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Best things to do in Zion National Park USA one day itinerary

Best things to do in Zion National Park USA one day itinerary
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Visiting Zion National Park was not part of our initial West Coast USA trip itinerary. However, after learning that Zion Canyon is in Utah and very close to Bryce Canyon (which was in our plans), we started researching about Zion and quickly made up our minds to take a visit!

If you like all kind of hiking trails with supernatural views, you cannot miss a visit to Zion National Park.

best accommodation in zion canyon

We were only able to visit Zion for one day during our West Coast USA road trip, but I daresay that we could have stayed longer to discover more. However, even if you do not have too much time, Zion National Park is still worth a quick visit.

In a nutshell and before diving deeper, this is the best Zion National Park 1-day itinerary.

WHAT TO DO IN ZION NATIONAL PARK IN ONE DAY

  • Angels Landing: One of the best hiking trails in Zion; If you only have one day and do not suffer from vertigo do not miss the best views in the park.
  • Hiking trails: Hike some of Zion’s most spectacular trails on a day like “The Narrows” or “The Subway”.
  • Court of the Patriarchs: Visit one of the most emblematic views in Zion National Park.
  • Zion Shuttle: Enjoy the landscapes of Zion from the free shuttle that runs across the Park.
  • Virgin River: See how the sun tints the Zion Mountains in red during sunset from the Virgin River viewpoint.
  • Starry Skies: Enjoy some of the best starry skies in all of North America.
  • Emerald Pools: See the stunning turquoise waters of these natural pools.
  • Weeping Rock: Walk under the most spectacular walls of Zion.

VISITING ZION NATIONAL PARK

Visiting Zion National Park means discovering steep cliffs, hiking to high viewpoints and narrow canyons that will leave you speechless, all while experiencing the purest nature and adventure. Zion Canyon offers a wide variety of things to do.

This national park is visited from the base of the Zion Canyon, carved over millions of years by the Virgin River, to higher altitudes reachable only on foot. Many of the routes are considered strenuous and dangerous, making it a magnet for travelers in search of adrenaline or extreme sports.

In addition, there are simpler routes more suitable for families or travelers who do not want to run any risk.

best things to do in zion in two days

In this guide to visiting  Zion National Park, you will find the following information:

HOW TO GET TO ZION NATIONAL PARK

As public transportation in the United States is quite inefficient, the best way to get to Zion Canyon is by renting a car.

Zion Canyon has two car entrances at the east and the south. We will use one or the other depending on where we come from.

If you enter the east access with a large vehicle (7.8+ feet wide or 11.5+ feet high), keep in mind that you must buy a special permit to cross The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This tunnel is narrow and bi-directional, but with the permit, they will stop traffic and let you ride in the middle over both lanes. The cost is $15 and you can use it to enter and exit the park. More information here.

HOW TO GET TO ZION FROM LAS VEGAS

The closest international airport to Zion National Park is in Las Vegas. The distance between Zion and Las Vegas is 167 miles, so it will only take about 3 hours to get here. From Las Vegas, we will enter Zion through the south entrance.

HOW TO GET TO ZION FROM BRYCE

Zion and Bryce National Park are very close to each other, therefore, these two parks are usually visited on the same trip, with some doing so within the same day!

But we don’t recommend visiting Zion and Bryce in a single day. If you are not in a rush, I recommend spending at least a full day in each of the parks.

how to get from bryce to zion one day trip

It only takes an hour (50 miles) to get to Zion Canyon from Bryce Canyon, and we would enter the park from the east entrance.

Check the best Things to do in Bryce Canyon

HOW TO GET TO ZION FROM THE GRAND CANYON

There are 242 miles between the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, which will take you approximately 5 hours to get to one from the other. From the Grand Canyon, we will also enter Zion through the east via The Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel.

Check the best things to do at grand canyon

HOW TO MOVE AROUND ZION CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Due to the large number of tourists that visit Zion during most of the year, the United States National Park Service offers travelers free shuttles that run through the park from March to November.

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It is forbidden to visit the canyon in your own vehicle during these months. This is the only way to alleviate traffic on the famous “Zion Scenic Drive”, which help conserve this natural landscape. There are two shuttle bus lines.

