What is the Best Season to Visit Zion National Park?
Don’t visit this park in the summer. Here’s the best time of year to go.
There’s no denying, Zion National Park is popular. As the third most visited national park in the country in 2022, it’s important to do some planning to make sure you have the best possible experience, and that involves picking the best season to go.
The weather in Zion varies greatly throughout the year from winter blizzards to highs exceeding 100° F in the summer. Our favorite time of year to visit the park is in the fall, although any season other than the summer has its merits.
Here’s what to expect when you visit Zion in spring, summer, fall and winter.
Spring (March and April)
Spring is one of the most popular seasons to visit Zion, and for good reason. With mild weather in the 60s and 70s during the day and little chance of thunderstorms, it’s a beautiful time of year to visit. You’ll find early season flowers blooming and the trees beginning to leaf out. Because Zion varies greatly in elevation, ranging from 3,666 feet to 8,726 feet, you might encounter snow and ice on some higher trails throughout the spring. Steep trails like Angels Landing can be especially precarious if there’s still snow or ice on them. Check to see if the trail you want to hike is snow-free by downloading GAIA GPS (www.gaiagps.com).
Thanks to snowmelt, the Virgin River tends to have high water levels this time of year, often closing the popular Narrows hike for long periods of time. If this is a must-do hike for you, you’ll want to visit at another time of year.
The main drawback to visiting in the spring is the crowds. Most schools throughout the country have spring break in March, and Utah public schools usually have spring break in April. Zion is a popular family vacation destination, so you’ll see more crowds this time of year than in the winter. If you can visit in late April, that will be your best chance of a less-crowded spring trip.
The free Zion Canyon shuttle usually begins operating in early March. When the shuttle is running, it’s the only way to access trailheads and viewpoints along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Summer (May through September)
This is the busiest time of year to visit Zion and also the hottest. Frequent afternoon thunderstorms increase flash flooding risk and, in recent years, the Virgin River and surrounding streams have often had high levels of toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the hot months. If you can avoid visiting Zion in the summer, we suggest you do.
May is the most pleasant summer month to visit the park, with average highs in the 80s and a lesser chance of thunderstorms. By June, temperatures soar into the 90s with average highs near 100-degrees in July and August. Temperatures cool back down to the 90s in September. Park trails offer little shade and heat-related illnesses are common among summer hikers. If you must visit in the summer, hit the trails early and carry at least two liters of water per person on short hikes and three liters of water per person on longer hikes.
Flash flooding is a serious risk in the park in the summer, especially July through September. Because desert ground is hard and dry, it’s difficult for rain to soak in. Even a small amount of precipitation can cause dangerous flooding and frequent afternoon thunderstorms often drop lots of moisture very suddenly. A dry wash can quickly turn into a raging river. It’s imperative to check the weather forecast before heading out on trails or remote roads in the summer, as well as the National Weather Service’s flash flood forecast (www.weather.gov/slc/flashflood). Keep an eye on the weather while you’re out hiking and turn around if you see dark and building clouds. If you do get caught in flooding, seek higher ground immediately.
Crowds remain constant at Zion throughout the summer. Parking is often full by 9 a.m., so you’ll want to arrive early or plan to take the town shuttle from Springdale into the park. Avoid holidays and weekends,
Fall (October and November)
Autumn is our favorite time of year to visit Zion. Crowds tend to die down after fall break and the weather remains mostly mild throughout the fall with average highs in the 60s and 70s. November especially, is a great time to escape the crowds and beat the snow, although early storms can occur.
The key to visiting the park in fall is layers. Nights are often much colder than days, and early mornings can be quite chilly. If you choose to hike the Narrows this time of year, it’s imperative to wear a drysuit, even on a beautiful fall day. Water temperatures are cold and can quickly cause hypothermia. Thunderstorms and flash flood risk do still occasionally occur in the fall, so do your due diligence and check the forecast before heading out.
While leaf peeping may not be what comes to mind when you envision Zion, it’s a pretty and unexpected destination for fall colors. The trees in Zion Canyon turn at the end of October or early November, and higher elevations turn a bit earlier.
Winter (December through February)
If you’re looking for solitude, winter is the best season to visit the park as crowds thin to a fraction of their summer levels. You’ll have to contend with wet and cold weather, but it’s usually worth it to see snow-dusted red rock walls.
Daytime highs often remain in the 50s and 60s, but lows at night frequently drop below freezing. This means snow melts quickly and roads and trails can get icy. The upper portion of Kolob Terrace Road closes in the winter, and the rest of the road is frequently closed due to winter storms. Some trails close in the winter due to risk of falling ice. Check road and trail statuses before heading out and bring microspikes or other traction devices to keep your balance on slippery hikes.
Park shuttles only run during the holidays in the winter. Parking isn’t usually a problem this time of year, but if you plan to visit on MLK Day or Presidents’ Day weekends, plan to arrive early to secure a parking space.