If you take a look at the average number of visitors that make their way to Zion National Park each month, one big trend emerges; most people are visiting during the summer months.
From 2015 to 2019, the National Park Service tracked the percentage of annual visitors entering the park each month. While the number of visitors has changed, these percentages have likely varied little in the past few years.
June and July are the busiest months of the year, followed closely by May, August, and September. June and July average around 13 percent of Zion’s annual visitors each. May, August, and September each average between 11 and 12 percent.
Another big trend that continues today is that the winter months see the fewest number of visitors. The NPS reports that between 2015 and 2019, just two percent of the park’s visitors entered the park in January. December and February each saw three percent.
If you think these numbers mean that winter is a bad time to visit the park and Cliffrose Lodge, think again. In fact, locals often refer to winter as Zion’s Secret Season. Keep reading to learn why, and how to start planning your own winter visit.
Why Winter is Zion’s Secret Season
There’s no one answer to why winter is considered the “Secret Season” in Zion National Park. Instead, it’s a culmination of a number of unique perks and features of the season that help make it a special time in the park.
Crowds Have Thinned
One of the biggest reasons to visit the park during Zion’s Secret Season is the chance to experience the park with few other people. June and July often bring more than 500,000 people to the park each month. By comparison, January often sees less than 100,000.
Whether you want to enjoy a popular hiking trail or simply take in the views with a little more peace and quiet, you can’t beat winter in Zion.
The Weather Has Cooled
If you’ve ever tried hiking Angels Landing during triple-digit summer temperatures, you know how challenging the weather in Zion can get. Winter brings a welcome relief to the park.
The average daily temperature in December and January hovers in the high 30s (Fahrenheit), and rises to the mid-40s (Fahrenheit) in February. However, mild weather is common in the park during Zion’s Secret Season. It’s also not unusual for the daily highs to reach into the low to mid-50s (Fahrenheit) during the winter months as well.
An Occasional Snow Turns the Park Into a Sparkling Wonderland
Unlike some of Utah’s higher elevations, Zion and much of the rest of Southern Utah see little annual snowfall. On average, Zion sees just two days of snow, and fewer than five inches total of snowfall each year.
But if you’re lucky enough to visit the park after a snowfall, you’ll be treated to views that most visitors never get to see. Coated in sparkling white powder, Zion National Park becomes a beautiful winter wonderland.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be in the park while there is snow, plan to take a day trip to Bryce Canyon. This nearby national park sees far more snow each year. In fact, most roads in the park are closed to vehicles this time of year, and are only accessible by foot. You can rent snowshoes or cross-country skis, and trek through the park for a winter adventure.
There’s Plenty to See and Do
Wondering what you’ll be able to do when you visit Zion during the winter? The answer is pretty much anything you would do during a summer visit—and then some!
If you don’t mind bundling up in some warm layers, winter can be even better for hiking. Those mid-30 (Fahrenheit) temperatures make for a far more enjoyable hike than a summer trek in triple-digit temps. While you’ll want to skip steep trails like Angels Landing on days when snow or ice can make them slick and dangerous, there are plenty of other trails to enjoy on these days. This time of year, even the park’s most popular trails are rarely crowded.
Many first-time visitors to Zion don’t realize that you can also go skiing and snowboarding nearby this time of year. You don’t need to go all the way to Park City; Southern Utah has its own winter destination.
Brian Head Resort is located just an hour and a half from Zion. The resort has eight chair lifts and 71 runs for both snowboarding and skiing. You can also go tubing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. This makes for a great day trip during your winter visit to Zion.
Visiting During Zion’s Secret Season
If you want to experience fewer crowds, lower temperatures, and the chance to enjoy some fun winter activities, you’ll definitely want to plan a stay at Cliffrose Lodge during Zion’s Secret Season.
Ready to start planning your own visit to Zion in winter? Check out this article next to learn the park hours you’ll need to know this season.