What is Really the Best Season to Visit Zion National Park?Sep 13, 2019
The majority of Zion National Park’s more than 4 million annual visitors choose to plan their trip to the park during the Summer months. But does that really make June, July, and August the best time to visit? Keep reading as we take a look at the four seasons and the changes they bring to Zion, as well as the pros and cons of planning your next trip during each of them.
Beginning in late March or early April each year, the winter snow slowly begins to melt and temperatures rise, bringing new life to Zion. Spring in the park is a time of fresh blooms and comfortable hiking temperatures. The rush of summer crowds hasn’t yet begun, but the shuttle system is open for the year, making it easy to get around.
However, Spring is also a time of unpredictability. When exactly the snow will begin to melt changes from one year to the next. When the melting does begin, the rivers and waterfalls in the park swell, often leading to some trail closures. And it isn’t uncommon for a late-season storm to dump anywhere from a few inches to several feet of snow; last year, a late May storm brought a heavy dusting of snow to the park just days before the Memorial Day crowds arrived. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan a Spring visit. But it does mean you’ll want to be flexible and prepared for a variety of conditions.
Pros of Planning a Spring Visit:
- The chance to experience Zion’s elusive (and seasonal!) waterfalls in action
- Cool temps and fewer crowds make for perfect hiking, especially on popular spots like Angels Landing
- Wildflowers burst into bloom, starting as early as mid to late March. Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools trails are both home to hanging gardens that come to life in color from Spring to early Summer.
- Spot baby mule deer, bighorn sheep, and more this time of year
Cons of Planning a Spring Visit:
- Snowmelt leads to flooding, especially in the Virgin River, which means that trails like The Narrows will be closed until at least early Summer
- A late-season storm may bring snow back to the park, which means even more trail closures and cold temperatures.
- While it won’t be as busy as during the Summer months, you will see more crowds than during the Winter
There are plenty of reasons why Summer is the busiest time of year for Zion, or for any national park for that matter. To start, schools in the U.S. often have a lengthy break in the Summer, and families opt to vacation together at that time. Warm weather also beckons plenty of visitors, even as temperatures soar to triple digits in July and August.
Whatever the reason, and despite crowds that grow with each passing year, people continue to flock to the park during the Summer season.
Pros of Planning a Summer Visit:
- Warm weather makes for more comfortable outdoor fun. Plan an early summer visit though if you aren’t used to or a big fan of the heat!
- Kids have time off of school, making it easier to plan a longer trip
- Tour companies, stores, restaurants, and other activities in and around the park are all open and in full swing, which can’t always be said about the other seasons.
Cons of Planning a Summer Visit:
- Early in the summer, many popular trails may remain closed as a result of Spring storms, runoff, and rain.
- Crowds WILL form, especially on holiday weekends. This can mean traffic to enter the park, long lines at shuttle stops, and even lengthy waits before you can start the hike to Angels Landing.
- Hotels and vacation rentals are often more expensive during the summer, and fill up fast. Campgrounds, especially those in Zion, fill up as soon as they become available, which can make grabbing a spot a challenge.
While it may not be the most-visited time of year to visit the park, Fall is certainly one of the most beautiful. The leaves on many of the trees in the canyon begin to change. The temperatures are finally dropping to a bearable level. Crowds are thinning after a long Summer season.
Many Zion fans will tell you that Fall is the best time to visit the park. But the end of monsoon season and early winter weather can cause problems for hikers. And the first few weekends of the Fall, any particularly nice weather, and school holidays like Thanksgiving can bring crowds back into the park.
Pros of Planning a Fall Visit:
- The changing leaves against the red rock and sandstone make for some incredible views.
- Temperatures are finally cooling down, which makes for perfect hiking weather.
- After Labor Day, fewer people begin entering the park each week, which means more open trails and less traffic.
- The shuttle system remains open until mid-November, making it easier to get around
Cons of Planning a Fall Visit:
- Crowds may persist in the early part of the summer, during holidays, or on weekends with unseasonably warm weather
- Early winter storms or late monsoon rains can lead to trail closures
- Late in the Fall, cool temps will make appropriate hiking gear a must
Winter is the least popular time to visit Zion. Which, for any guests hoping to have a trail to themselves or a photo unspoiled by other tourists, is the perfect reason to plan a visit during this season. And because the lower elevation of Zion canyon experiences much more mild temps, a visit to the park this time of year can be a welcome break from the winter weather elsewhere in the country.
Besides fewer crowds and cooler temps, seeing Zion’s high-elevation landscape covered in snow is a not-to-be-missed experience. If you do plan to hike though, you’ll need some heavy gear. You’ll also need to check in often to see if the weather has closed trails and roadways.
Pros of Planning a Winter Visit:
- Fewer crowds than during any other time of year!
- Snow cover in the higher elevations makes for unique and beautiful views
- Lower elevations, including the canyon floor, experience a milder winter, and rarely see snow
- Wildlife like mule deer stick to lower elevations to escape the colder temps, making sightings more frequent
- The shuttle system is closed all winter long, so you are free to drive through the canyon and enjoy the sights!
Cons of Planning a Winter Visit:
- Snow and ice in higher elevations may lead to trail closures
- Trails that do remain open may be slick, making overlooks like Angels Landing more dangerous this time of year
- If you are someone who enjoys the convenience of the shuttle system, you won’t be able to take advantage during the winter months
- Some popular roadways, like Kolob Terrace Road, tend to stay closed much of the winter because of ice and snow
Planning a Visit to Zion National Park
No matter which season you choose to visit, Zion offers plenty to see, do, and experience. If you’re stuck taking your vacation when work or your kid’s schedules allow you, don’t fret too much; there’s never a bad time of year to visit the park!