planning your vacation in the summer, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of scheduling your trip during one of the other three seasons.
Visiting Zion in the Summer
You already know the drawbacks of a summer visit. But what about the benefits?
To start, while temperatures may get hot, they are far more ideal for many outdoor activities than say, a winter day. Snow and ice can make trails even more dangerous than the heat. With plenty of hydration, and by starting difficult hikes early in the day, you can hike safely all summer long.
While they may be busier, hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and more are operating a full capacity. Many businesses close or cut back on operations during the off-seasons. If you want to have the full range of options to choose from, summer is the best time to visit.
Finally, if you are traveling with children, or if you’re a college student, summer usually gives you the most time off. While you can certainly plan a day or two in the park, if you want to see more of what Zion and the surrounding area have to offer, you’ll need as much time as possible.
Visiting Zion in the Fall
If summer is the most popular time to visit the park, fall is a close second. It’s also perhaps the most beautiful time of year to visit. Despite it technically being a desert, Zion’s lush foliage does change colors in the fall. The canyon comes alive in shades of orange, red, and yellow, as the leaves change and then finally fall.
Early in the season, hot temps may persist. But by October, things are usually cooling off. Fall is one of the most comfortable times for hiking; it’s not too hot and not too cold. Though in the evenings, temperatures may begin to drop sharply. You’ll want to pack layers if you plan to stay in the park past sunset.
Crowds do begin to thin in the fall. But during the holidays, and on weekends, you may still experience some crowding on popular trails. The shuttle system continues to operate into November, before closing briefly, then opening again just before Christmas.
One drawback of planning a late fall trip to Zion is that it isn’t uncommon for an early winter storm to drop snow in the park and drop temperatures below freezing. You’ll want to have winter gear along, just in case.
Visiting Zion in the Winter
Winter sees the fewest visitors coming into the park each day. With the exception of the week around Christmas and New Year, crowds disappear. This makes it a wonderful time to take in the park’s most popular trails; assuming that you have the right gear.
Winter temperatures can drop below freezing, though they usually hover in the high 30s and low 40s on the canyon floor. Snow falls regularly in the higher elevations of the park but is infrequent within the canyon. Colder temperatures in the higher elevations often drive wildlife into the canyon. This makes it a great time for sightings near the Virgin River, the Lodge, or other lower areas of the park.
If you want to do any hiking, you’ll need warm clothing, waterproof outer layers, and gripping boots. Hiking to Angels Landing or other high elevations can be very dangerous when ice is present. Even with ice picks for your shoes, you might want to consider saving those hikes for other seasons.
While you may not be able to take in every hike, winter is perhaps the best time for capturing photos in the park, because they are far more likely to be devoid of other tourists. If you love the idea of driving your own vehicle through the park, this is the only season when that’s possible. The shuttles do run around the holidays, but before and after that, you are free to drive your own car for the entire length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Keep in mind that some trails and roads may close during this season due to snow.
Visiting Zion in the Spring
Spring brings warmer weather to the park, as well as some color. Wildflowers bloom in many areas of the park. Trees begin sprouting buds and then leaves. Usually, the snow begins melting in April or May, though a late-season storm isn’t uncommon. By March, the shuttle system is running again and crowds are just starting to form. But earlier in the season, you’ll still have most trails to yourself.
Snowmelt and rainfall make spring the best time for checking out Zion’s waterfalls. Of course, these can also cause flooding, especially on the Virgin River, which can close trails like The Narrows.
Spring brings new baby animals to the park. If you’re lucky, you might just spot fawn mule deer or tiny sheep.
This is a bit of an unpredictable time to visit the park. Depending on the year and the conditions, you might experience winter weather that closes trails or causes frigid temperatures. Other times, it might be warm and balmy in the park by March. Just like any other time of year, keep an eye on the weather and pack gear for a variety of situations, just in case the weather takes a turn.
Planning a Visit to Zion National Park
So when is the best time to visit Zion? The truth is that every season has its benefits and drawbacks. Choosing the right season for your visit comes down to when you can travel, what you’re hoping to experience, and how you plan to enjoy the park.
Planning a visit this winter? Check out these activities you can only enjoy during a Southern Utah winter.