Filled with endless geological works of art, soaring pinnacles, sprawling arches, and magnificent rainbow-colored rocks, Zion National Park is one of the best places in the world for sightseeing. Prepared to be mesmerized by this natural wonder’s overwhelming beauty, accentuated by the deep orange and dark red glow of magnificent sandstone formations and the fine, graceful charm of delicate plants sprouting from crystal-clear streams and weeping canyon walls.
Plan your trip
1. What’s the best time to visit Zion?
2. A few facts about Zion
3. One Day in Zion Itinerary
3.1. Start Your Trip off at the Zion National Park Visitor Center
3.2. Board the Free Shuttle
3.3. Visit the Zion Human History Museum
3.4. Make a Short Stop at the Court of the Patriarchs Viewpoint
3.5. Take a Lunch Break at Zion Lodge
3.6. Zion Horseback Riding
3.7. Proceed to Weeping Rock
3.8. Choose One of the Three Strenuous Hikes
3.9. First Option: Observation Point
3.9.1. Second Option: The Narrows
3.9.2. Third Option: Angels Landing
3.9.3. Stop for Dinner at Springdale
4. Where to stay in Zion?
5. Zion National Park Tours
6. Extra tips for visiting Zion
Zion National Park is open all year, but it receives the majority of its visitors in summer and early autumn. In spring (March-May), the spring thaw creates magnificent seasonal waterfalls in the main canyon, but some of the most popular attractions are closed due to the Virgin River’s spring runoff. From June onwards, all sections of the park should be open, but due to the summer tourist season, from mid-May to mid-September, you could end up in unbearable crowds.
The best time to go to Zion National Park is the second half of September. The weather is still hot, the days clear, and the rivers warm. Moreover, the leaves begin to change in September, leading to some spectacular views. Visiting Zion National Park in November is also a good idea. In October and November, the temperatures are the most pleasant, and if you are particularly lucky, you may even witness the first snow in Zion.
Located in southwestern Utah on the very edge of the Colorado Plateau, Zion National Park owes its beauty to the unique clash of the lush, green high country and the dry desert below. It is a part of the so-called “Grand Circle Tour”, a series of three spectacular national parks: Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. With its network of breathtaking deserts, tree-covered mesas, and colorful canyons, 84 percent of Zion’s 124,000 acres of extraordinary landscapes is still preserved as untouched wilderness.
It takes about four hours to get from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park, while getting there from Las Vegas takes about two and a half hours.
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Zion.
When you visit Zion National Park, the first thing you should do is check out the Zion National Park Visitor Center to see which attractions are open and safe to explore. Oftentimes, some areas are closed or dangerous due to potential rockfalls or flash floods. The Visitor Center has a handy information sheet with a detailed hiking guide describing each hike and letting you know how strenuous each activity is. Once you get all the information you need, it will be easier to decide what to do in Zion National Park.
Although driving through Zion National Park can be beautiful, first-time visitors will get the most out of their trip by taking the free shuttle bus. Not to mention the fact that during the tourist season, large sections of the park tend to be closed off for private vehicles. The shuttle will take you on a Zion scenic drive up the main canyon, accompanied by an audio introduction pointing out what to see in Zion National Park. The shuttle makes multiple designated stops at trailheads and picturesque viewpoints. Bring the Zion National Park Information Sheet from the Visitor Center with you and get off the bus often to take in the scenery.
The Zion Human History Museum is one of the first stops on the shuttle route through Zion National Park. It is primarily a cultural museum with exhibits focusing on the history of the American Indians, early settlers and pioneers, as well as initial conservation efforts which led to the establishment of Zion National Park in 1919. Prior to the 1990s, what is now the Zion Human History Museum served as the previous visitor center. Apart from exploring the museum, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Bridge Mountain Arch and the Altar of Sacrifice.
The Court of the Patriarchs is a group of three adjacent, similar cliffs named after biblical figures Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although the view is breathtaking, you probably won’t lose too much time here, as the path to reach the viewpoint of the Court of the Patriarchs is very short. There is also a path that leads to the Sand Bench Trail across the road, but you should skip that for now, as the Sand Bench Trail is perfect for that unique Zion horseback riding experience.
