Enjoy Zion Without the Crowds

Winter at Zion National Park

Want to get the most out of a trip to Zion National Park? Consider visiting during the winter months. Exploring the park in winter (late November until early March) offers significant advantages over other times of the year, and can definitely improve your chances of having experiences you'll never forget.

Why Visit Zion in the Winter

One of the main reasons to visit Zion National Park during winter months is that you can explore the park in your own vehicle, rather than by shuttle. In particular, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the main road through the canyon) is open to private vehicles. The only exceptions to this rule are holidays, when the park's Shuttle System is running.

Another advantage to visiting in winter is the lack of crowds. The Zion area has relatively few visitors during the winter months, especially on weekdays. If you're visiting on the weekend, you can still avoid any crowds by simply getting an early start.

Finally, when you visit the Zion area in the winter, you avoid the oppressive summertime heat. Typical winter temperatures range from the 50s during the day to near, or below, freezing at night. And, since the elevation in the area is around 4,000 feet, any snowfall dissipates quickly, keeping the roads dry and accessible. (Note that snow will accumulate at higher elevations, particularly in Kolob Canyons.)

Winter Hiking in Zion National Park

During the winter months, you have the opportunity to hike some of Zion National Park's most popular trails, without the massive crowds you encounter in warmer months. Three trails we recommend for winter hiking are Canyon Overlook Trail, Riverside Walk, and Pa'rus Trail.

Canyon Overlook Trail is only a mile out and back and is considered one the best short hikes in Zion. It leads to the top of the Great Arch, where you have great views of the Pine Creek Narrows, Bridge Mountain, and the East Temple.

Riverside Walk is a family-friendly, 2.0-mile round-trip hike that leads to the entrance of the Narrows. The trail starts at the northern edge of Zion Canyon, and follows along the Virgin River until it reaches the Narrows. Note that this trail is sometimes closed in winter due to the possibility of falling ice.

Pa'rus Trail is an easy 3.4-mile out-and-back trail that runs near the Virgin River and ends at the Canyon Junction bridge. At the bridge, you'll be treated to one of Zion's most spectacular scenes: Watchman Mountain overlooking the Virgin River.

Winter Photography in Zion

It's easy to make the argument that winter in Zion is the best time of year for wildlife and landscape photography.

Obviously, with fewer tourists around Zion, the likelihood of encountering wildlife increases. Along the Virgin River, you can expect to see mule deer and, possibly, blue herons milling about. Bighorn sheep are most likely to be spotted on the east side of Zion, especially between the park's East Entrance and Zion Tunnel.

As for landscape photography, the park gets more rainfall in winter months, creating full streams, stunning waterfalls, and the possibility of snowfall. (Even a light dusting of snow on the park's red rock will make for unforgettable landscape shots.) Two of the best locations in Zion for great landscape photos are Canyon Overlook and Canyon Junction. These are also two of Zion's most popular photography locations. Try visiting at daybreak to avoid potential crowds.

Scenic Drives near Zion

In winter, two excellent scenic drives you'll want to travel are Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive covers a total 54 miles, with the section in Zion National Park being around 12 miles. This section runs the entire length of Zion Canyon, and gives you the opportunity to explore the canyon and its many attractions at your own pace. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to private vehicles from late November until early March, except for holidays, when the park's Shuttle System is running.

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is a 25-mile drive, part of which runs along the east side of Zion National Park. The highway goes through Zion Mount Carmel tunnel, around a number of switchbacks, and over the Virgin River. Along the way, there are plenty of pullouts, where you can take short hikes and enjoy sweeping panoramic views of the Zion area.
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