ZION CANYON SHUTTLE

This bus line runs through the entire Zion Scenic Drive, which is the main road of the park where most of the hiking trails start. This shuttle starts at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

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In total, this route makes 9 stops: Zion Canyon Visitor Center, Museum, Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Weeping Rock, Big Bend, and Temple of Sinawava. The buses run quite frequently, so you will not have to wait more than 10 minutes for the next one.

SPRINGDALE SHUTTLE

As the Zion visitor center’s free parking lot is usually full by early morning, the National Park Services recommends parking nearby in the town of Springdale.

To combat traffic from travelers entering Zion visitor center area in their own vehicle, a second free shuttle was set up in conjunction with the Zion Canyon Shuttle, connecting different points of Springdale to the Zion visitor center.

I recommend going directly to Springdale since it is only 10 minutes away. While parking in Springdale is not free, it is better to pay than to wait hours for a spot in the free parking lot at Zion. I would only encourage going directly to Zion if you plan to get there before 8 a.m.

In this map, you can see the Zion Canyon Shuttle stops in green and the Springdale Shuttle in brown.

zion canyon on a map

 

ZION NATIONAL PARK Opening hours

Zion National Park is permanently open to the public, however, since the shuttle system is the only way to access the park for most of the year, here is a 2018 bus schedule fo r reference.

ZION NATIONAL PARK entrance fee

The fee to enter Zion National Park is $35 per vehicle with a maximum of 4 occupants or $20 per person entered by foot for a week. However, if you have the America the Beautiful annual pass, you can enter Zion and all US National Parks (plus other federal sites) for a single price of $80.

During the months when shuttles are running, a ranger will verify your pass or collect entrance park fee at the stall between transferring from the Springdale Shuttle to the Zion Canyon Shuttle.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN ZION NATIONAL PARK

The beautiful Zion Canyon Scenic Drive crosses Zion National Park, so it will be the best way to get to the main points of interest, either on the free shuttle or in your own car if you visit Zion during the winter.

best views in zion canyon national park

You will find 9 stops along the road that take you to incredible viewpoints and trailheads. In this section, we will discuss the routes and main overlooks that you should not miss in Zion.

Summing up, these are the best things to do in Zion National Park:
  • The Zion Narrows
  • The Zion Angels Landing
  • Emerald Pools
  • Weeping Rock
  • Court of the Patriarchs
  • Canyon Overlook Trail
  • The Subway

THE ZION NARROWS

Undoubtedly, the most popular trekking route of Zion is The Narrows, which runs through the gorge that the Virgin River has been carving from the north throughout history. This narrow is 15.5 miles long, up to 2000 feet meters deep, and only 20 feet wide at some parts, making it one of the most original sceneries in Zion National Park.

The route is considered highly difficulty since most of the trail passes over the Virgin River. It is strongly recommended to visit the visitor center a day before your adventure, to receive the most updated information regarding the state of the river and possibilities of storms and flash floods that could pose danger.

In 2015, a flash flood in The Narrows left 5 dead. Therefore, it is always better to be informed and not to take risks. Also, keep in mind that floods are not the only danger out here. The immediate area of The Narrows is colder than the rest of the Zion National Park, making hypothermia another danger to consider.

For this route, we need water shoes to trek the wet parts, a dry bag for a change of clothes, as well as trekking poles so we do not lose balance on the slippery rocks of the river.

The trail starts at the Temple of Sinawava bus stop, where you walk along the Riverside Walk for the first mile that is also accessible for people in wheelchairs. At the end of this paved route, we continue along the river. In total, it takes around 8 hours to complete the trail to the end and back.

The Narrows is a must see in Zion National Park. We were not able to hike this trail due to time constraints, so we will be back very soon to do this and other routes we missed.

THE ZION ANGELS LANDING

The next most important hike in Zion is Angels Landing, where we will climb up to an incredible stone lookout for a 360º view of the Zion National Park.

where to take the best pictures in zion national park

Angels Landing trail is 5.6 miles with 1640 feet of elevation change, which is considerably hard, especially if you take the hike during summer. It will take approximately 4 hours to complete a round trip trek that starts from “The Grotto” bus stop.

