So, if you’re doing a Utah road trip or a short jam-packed Southwest US road trip, is it reasonable to spend only one day in Zion National Park?!
Or maybe more importantly, is it worth it?!
Of course, longer is always better, but plenty of people spend just one day in Zion and leave feeling good about it!
Zion National Park is one of the most iconic national parks in the state of Utah, and it’s among the top visited national parks in the United States.
So if one day is all you have, one day is better than no time at all!
You can totally make it a perfect one day in Zion!
One day will give you the chance to drive the roads of Zion National Park with the towering canyon all around you, and you will also have time to do some short hikes with more grand views of the canyon!
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7 of the best things to do in Zion National Park in one day
This is basically as I did it!
1. Drive the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway
2. See the Checkerboard Mesa
3. Hike the Canyon Overlook Trail
4. Drive the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive aka Floor of the Valley Road
5. Hike the Riverside Walk
Or go beyond and hike the Narrows for one of the most popular hikes in America
6. Hike the trail to Scout Lookout
Or go beyond and hike to Angels Landing if you dare for one of the most popular hikes in America
7. Continue hiking part of the West Rim Trail
Trails closed in Zion
Long-term trail closures due to “large rockfall” include:
- Hidden Canyon
- Observation Point (via the East Rim trail)
- Weeping Rock Trail
Check the official Zion National Park website for updates on current trail closures and other important information so you won’t be disappointed when you arrive.
There are 2 main roads that lead to Zion National Park
Which road you take to get to Zion will largely depend on where you’re coming from!
There’s the main park entrance which will be if you’re coming from the road to the south and passing through Springdale UT.
This is the entrance that the visitor center is located, and it will be the entrance you’ll drive to if you’re coming from Las Vegas or Los Angeles/Southern California for example.
This is generally considered the main entrance.
Airport near Zion National Park
If you’ll be flying in to visit Zion National Park, the closest major airport is Las Vegas airport LAS. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Las Vegas to Zion.
Zion shuttle within the park
Typically, for some months out of the year, it’s not possible to drive your own vehicle through part of the national park. Instead, there’s the free Zion shuttle service provided by the National Park Service.
In general, the shuttle runs continuously in March, April, May, June, July, August, and September. Outside of these months, there may be a shuttle service during busy times, for example around Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s winter vacation.
In 2019, the shuttle dates were from March 9 to September 29 during busy season. In 2019, during the winter there was a shuttle from around November 24 to December 1 and December 22 to 31, so it wasn’t possible to drive your own car in the park at that time.
Confirm with the official NPS website for timings and shuttle operational status if you’ll be going to Zion during peak months, during school holidays, or in the upcoming months during the “Opening Up America Again” phase.
Here’s how one day in Zion National Park can look like!
I made a trip to Zion National Park in December 2019.
As you see, there was very little snow even though it’s December!
So even in winter, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll have snow with a winter visit to Zion.
It’s been said that when it snows, the snow tends not to stick for long in Zion.
I also was in Zion when there were no shuttles running, so this below reflects a self-drive through the park.
I left Zion in the early evening at around 5pm. (Driving from Zion to Bryce Canyon.)
So the things on this list were done in around 8 hours at a generally leisurely pace.
Coming from the direction of the Grand Canyon, it also means that I entered Zion National Park through the east entrance.
Arriving at Zion east entrance
Cost of Zion National Park
Photo of Zion entry fees taken in 2019.
In 2021, entry to Zion National Park costs $35 per vehicle. You’ll be given a pass that will last for 7 days. Check current prices here.
If you know that you will be visiting several U.S. national parks in one year, then you may also consider getting the annual national park pass. Generally speaking, this will be worth it if you plan to visit 3 national parks in one year.
For larger vehicles (like an RV), you may also need a tunnel permit for Zion. More on this in a bit.
Then, start your drive through the park!
See the Checkerboard Mesa
This is something you can see as you’re driving. You’ll see it clearly shortly after you enter the park from the east entrance.
Continue the drive through the park on the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway!
You’ll be driving on the Zion – Mt Carmel Highway as you enter the park. This highway is recognized nationally.
According to the National Park Service:
Because of the significant planning, skills, materials, and overall design and engineering, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and, in May 2012, designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
You’ll drive through a tunnel before you get to the Canyon Overlook Trail (listed next) but this isn’t the main tunnel.
