Deciding when is the best time to visit Zion National Park depends on the weather and whether you can deal with the crowds or not.
I would go in October, to see the soaring red, pink and purple cliffs without thousands of people waving their selfie sticks in front of my face. If hiking is your thing, I would recommened going to the Narrow Canyon hike along the Virgin River enjoying a bit of solitude.
The best time to visit Zion National Park may be different for you and others. Whatever you are looking for in this magical place very much depends on the weather. So, we have compiled plenty of information about what you can expect in what season, to help you decide.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of the most magical spots in the world. This oldest of all Utah national parks draws millions of people every year. They are drawn by the red steep sandstone cliffs of Zion Canyon, narrow trails along the river, deep pools, waterfalls, hanging gardens and fields of wildflowers.
Surrounded by a desert, the park is an oasis with an elevation that changes by 5000 feet, between Coalpits Wash at 3,666 feet and Horse Ranch Mountain at 8,726 feet.
The elevation change means spectacular terrain for hiking and rock climbing. But it also means that weather changes from season to season and sometimes from one moment to another. You might experience scorching sun one moment and torrential rains another.
Dry narrow canyons can be filled with water in a flash flood in an instant. There is snow on the peaks in the winter and there are times when it is too cold for camping under the stars.
The area where the park is now has been inhabited by humans for the last 8,000 years. Various groups of Native Americans passed through it or called it home, from semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi, the Virgin Anasazi, the Parowan Fremont group Basketmakers and later by the Parrusits and other Southern Paiute sub-tribes.
You can learn about the park history at the Human History Museum near the park visitors’ center.
What To Expect
And then there are crowds. If you find the park magical, so do almost five million other people who come to the park every year. The park loses a bit of its magic when you have to share it with screaming kids and noisy hikers.
Crowds should not prevent you from hiking through the Narrows, 20 to 30-feet wide bottom of the 2,000 feet deep Zion Canyon. Or walking under one of the many natural rock arches such as the Crawford, a thousand feet above the floor of the canyon. Or swim in one of the deep blue pools Virgin River forms as it drops in a series of waterfalls.
The park is a heaven for hikers, backpackers, campers, rock climbers, stargazers, nature lovers, photographers and anyone else who wants to enjoy the pure power of nature in all its glory.
Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
To Avoid Crowds
Of almost five million tourists that visit Zion National Park in any year, more than 70 percent come between the months of April and September. If you want to avoid crowds and your itinerary is flexible enough, your best option is to come during the periods crowds avoid for one reason or another, between October and March.
For those looking for a bit of solitude in the middle of all this natural beauty, come in January. You will have to deal with only on average 91,562 people. The temperature is also surprisingly pleasant for the winter, and during the day you can expect it to reach 52 degrees.
All you need is a light sweater or jacket and you will find the conditions for hiking just about perfect.
The best way to enjoy the park is by hiking and that means coming in the fall. Most trails are open and there is no danger of flooding of the Virgin River, something you have to worry about in the spring.
Crowds are also much thinner in the fall as the school year starts and parents have to go home. Always check the wilderness trail conditions to learn about any potential trail closing.
There are many popular hiking trails in the park but the Angels Landing is among those many hikers dream about. Cut in the solid brightly colored rock, surrounded by 1,488-foot-tall cliffs, this five-and-a-half-mile hike is absolutely fabulous.
This trail is closed only after strong storms, and is sufficiently challenging for even the most passionate hikers. Challenging means dangerous if you missed it.
Avoid going in the summer, especially in July and August, when the heat can add to exhaustion and furious summer storms are possible. Also, avoid freezing winter temperatures that make the trail slippery.
The ideal time to face Angels Landing is or between March and June or between September and October.
If you want to spend more than a day in the Zion National Park, enjoy the starry night sky and breathtaking sunsets, you should stay overnight.
You can stay in one of its three campgrounds –Lava Point, Watchman, and South. Watchman is open year-round. South and Lava Point are open in the spring, summer and fall.
The best time to visit Zion National Park for camping is from April to May and from September to October.
The campgrounds fill fast so book early.
You never heard of canyoneering? Well, in Zion National Park you will be doing it: traveling through the canyons using several techniques such as scrambling, walking, climbing, jumping, swimming and abseiling.
With its narrow canyons and many waterways, Zion National Park is pretty much an ideal location for this activity and it is now one of the major destinations for canyoneering enthusiasts.
If you are a beginner, be realistic and take one of the organized tours that will take you to the lower end of the Narrows. More experienced people normally go to the Orderville or Subway Canyons.
Canyoneering in Zion is possible year-round, but the park authorities might close certain routes at times.