It is considered as a high difficulty route since we will have to climb a via ferrata in the last section to the edge of the precipice, where a slip would surely turn into a fatal accident. As with The Narrows, there are posters reminding hikers that others have died in Zion on the Angels Landing Trail.

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The first section where you gradually go up via a steep zigzag carved into the rock is the most strenuous but not dangerous. However, the last meters of the route to the viewpoint is not suitable for people with vertigo. The path continues along a narrow ridge where only one person can pass at once, with a fall of hundreds of feet on both sides of the ridge.

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To advance, it will be essential to grab onto the chains of the handrail before the rock steps that give way to a platform overlooking the best views of Zion.

If you are someone with no fear of heights on a short visit to Zion, this is the route we recommend.

EMERALD POOLS

If you prefer a simple family-friendly hike, the Lower Emerald Pool Trail is one of the most interesting ones. Starting at Zion Lodge, you will get to see different waterfalls on the way before reaching the Lower Emerald Pool in just half an hour.

Once you get to Lower Emerald Pool, there will be more moderately difficult hikes that set out from here, such as Upper Emerald Pool and Kayenta Trail. The Kayenta Trail ends at The Grotto, and thus the beginning of the Angels Landing Trail.

Although the Emerald Pools Trails seem totally harmless, never underestimate their implicit danger. More people have died from falling on these routes than at Angels Landing. The trails are safe as long as you stay away from the edges and out of the pools. Just remember that even a small slip on the rocks could be very dangerous.

WEEPING ROCK

From the Weeping Rock bus stop, we can also find other interesting trails, one of them being Weeping Rock Trail. This is also recommended for families as it only takes 30 minutes to reach its namesake attraction, a rock that “weeps water”.

From here, we can find the trailheads of two other extenuating routes not recommended for people with vertigo – the Hidden Canyon Trail (3 hours round trip) and the East Rim Trail that will take us to the Observation Point (6 hours round trip). If you have already hiked Angels Landing, these routes won’t be as intriguing for you.

COURT OF THE PATRIARCHS

Another thing to see in Zion Canyon is located right at the Court of Patriarchs bus stop, where we find one of the most emblematic views of the Zion National Park: The Three Patriarchs.

things to do in zion national park

These three peaks are called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in honor of the Hebrew biblical patriarchs – a quick view and photo stop that can’t be missed during your visit to Zion Canyon.

CANYON OVERLOOK TRAIL

We can also find other things to do outside the scenic road of Zion Canyon. Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the more popular hiking trails, and the trailhead is accessible by car year-round.

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It takes half an hour one way to get to the Pine Creek Canyon viewpoint that overlook Zion Canyon. The perspective here is totally different from those found within the park. The trail starts just after passing the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, where we can park our car.

THE SUBWAY

Another of the most interesting things to see in Zion Canyon is The Subway. While it may not sound familiar, I am sure that you will be eager to go after seeing this photo.

This pipeline that is carved into the water by the Left Fork North Creek is one of the most prized images for any photographer visiting Zion.

To hike this route, you need a special permit issued here by lottery three months in advance. Continue checking it out nonetheless, since they do last-minute lotteries at times when spots become available.

This route is considered difficult with two variants:

  • The Subway “top-down” route via Russell Gulch: The classic route starts at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead which descends the canyon and end at Left Fork Trailhead. It is a technical route for those with experience in canyoning and rappelling, as you must carry ropes and other necessary equipment. In addition, it is recommended to arrange a car pick up at the end of the trail to be shuttled back to the starting point.
  • The Subway from the bottom route: The simplified route starts and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead, the southern area of the canyon. We will miss some of the best scenes of the complete route, but we will still be able to get upstream to the famous Subway, even without experiences in canyoning. It is not a technical route, although the use of trekking poles is highly recommended.

You will need between 6 to 10 hours for either variant, so expect to spend a full day on this route. In addition, you must get relevant safety information before your journey, such as checking if flash floods are expected. You can find very helpful information for visiting The Subway in  Zion here.

OTHER TIPS for VISITing THE ZION NATIONAL PARK

In this section, we will give you some final tips and information about Zion so you can make the most of your visit.

zion cayon map

Here you will find a collection of things you should know before visiting Zion.