Zion Lodge, built in the 1920s, is a rustic, medium-sized hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America, as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For the Zion shuttle, this is one of the major stops, with a lot of people getting on and off. When you visit the Lodge, you can choose one of several on-site restaurants for lunch. You should also visit the gift shop and relax under the magnificent cottonwood tree in the middle of the grand lawn.
Across the road from Zion Lodge, you will find the horse stables maintained by Canyon Trail Rides for Zion horseback riding on the Sand Bench trail, a commercial horse trail, open between March and October. This trail runs across the middle of an awe-inspiring landslide under The Sentinel peak, one of the most prominent features of Zion National Park. The landslide is in fact a huge section of The Sentinel that broke off and slid down thousands of years ago. In spite of being one of the best things to do in Zion National Park, this trail is quite a bit less popular than some of Zion’s other attractions. Instead of climbing up to the Emerald Pools, go for this underrated gem. Escape the crowds and opt for an unforgettable experience in the middle of Zion’s most unique scenery. Check out the official website for more information. The best thing is, riding a horse will let you save up some energy for the rest of your Zion National Park itinerary.
After the Sand Bench trail, get back on the shuttle until you reach Weeping Rock. This stop serves as the starting point for a number of exciting hikes including Deertrap Mountain, Hidden Canyon, Cable Mountain, East Rim Trail, and Observation Point. Weeping Rock itself is a famous landmark, a unique rock alcove with springs dripping from above, making it look as if the rock is crying. The phenomenon happens because the lower layers of sandstone have eroded away, and the descending water gets pushed out the side after reaching an impermeable rock layer. It is easily accessible after a short, but steep hike. It takes no more than ten minutes to get there.
Unfortunately, some of Zion’s most famous attractions are pretty hard to reach and it takes hours of hiking to get there. Visiting them all would be impossible if you’re only spending one day in Zion National Park, and you certainly don’t want to get caught in one of these places after dark. Choose the one attraction that is best suited for you when it comes to your physical fitness, or plan in advance based on the information given to you at the Visitor Center.
Observation Point is one of the most famous viewpoints in Zion. The spectacular view can be reached after a pretty challenging 4-mile hike from the Weeping Rock Trailhead. Although completing the trail can take anywhere between 4 to 6 hours, once you’re at the top, the sense of pride and accomplishment paired with the unparalleled view will make it all worth it.
The Zion Narrows are arguably even more famous. The Temple of Sinawava is the last shuttle stop, after which the walls of the canyon start closing in around the Virgin River, which cuts its way through the narrow, deep sandstone labyrinth.
Angels Landing is another classic landmark, with every travel guide listing the hike to the top as one of the most memorable things to do in Zion National Park. Although Angels Landing is one of the most stunning viewpoints anywhere in the world, it is not recommended for anyone afraid of heights, since the path leading there is bordered by long drop-offs, and only a steep, narrow ridge leads to the summit.
Since you will be doing this hike later in the day, choosing Angels Landing or Observation Point may be your best bet. That way, you’ll get to enjoy the sunset from high above the canyon floor, and seeing the cliffs glowing in every possible hue of sandstone will take your breath away.
As you’re leaving the park, take the time to stop and explore Springdale, a small tourist town named one of the 20 prettiest towns in the U.S. by Forbes. Originally a Mormon farming community, Springdale is now filled with galleries, quaint hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants. For dinner, check out Bit & Spur Restaurant & Saloon, a well-liked snack bar with contemporary Mexican & Southwestern fare in addition to an impressive selection of craft beers.
Hyatt Place St George/Convention Center
1819 South 120 East, St. George, UT 84790
The Hyatt Place St George/Convention Center is a very clean and modern newer property in St. George. Amenities include an onsite restaurant, a hot tub, a fitness center, and a pool. The convention center is mere steps away. Highlights include comfortable, spacious rooms and helpful, friendly staff. With Zion National Park only 48 miles away, you can start your day by trying the hotel’s excellent breakfast with a great variety of choices, including nutritious fresh fruit.
