There’s truly never a bad time to visit Zion National Park. From the beautiful spring blooms and warm summer days to seeing the park’s famous landmarks coated in snow or the trees at the higher altitudes changing color in the fall, the park offers incredible views all year long.
Unfortunately for those who hate crowds, the beauty of this park has also made it one of the most popular in the country. In fact, it ranks as the 4th most visited of all national parks, with more than 4.3 million visitors a year.
Many of these visitors make their way through Zion’s entrance gates during the summer months. Unofficially, those begin on the busiest weekend of the year, Memorial Day, and last through Labor Day. Holiday weekends see a serious uptick in numbers. But on any fair-weather days from mid-May to late August, you can expect to encounter crowds.
While that certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take advantage of your vacation time or your children’s summer break to visit the park. Instead, it simply means you’ll want to do a little pre-planning to ensure that you can still enjoy a fun trip and get to see and experience everything you’re dreaming of in Zion. Keep reading for a few tips to help you do just that.
Stay Outside the Park, But Close By
One activity that is best left for the shoulder season is camping in Zion National Park. With limited space to camp, reservations fill up extremely fast. This means you’ll need to plan and book your trip very early. And even an early start might not be enough to land you a campsite. If you are lucky enough to get in, the crowded campground and facilities are likely to be a far cry from the tranquil experience you’re hoping for. Plus, if you aren’t used to the heat, roughing it in a tent on the desert floor after a long day of hiking isn’t going to help you get much rest.
During the summer months, if you aren’t a dedicated outdoorsman, it’s always a good idea to opt for a hotel instead. With lines to get into the park sometimes reaching an hour or more on holiday weekends, staying close enough to the park to allow you to catch the park shuttle (more on that in a moment) and leave your car at your hotel is a great way to start your day in Zion without the stress.
Plan to Hop the Shuttles
Only Zion Canyon Scenic Loop closes while the shuttles are in operation. But while you can still drive into other areas of the park, those long lines we just mentioned, as well as traffic and limited parking make entering the park in your personal vehicle on busy days a hassle.
Luckily, the shuttle loops take you to all of the park’s most popular spots. By opting to ride the shuttle to and from the park every day of your visit, you’ll be able to spend more time hiking and less time sitting in your car in traffic jams.
Keep Your Itinerary Light
Traffic on roadways, crowding on popular trails, and lines to get onto the shuttle will all vary from day to day. This can make it tough to plan out exactly how long it will take you to get from one trail or overlook to the next.
While planning out trips down to the minute helps ensure that you get to see as much as possible, this may not be an option this time of year. If you try to cram too much, you’ll likely end up disappointed when your plans have to change due to unexpected delays. Instead, its best to keep your itinerary light. You can always add in another hike, a visit to the museum, or even just time to relax on the grounds of Cliffrose Lodge if you get finished faster than you expected.
Take Advantage of Less Popular Trails
During Memorial Day weekend for the last few years, park rangers have been working to alleviate the long lines that form at the start of the trail to Angels Landing. Despite efforts, this year some hikers waited several hours to start their walk to the top.
If you have your heart set on hiking this incredible landmark, you can still do so, even on busy days. If you’re visiting during a holiday weekend, aim to hike Angels Landing and other popular trails like The Narrows on Friday or Monday. Otherwise, arrive early in the day to avoid the lines.
But if you’ve already accomplished that iconic hike or simply don’t want to contend with crowds, there are plenty of other options to choose from.
Watchman Trail is one great alternative. While you won’t get to scale up this landmark, you will be treated to stunning views of The Watchman. Another great option is Hidden Canyon Trail. On this trail, you’ll start at the Weeping Rock trailhead and climb 1,000 feet in the air to the entrance to a “hanging” slot canyon. It’s equally as unique as Angels Landing, but if you hike early or late in the day, you may just have the trail all to yourself.
Visiting Zion During the Busy Season
With just a bit of planning and these tips, you can still enjoy a fun and relaxing visit to Zion National Park, even on the busiest of days! Besides avoiding crowds and utilizing shuttles though, it’s also important to remember that visiting during this time can mean extreme temperatures, the threat of flash floods, and earlier in the season, trail closures.
Always pack plenty of water and be aware of the signs of dehydration and heat stroke. Check weather forecasts and avoid low-lying areas prone to flooding if rain is in the forecast. And don’t forget that you can always check for trail closures online or at the Visitors Center before you start your day!