BEST TIME TO VISIT ZION NATIONAL PARK

If you can choose when to visit Zion, I would recommend during the summer between June and August when the best temperatures here is best, whereas winter temperatures will be around 0ºC.

As you have read, good weather is essential for most of the hiking trails in Zion. Storms and frequent rains usually end up with cut trails, not only in The Narrows or The Subway but also in those that go through the edge of a steep fall, like Angels Landings. Heavy rains here can result in landslides amongst other dangerous conditions. Therefore, the best month to visit Zion is actually June, the driest and most temperate month of the year.

HOW MUCH TIME IS enough TO VISIT ZION NATIONAL PARK

We visited the Zion National Park in one day and it was definitely not enough. For me, the ideal would have been to spend 3 days in Zion National Park, but since we only traveled 10 days to the West Coast, we could not spend more time in Zion.

where is zion national park in a map

If you have more days to visit the West Coast, say, 20 or more, I recommend spending at least 2 or 3 days in Zion since this park has many hiking and photography possibilities.

Here are my itinerary ideas for visiting Zion over 1, 2, and 3 days.

1-DAY ITINERARY TO VISIT ZION

If your plan is to explore Zion in one day, then you have to choose if you prefer an uphill hike to the sights or one along the water.

Angels Landing is the best trail in Zion if you like strenuous hikes with amazing views. If you are in the right physical condition, you will not need to train for it. The trail is marked clearly with signs and it’s unlikely to get lost within.

The Narrows is the best option if you prefer a route with water, but only when weather conditions are favorable (make sure you contact the Zion information center beforehand for accurate forecast information). In addition, you must come well equipped with water shoes, trekking poles, and a waterproof backpack to hold your dry change of clothes as explained above.

2-Day ITINERARY TO VISIT ZION

If you visit Zion over two days, then you do not have to choose. Hike the Angels Landing route on the first day and The Narrows on the second day.

3-day ITINERARY TO VISIT ZION

If you are spending three days in Zion, then plan ahead and get a permit for The Subway for your third day. After hiking Angel Landings, The Narrows, and The Subway, I am sure you would have made the most of your visit to the Zion National Park, however exhausting you may feel in the end.

DEATHS IN ZION NATIONAL PARK

Falls in Zion are not frequent but are fatal in most cases. While researching for our trip, we were very surprised to hear about them and began to wonder how many people have died in Zion National Park. Here is the data of the last 10 years:

Angels Landing 8
Cathedral Mountain 1
Emerald Pools 7
Lady Mountain 2
Mt. Kinesava 1
Mt. of the Sun 1
Observation Point 2
Watchman 2
East Rim Trail 1
Checkerboard Mesa 1
Crazy Quilt Mesa 1
Deer Trap Mountain 1
Hidden Canyon 2
Canyon Overlook 2

Most of these accidents occurred due to the imprudence of the visitors. The best way to prevent accidents is to be informed (head to the visitor center) and to check the weather frequently. If there is a rain or storm in the forecast, think twice before continuing on the route.

things to do in zion national park in a map

And of course, make sure you buy good travel insurance, especially if you are doing moderate or strenuous hikes. I recommend getting a policy with extraordinary coverage and for a US travel Insurance coverage never consider less than $300,000 in medical expenses.

You can get the best quality-price insurance with World Nomads.

WHERE TO Stay in ZION CANYON

If you are organizing your visit well in advance, you can book accommodation inside Zion National Park.

Within the national park, there is a motel and two campsites.

  • Motel Zion Lodge also offers cabins and suites. If you stay here, the hotel will provide you with a Red Permit so you can enter and leave the park with your car during the months when the Zion Canyon Shuttle is in operation (although you will have to park at the lodge).
  • Watchman Zion Canyon Campground: It is the main campgrounds of Zion, open from March to the end of November. Reservations must be made 6 months in advance to secure a spot.
  • South Campground: Also open between March and November, although it can only be booked two weeks in advance.