Most people go canyoneering in the summer because the water is warmer and this activity requires frequent dunking.
You need a permit to go canyoneering. You can get it online up to three months before going.
Whether you are hiking, backpacking, driving, or paddling through Zion National Park, there are spectacular sights to see all around you. In the spring, you can enjoy the lush greenery and rushing waters of the Virgin River falling down high cliffs into the deep pools.
In the fall, cool temperatures make looking for the best sights and going up steep cliffs pleasant. Cottonwoods are reflecting in the quiet river waters and aspens are turning golden.
Late spring and early summers are the times to enjoy wildflowers sprouting along most trails. And in the winter, on high elevation the evergreens are frosted in white powder, and the quiet trails allow you to have all that beauty to yourself.
Just looking at the iconic Zion National Park’s 2,000-foot red sandstone cliffs makes rock climbers drool. These rocks are not for the faint-hearted and definitively not for the inexperienced climbers. The rocks are almost vertical and sandstone is soft and crumbly.
The best time to visit Zion National Park for climbing is between March and May and between September and early November.
Avoid rock climbing in the summer. The heat can be intense and temperatures can reach 100 degrees even where the walls are in shade. You can also expect sudden summer torrential rainstorms.
Desert sandstone that is typical in Zion is much weakened when the rains make it wet. Do not risk climbing after rainstorms. Keep in mind that rocks take two or more days to dry enough for climbing safely and not have your holds to break, making these routes ruined for other climbers. You also risk serious injury because your climbing protection might not hold.
There are topos available at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at the Wilderness Desk that are submitted by other climbers. When you complete your climb, submit your topo to the park’s Wilderness Center to help other climbers.
Check about seasonal closures before going to the park.
For Driving the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
By far the easiest way to see Zion National Park is by driving along Zion Canyon Road. Fortunately, or the park would be covered in cars and car exhaust, Zion Canyon Road is open to private vehicles only in January and February, and in December before the holidays, when the park shuttle isn’t running.
The rest of the year, enjoy the comfort of the park shuttles. They run every day from spring to late November.
For Visiting Zion Narrows
The park’s probably most popular hike, the Narrows is awesome and potentially deadly, which is probably part of its attraction. You start by wading through the Virgin River where it cuts a thousand-foot-tall gash and creates walls of Zion Canyon. If you would rather not get wet, you can see the area from the paved Riverside Walk.
Walking through the Narrows you are going upriver further and deeper into the canyon. If you attempt this hike at the wrong time, such as when sudden summer rains create flash floods, you do not have any way of escaping.
Whole groups are tragically lost at times when that happens and their bodies are found days later. Never forget to check the weather before attempting to hike the Narrows.
The Narrows is frequently closed in the spring when the river level rises rapidly and dramatically due to snowmelt.
As you can imagine, the water can get very cold during the fall and winter, so few people come to the Narrows when the temperatures drop.
The best time to hike the Narrows is in late spring when the water warms up, the water level in the river stabilizes and the summer storms are not there yet.
On a hot summer day, after hiking the Zion Canyon for hours, nothing you would enjoy more than a dip in a cool natural pool. All you have to do is find the Pine Creek Waterfall swimming hole, one of the best-kept park secrets.
The trailhead for the short, quarter-mile hike to the pool is located at the Pine Creek Bridge, near Canyon Junction, on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel’s south side.
The best time for the swim in the pool is between May and September when the water is pleasantly warm. But since you do not need a permit to swim there, you can go any time of the year.
If the water is too cool for swimming, the hike is well worth it just for the sheer beauty of this magical spot.
Pine Creek is considered a flash flood zone. Do not attempt this hike if it is raining or has been raining for a while. Flash floods are common in the summer and can come very fast and suddenly. Always check the weather before going to the canyon.
Most visitors to the Zion National park are happy with the relatively short day hikes. If you want to experience the park’s true wilderness and solitude, backpacking is the way to do it. It is your chance to look at the star-filled night sky, enjoy sunrise and sunset over the canyon, see some elusive animals that hide from the crowds.
The most popular two-day trails are the La Verkin Creek Trail and the West Rim Trail. Increasingly popular is “Trans-Zion Trek”, also called the “Zion Traverse” track, a 47-mile hike that connects many trails.
You need a permit to backpack in the park. Permits give you the reservation for a specific wilderness camp. The number of people in each camp is limited and you cannot camp in the camps you do not have a permit for.
Backpacking campgrounds are primitive. You cannot light a fire and you have to take all your garbage with you. Respect others and their enjoyment of the park.
Take with you the Zion Wilderness Map and always check the weather before starting the hike.