Hike the Canyon Overlook Trail
If you’re looking for a hike with scenic views near the east entrance, this is it!
This will give you some of the best views in the park.
You’ll want to give yourself maybe an hour for this. It’s reasonable for this hike to take shorter than an hour.
There’s a small parking area along the side of the road, and there’s also a parking lot in front of the tunnel entrance. You access the trail just off the highway.
Drive through the Zion – Mount Carmel tunnel
This is the mile long tunnel that you’ll also see marked on google maps, and it’s located just past the Canyon Overlook trailhead.
The National Park Service says about the Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel:
At the time that the tunnel was dedicated, on July 4, 1930, it was the longest tunnel of its type in the United States.
Larger vehicles need a tunnel permit. If you’ll be driving an RV through Zion, you’ll want to see this page for more info including size limits.
The light at the end of the tunnel. 😉
Continue the drive on Zion – Mount Carmel Highway
And then you’ll approach what’s more of the “main” part of the national park. From the east entrance to the main road of Zion National Park is around a 10 mile drive that will take around 25 minutes if you don’t stop.
Continue the drive, now on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive aka Floor of the Valley Road
Zion-Mt Carmel Highway will intersect with Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the main road that runs through the park.
Riverside Walk (start of the Narrows)
The main road through Zion is an out-and-back road. The Riverside Walk is located at the very end of this road.
For most people, the Riverside Walk will be an out-and-back leisurely walk that can be completed in around 1.5 hours.
This is a paved trail, and you can also get close to the river to walk directly alongside it too.
The end of the Riverside Walk can also be the real start of a popular hike, called the Narrows.
Onwards through the river to hike the Narrows!
This is quite literally a hike that includes walking through the water.
Weather permitting, the Narrows hike can be done year-round.
You’ll want to think carefully about what to wear, which will depend on air temperatures and water temperatures.
You can do the Narrows hike on your own, if you are prepared! You can rent gear near the park whether it’s winter, spring, summer, or fall.
Many people do hike the Narrows on their own without a guide.
Or, you can hike the Narrows with a guide too.
You can make your one day in Zion all about the Narrows.
Trail to Scout Lookout
…and the trail to Angels Landing
Scout Lookout is just before the real start of the Angels Landing hike.
Hiking to Angels Landing is popular.
You need a permit for Angels Landing.
You’ll take the same trail to get to both Scout Lookout and Angels Landing, part of the West Rim Trail.
But Angels Landing isn’t for everyone (it’s not for me!) so be sure to look into it. It’s considered a dangerous hike.
If you are just going to Scout Lookout, there’s nothing really dangerous about the trail.
There is a portion where there’s a steep drop-off that might seem scary to some people, but this is a wide area of the trail so it’s possible to pretty easily stay away from the edge of the cliff.
Other than that, this is a steep trail.
You might consider taking hiking poles to save your knees on the way back down.
You’ll likely want to give yourself 2-3 hours for this hike.
Continue on for more of the West Rim Trail
And, if you want to do some more hiking, you can follow the sign located near Scout Lookout to continue hiking on the West Rim Trail!
Depending on the source (and probably your start and end point), the West Rim Trail is something like 13 to 17 miles.
But in any case, the entirety of the trail is not meant as a day hike for the vast majority of people. (If you’re looking for a Zion backpacking trail, the West Rim Trail has campsites.)
There’s no real “destination” if you continue on the West Rim Trail from Scout Lookout, and you can really just turn around once you have had your fill of canyon views!
And that’s the end of the day!
Drive out of the park!
Stop by Canyon Junction Bridge for one last iconic view inside the park!
And there are some ideas on how to spend your time in Zion for a perfect day in one of Utah’s best national parks!
See more ideas for an Arizona and Utah road trip with the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon loop!
- The best day hike in Grand Canyon National Park
- Once day in Bryce Canyon National Park
- How to spend 5 days in Arizona and Utah national parks
And if you are going to Zion NOT in winter, extend your national park road trip to Wyoming!
- How to spend 3 days in Grand Teton and Yellowstone
- One day in Grand Teton National Park
- One day in Yellowstone National Park
Zion to Grand Teton National Park is around a 9.5 hour drive.
Zion to Yellowstone National Park is around a 10.5 hour drive.
Zion to Craters of the Moon is around an 8.5 hour drive. You can also make it a drive from Zion to Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon for a loop back to Utah!
HAPPY ONE DAY IN ZION NATIONAL PARK!