La Quinta Inn & Suites at Zion Park/Springdale
792 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale, UT 84767
The La Quinta Inn & Suites at Zion Park/Springdale is among the most popular properties in Springdale, and for good reason. With less than 3 miles to Zion National Park, it is hard to beat La Quinta’s premier location. All rooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV with premium channels, a small refrigerator, microwave, and coffee-making facilities. You will love the seasonal outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, and fitness center.
428 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale, UT 84767
Also in Springdale, Flannigan’s Inn offers superb accommodation in a phenomenal setting. With large, well equipped rooms and an excellent restaurant, Flannigan’s Inn has all the right ingredients to make your stay in Zion unforgettable. The shuttle to Zion National Park stops right in front of the hotel.
97 Bumbleberry Lane, Springdale, UT 84767
In addition to a seasonal heated outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, guests staying at Bumbleberry Inn can enjoy breathtaking views of the Zion Mountains from their own private balcony. Getting to Zion is easy – either by car, only a 5 minutes’ drive away, or by taking the free transfer service. The hotel’s sun terrace is a great place to lounge and relax after a long day spent exploring Zion National Park. Best of all, guests can enjoy fresh bumbleberry pie and espresso from the onsite bakery.
Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip with Bryce Canyon National Park
For those hungry for more, there are tours from Vegas to see both of Utah’s national parks in one go. While it may sound ambitious, it is certainly possible in small groups. This tour allows you to experience firsthand all of the awe-inspiring forces of nature that shaped the vivid landscape of Utah. After a convenient pickup from your hotel, you will be taken for an exciting ride across the desert to see the breathtaking clusters of stone spires of Bryce Canyon National Park and the towering cliffs of Zion National Park with its looming mesas and steep, dark-orange tinged canyons. Book the adventure of a lifetime!
Zion National Park Hiking Tours
Fully absorbing the immensity of Zion Canyon hikes can be hard sometimes if you are unprepared and if you spend the majority of your time worrying and wondering if you might get lost. There are no easy hikes in Zion, but expert hiking guides can make a huge difference and help you with outfitting and getting access to all the information and tools you need to make the most out of your visit. The Zion Adventure Company, formed in 1996, specializes in tackling The Narrows, the best trail in Zion National Park, in addition to equipment rentals, guided tours, courses, biking, and shuttles. With more than 22 years of experience in Zion National Park, Zion Adventures can help you avoid any potholes and have only the best experiences possible. Get in touch with them now!
-Make sure to park legally during your stay in Zion National Park. The parking space is limited and parking is only allowed in designated stalls. If you break the rules, your vehicle may get towed. In case all of the designated stalls in Zion are full, you can park in Springdale and take the free shuttle to Zion National Park.
-If you are staying at one of the campgrounds, make sure to make reservations at least three months in advance.
– Educate yourself about the various dangers you may encounter in Zion National Park. There have been accidents involving casualties in Angels Landing, The Narrows, and The Tunnel. Always be careful and prepared.
-Make sure you bring a walking stick if you are visiting the Narrows. The current can get pretty strong, especially as you go deeper. Having a stick will help you maintain your balance and prod the water to check for sharp rocks.
-Bring a pair of really good shoes. The soles should be hard and grippy. Regular sneakers will be insufficient, and you’ll feel the rocks under your feet. You may even hurt yourself.
– On a warm day, you may feel like swimming when visiting the Narrows, and there are a couple of places where you can do so. So, come prepared and bring a swimsuit.
-For longer hikes, bring some food and water with you. You should always have at least an energy bar with you to make sure you have enough energy to walk there and back again.
– Leave no trace. When hiking, you should stay on the trail. Do not touch the rock cairns and do not remove anything from the park. Most importantly, don’t leave any trash behind.
PIN FOR LATER!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).