Zion National Park Weather by Month
Climate is by far the most important factor when deciding on the best time to visit Zion National Park. Any activity you plan is affected by the temperature and precipitation, which change fromone month to another drastically.
Most people come to the park in the summer. Partly because kids are out of school and partly because the weather is so lovely and temperatures are high. Rangers also have plenty of activities for kids and adults.
Summers in the park can get really hot and the temperature can reach 115 degrees. Summer is also the monsoon season in the park and you can expect more than 15 thunderstorms in a single month.
These storms are very dangerous for hiking through narrow canyons because they cause flash floods.
The hotels in the nearby town of Springdale quickly fill out if you do not make an early reservation. The same goes for the park campgrounds.
Nevertheless, people flood the park in the summer and about 40 percent of the park’s annual visitors come between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Imagine having to share the park with about 17,000 people on any given day!
The peak season crowds often means packed trails and shuttles. You might be able to avoid the worst crowds by starting very early. As a bonus, you will enjoy a spectacular sunrise.
Early summer is the most popular time to hike the Narrows. The snowmelts are over, the river level is stable and the water is warm. You can enjoy cooling off while wading through the Virgin River.
As you go deeper in the summer, be aware of the possible summer storms and flash flooding, so check the weather before going.
Winter temperatures in the park are generally a pleasant 50 degrees during the day, ideal for daily hikes. Not so good for camping and backpacking as it can drop below freezing at night.
While you can see the snow at higher elevations in the winter, snow almost never accumulates on the Zion Canyon floor. When there is a bit of snow, you can enjoy snowshoeing.
Winter is the best time to visit Zion National Park if you are looking for solitude. The park gets less than half of its regular visitors when winter comes. Instead of 17000 people, you will have to share the trails with only about 3000 visitors on any day.
It means that often you can have a trail to yourself and truly enjoy the views. You might even spot some wildlife normally scared of the crowds.
Some of the most popular trails such as Angels Landing are more likely to get frost and snow and might get closed at times during the winter. On other trails, you might need to bring shoe spikes.
The park shuttle runs only on holiday weekends. It means that getting to some parts of the park is not easy.
Kolob Canyon and other parts of the park located at higher elevations get closed when it snows.
If you have appropriate winter camping gear, you might enjoy camping in the park in the winter because there are no crowds. Keep in mind that Watchman Campground is the only one that is open in winter.
If you do not have kids and do not have to wait for the school break, the best time to visit Zion National Park is in the spring. There are not too many people, the temperature is still pleasant and you will have a chance to see wildflowers along the trails.
Temperatures are pleasantly cool in the morning and even at noon rarely climb over the mid-70s.
As the temperatures in the canyon rise, the winter snow starts to melt, running down the Virgin River through the park. Rushing river water creates small waterfalls as it drops off cliffs, something you cannot see at any other time of the year.
Animals are waking up from their winter slumber and are starting to look for food in the park. You have a pretty good chance of spotting mule deer, foxes, bighorn sheep, and rock squirrels. Mountain lion, bobcat, skunk, raccoon, porcupine, bats, and beaver are more elusive and are active only at night.
In the spring, all park services are available and all campgrounds are open.
Avoid coming during the Spring Break, when the crowds return with vengeance.
Just like in the spring, fall temperatures are pleasantly cool in the morning and very comfortable by noon. The crowds are mostly gone except during holiday weekends and you can have many trails to yourself.
September is still a monsoon season so you can expect fierce showers and possible flash floods.
Hiking the Narrows is fantastic in the fall as the water is still warm and you can see the aspens and cottonwoods around the canyon turning golden.
Zion Canyon Shuttle is running regularly in the fall, making it easy to reach any part of the park.
If you plan on camping, make sure you have cold weather gear as temperatures can drop at night and even snow is possible.
Zion National Park Crowds By Month
Zion Park is the victim of its own majesty and popularity. One of the five most popular parks in the country, Zion National Park sees 4.5 million visitors every year. On an average day in the summer, 17,000 people take over the park.
Most people choose to come in the summer because the kids are out of school and the weather is nice. But, it is really not the best time to visit Zion National Park.
People tend to avoid visiting the park in the winter, but if you are looking for solitude, keep in mind that only about 3,000 people come to the park on an average winter day.
The other months of the year, what is officially called the “shoulder months”, the number of visitors is on average between 7,000 and 15,000 per day. That makes spring and fall the best time to enjoy Zion National Park and avoid the crowds.
While the best time to visit Zion National Park depends on your circumstances, what you want to do in the park and the level of your aversion to the crowds. The park is so incredibly beautiful that you can expect an experience you will never forget at any time of the year.