However, don’t worry if they run out of campsites. As you can recall, Springdale is only 10 minutes away from Zion, so staying here is a very good solution. The best hotels in Springdale are:

  • Bumbleberry Inn: One of the few hotels near Zion below $200 a night, with very good reviews.
  • La Quinta Inn and Suites: Another affordable hotel with good reviews near Zion, known for its buffet breakfast that includes delicious homemade waffles.
  • In addition to these two, you can also find many other hotels on Booking.com or Airbnb. We have some discounts for you in the links below.

ZION NATIONAL PARK MAP

Here, you can find the Zion Canyon National Park map, with all hiking trails, best accommodation, campsites, and important places you must see in Zion.

If you want to use this map of Zion Canyon National Park offline on your mobile:

  • Download the Mapswithme app on your cell phone.
  • Download and save the following KML file in your Dropbox.
  • Open the file through Dropbox from your cell phone. You will get a dialog box where you have to select open with the Mapswithme application (Maps.me)

Done. You have everything you need to start your trip!

SEE YOU IN THE NEXT ARTICLE AND DO NOT HESITATE TO LEAVE US A COMMENT IF YOU NEED MORE INFORMATION ABOUT zion CANYON.

written by Ascenphotography by danzafra

– OTHER POSTS OF THE WEST COAST AMERICA COLLECTION 

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8 thoughts on “Best things to do in Zion National Park USA one day itinerary

  1. Hugh Sims says:

    We are planning to get to Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail in the morning and rent bikes to ride the Scenic Drive in the afternoon. What do you think of this plan?

    Thanks for the input.

    Hugh

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Hugh,

      It is not common to ride bikes at the Scenic Drive since it is a bumpy dirt road. Anyway, it is allowed so go ahead if you have some experience riding in such conditions. Let us know how it is and if you found it difficult or can recommend to other of our readers thinking about renting a bike. Did you already check any bike rental company?

      Ascen.

  2. Debbie Brewington says:

    My husband and I are planning to visit Zion in July. We were unaware that you can not drive through the park. We reviewed a one day itinerary with the shuttle service. Is there a lot of hiking from each of these stops or can you view the park from the shuttle and stops. He can not do strenuous hiking but can usually do easy walks of fairly short distances.
    How long is the shuttle tour? Do you need to bring refreshments?

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Yes, you can visit the park using the shuttle and with no or very little walks. The whole tour takes around one hour but I would allow three hours to stop in some points and see the nice views. The bus doesn’t wait for passengers to take some pictures. If you get off the bus, you will need to wait 10 min to grab the next one, so allow around 2-3 hours. There are some trails with wheelchair access, so your husband would be fine! You will love Zion National Park.

      I would bring some water at least.

      Let me know if you need something else,
      Ascen.

  3. Steffen says:

    I used your article to plan a half day visit coming from Bryce Canyon around past noon with family including a one-year old.

    My plan is to enjoy the scenic drive and after the tunnel do the overlook trail.

    Then park where possible catching the shuttle. If in the mood and still have time we will hike to the Lower Emerald Pools. Otherwise just follow the shuttles scenic drive.

    By the way. Was in Grand Canyon some days ago and two days after the visit I started to research deaths there. It made me feel so silly the pictures on the edge of the rim I wanted to take because all else was doing it. 1 in 400.000 visiting Grand Canyon die. App. 12 per year.

    Thanks for writing this post ??

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi steffen,

      Thanks for your words, I am happy to see you found our article helpful!

      Your plan for Bryce sounds very good and exciting, We could only spend a day but I hope we can get back in the future.

      Sadly the death toll in Grand Canyon just keeps increasing, and worst of all, it isn’t a dangerous place per se, but people don’t take necessary precautions like correct hydration during the summer or they make silly decisions like getting too close to dangerous edges.

      Just hope people get more conscious about the risks and everyone can have a fun and safe trip around Grand Canyon!

  4. Adrian Jones says:

    Due to there being so many things that you can do in this particular park it’s recommended to make sure you have enough time to be able to get most of the major attractions down in your itinerary when you visit! Also, making sure that safety first is practiced is important, since some of the hiking trails can potentially lead off to dangerous places where one might fall and even die due to their carelessness–so it’s always best to be careful and listen to the tour guide! If I had the chance to be able to visit Zion National Park in the future I would have to allow enough time to be able to get to all of the tourist destinations that have been recommended for us to visit. Thank you for all the info!

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