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What To Do In Zion National Park In One Day
Zion National Park is a gorgeous park in Utah that everyone should visit, even if you only have one day. This is what to do in Zion National park in one day!
After our Route 66 Road Trip, we went a different way home to California through Utah. We were able to catch 3 of the National Parks in Utah and are so happy we made room for Zion National Park, even though we only had one day.
Since we visited in December, we had a very different experience than you would in the summer, so this is based largely on our experience. We absolutely loved it though and winter was a perfect time to explore this 229 square mile (593 square kilometers) park.
We’ll cover what to do in Zion National Park in one day, 2 days in Zion National Park, things to do in Zion National Park, the Narrows Zion National Park, and more!
This post is all about what to do in Zion National Park in one day.
What To Do In Zion National Park In One Day:
Hours: The park is open 24/7 and the Visitor Center is open 8 am – 6 pm.
Entry: Individual $20 per person; Private Car $35 per car (valid 7 days). America the Beautiful Pass works here!
Free Shuttle: Operates from mid-May to the end of November. Hours vary depending on the time of year. For full details check out the NPS site!
Zion National Park Visitor Center
Our first stop with any National Park is to stop by the Visitor Center. We always get our National Park Passport Stamp here. And we can usually chat with a friendly park ranger for any tips for the day. They have the most up-to-date information on closures, weather, and park attendance. Plus, they might tell you the best places to catch a glimpse of some wildlife or their favorite trails.
> Check out the NPS site for up-to-date details on shuttles, hiking conditions, and more!
This is a nice easy trail along the bottom of the canyon in Zion. It’s close to the entrance and winds along the Virgin River. It’s paved and easily accessible so it’s a perfect trail for any hiker! We particularly liked this trail as it gave us a great sense of just how massive Zion is. The towering rocks seem to go on forever and you feel just so tiny in the middle of it all. We showed up here for sunrise and had some great lighting and loved the way the sun slide down the Altar of Sacrifice as the morning started.
This is a great trail if you are walking into the park since it’s not too far. They do have a free shuttle that runs from May through November and it will stop at the Visitor Center which is just a short 1-mile walk away.
Pro Tip: This water is not safe to ingest, so be especially careful with little ones and pups!
Canyon Junction Bridge
This is a popular spot for photographers, especially at sunset. The bridge overlooks the winding Virgin River as it flows into the rest of the canyon. The Sentinel in the backdrop catches the light perfectly as the sunsets. It’s incredibly crowded at sunset but is still a beautiful stop during the day as well.
> Read our best road trip tips for couples!
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
If you happen to visit from December – April, you will be able to drive into Zion. It’s actually pretty wild because it fills up fast. Right past the Canyon Junction Bridge you will find the entrance to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This drive is incredibly gorgeous winding through the canyon. But once they reach capacity, they close the entrance and you won’t even be able to drive through. If you plan on doing this, we highly recommend getting there early and making this the very first thing you do. Once you are back there you can explore as much and as long as you want. You can leave when you are done and head to a few other spots outside of that path. This is the majority of the park though so you won’t want to miss it.
We thought that they were stopping cars at the very front entrance and once we entered we thought we were good to go. They will still let people into the front parking lot past the Visitor Center and over to the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway with the tunnel. They will close the entrance to the Zion Scenic Drive once inside. Also, there are no busses or shuttles during this time of year so driving is your only option.
If you are visiting during shuttle season (May-November) then you will be just fine and be able to see the scenic drive from the shuttle!
Once inside be sure to check out Big Bend Viewpoint, Temple of Sinawava, and Court of the Patriarchs. If you are up for a somewhat difficult hike, be sure to look into Zion Observation Point.
Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
Once you have driven the Scenic Drive or if you aren’t able to enter the Scenic Drive, you can head over to the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This road is inside the park and as far as we know, doesn’t get closed due to capacity restrictions. This highway offers some incredible views over the towering rocks of Zion as it climbs Bridge Mountain. You will also be able to go through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This tunnel is 1.1 miles (1.8 km) long and was built in the 1920s. If you have an RV (vehicle 11 ft 4 in (3.4 m) tall or 7 ft 10 in (2.4 m) wide), you will need to pay a $15 tunnel fee to pass through. The tunnel wasn’t originally built for large vehicles because they didn’t exist in the 1920s! They will need to close traffic from the other direction so you the RV can drive in the center of the road to avoid hitting the top.
You can continue driving this highway past the tunnel for more incredible views. Checkerboard Mesa is a popular stop towards the edge of the park.
If you are visiting through the shuttle season (May-November), this part of the park is still open to vehicles, although it may be busier.
Canyon Overlook Trail
We took this moderate trail for a sunset viewpoint and the views were phenomenal. The trailhead is located just after the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. There is an incredibly tiny parking lot on the right immediately after the tunnel but it fills up quickly. You can also park along the side of the road (just look out for any signage saying otherwise) just past the trailhead.
The trail isn’t physically difficult at any points and is relatively short. But it does have a few spots with a very narrow trail and steep drop-offs. You will also have to duck under low-hanging rocks and climb some wonky stairs. We made it quickly and fine but with Nate’s recent discovery of heights (see: Cathedral Rock), it was a bit unnerving. The viewpoint is certainly worth it though.
To get here for sunset you will want to plan an or so earlier than sunset since the towering rocks are so high, the sun will actually set a lot earlier than your weather app tells you. And it gets quite chilly once the sun goes down, so be prepared with an extra layer for the hike back!
Springdale is the cute town located just outside of Zion National Park. This is likely where you will be staying (unless you are camping or staying at the one hotel, Zion National Park Lodge inside the park). This small town is full of tourists and lots of great restaurants.
Since we visited in the winter, the whole town had cute holiday decorations and plenty of outdoor fire pits to keep people warm. Be sure to try out Zion Canyon Brew Pub, Spotted Dog Cafe, or Zion Pizza and Noodle Co while in town.
Warmer Season Activities:
Since we visited in the winter months, the park has very different options available to us. If you are visiting in the warmer months, you will have a completely different adventure!
Hike the Narrows
The Narrows is the iconic thing to do in Zion and we are certainly going to be planning another trip in the warm months to do it. This hiking trail is through high red rock walls on either side with the Virgin River running through. It’s great for warmer months because you are covered in shade on either side from the rocks and you walking through water a good portion of the time. They close the Narrows from mid-March to mid-May (sometimes longer depending on the snowfall) due to the risk of flash flooding. Although it is open in the winter, we wouldn’t exactly recommend it, unless you have proper waterproof hiking gear. Because honestly walking through water in freezing temperatures isn’t my idea of fun.
Although you can do this hike in the winter, we wouldn’t recommend it. This is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States and adding another element of snow or ice to the mix doesn’t seem like the smartest idea. Although, people do it often and with success, so it’s completely up to you and your abilities! This is a very hard and long hike and will likely take up the majority of your one day in Zion. However, the views are incredible and certainly the best in the park.
Fun Fact: The explorer that was walking through Zion called this point Angel’s Landing because he believed that the only way anyone would be able to go to it was if they were an angel flying to it.
Hotels near Zion National Park:
Budget | Zion Park Motel – This motel is located near one of the free Springdale shuttles and is complete with a children’s playground, seasonal pool, and barbeque facilities. Plus it has great ratings and comes at an affordable rate!
Mid-Range | Holiday Inn Express Springdale – This gorgeous property has a great location in the center of Springdale, walking distance to many of the best restaurants. The seasonal pool also overlooks the red rocks, perfect for a gorgeous summer day.
Luxury | Cliffrose Springdale – This Curio Collection hotel sits up against the Virgin River with a sprawling grassy area. Some rooms even have a balcony or patio facing out towards the creek and colorful rocks. It’s a truly stunning property. We even saw deer in the yard in the morning!
> Find your perfect hotel near Zion National Park!