Which Is The Better National Park In Utah: Zion Vs Arches National Park

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This is the age old question, what is the better national park in Utah between Arches and Zion? I almost said I know my answer, but thinking about it, I’m not so sure anymore! Whether you’re visiting on a Utah road trip, as a weekend getaway, or for a whole week, this post will help you decide which park is better for you.

Watchman trail zion national park Utah

After being able to see a lot more of both of the 2021/22 winter, I grew to appreciate both of them a lot more and enjoyed both more than I used to. I would always say I like Arches more, that it’s better, but i’ll have to get back to you at the end of this post for that.

I will hopefully answer all of your questions about whether Zion or Arches is better and if I miss anything, leave a comment and I’ll answer it there!

In this post I’ll cover which park has more hiking, which is better to visit in each season (because they are different!), which has more to do nearby, which is cheaper to visit, everything.

Fiery furnace hike arches national park utah

So, here we go! Hopefully this will help you decide between Arches National Park and Zion for your upcoming visit. Or, maybe it will just make the decision even harder.

Arches does need a timed entry permit in addition to the park entrance fee in the summer, so that could be a deciding factor. I’ve included all of the information about it below and that may affect which park you are able to visit (if you are going in the summer.).

This is all assuming you are able to get an entry permit for Arches or are going/entering at a time when they aren’t required. I would also like to note, some of this is based on stats like actual visitor numbers, but some of it is just my own opinion.

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Arches National Park reservations

As of April 1, 2022, you now need a timed entry permit reservation from April 3 to October 3. You need this to enter the park between 6AM and 6PM. Your reservation allows entry in a two hour window. You can go in and out before and after that as the park is open 24/7.

Arches was facing serious overcrowding in the summer and were having to close the entrance by 10AM pretty frequently because parking would fill up. This new system is to help combat that.

The permit is $2 and you will also need to pay the park entrance fee when you get to the park. You can pay the fee or get the national park pass which covers all NPS site entry fees (but not camping, tours, parking, etc.)

If you can’t get a permit in advance, some are set aside for the next day (so April 2 entry permits would be available the evening of April 1). If you can’t get that either, your options are to skip it or enter the park before 6AM or after 6PM.

If you have a camping reservation, a Fiery Furnace permit, or a backcountry permit you do not need a timed entry permit. You also do not need the permit from October 4-April 2. You can find all the details here.

Is Zion or Arches busier?

Zion, by far. And I mean 3,232,970 far. In 2021 Zion got 5,039,835 visitors, it’s busiest year yet. The next highest year ever was 2017 with just over 4.5 million visitors.

Arches on the other hand only (ha, only) had 1,806,865 in 2021 which was just a couple hundred thousand more than it’s previous highest year which was 2018.

Arches wins this round! I will say though, that Arches may feel busier because there is no shuttle here and parking can be hard to come by.

Is Zion or Arches easier to get away from crowds?

This one goes to Zion, which feels counterintuitive because it gets millions more visitors than Arches, but it has quite a bit more area to explore.

The main canyon that requires the shuttle is not the place to escape crowds in Zion, but Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace Road, and the east side of Mount Carmel Highway are all great places for this.

Arches may get a lot less visitors, but there aren’t really other areas to explore off of the main scenic drive. There are hikes in the backcountry that will be good for escaping crowds, but Zion has more opportunities for this so it wins this round.

Does Arches or Zion have more hiking?

Both parks are great for hiking but there is a clear winner in this one, as far as amount of hiking goes. Arches has great hikes like Fiery Furnace, Delicate arch, Devils Garden, and Tower Arch, but it doesn’t have a ton of hikes overall.

Zion, on the other hand, has a lot. Just in the main canyon you can hike The Narrows, Angels Landing, Sand Bench Trail, Emerald Pools Trail, Hidden Canyon (currently closed), and Observation Point (only accessible from the East Rim right now).

Then for hikes you don’t need a shuttle to get to, there is Lower Pine Creek Waterfall, the Watchman Trail, Pa’rus Trail, Canyon Overlook, Many Pools Trail, and so much more and that’s not even including Kolob Canyons or Kolob Terrace Road.

So as far as quantity of hiking, Zion takes the cake in this category. It has some of the best easy hikes in Utah alongside it’s difficult hikes. I will say though, Fiery Furnace and Tower Arch Trail in Arches are two of my favorite national park hikes and Fiery Furnace might be the coolest hike I’ve ever done.

Is Arches or Zion better if you don’t hike?

Both parks have a lot to see even if you don’t have time to do hikes, but I do think one of these is better than the other. And for this I’m counting anything listed as easy by park service that is less than a mile as not hiking.

Like I said, Zion has three ares to visit and plenty of incredible scenery but it is lacking in short easy hikes meanwhile Arches is loaded with short easy hikes.

Zion might have a lot of area to drive and ride the shuttle through, but Arches wins this round thanks to its plethora of pull-offs, overlooks, and short hikes to arches throughout the park. Plus, it’s better for stargazing if you’ll be there at night.

Is Zion or Arches better with a few hours?

This is similar to the point above but a little different. Some parks are much better to visit with very limited time than others and Arches and Zion are no different. One day in Zion is tough to nail down but one day in Arches isn’t as difficult.

With just a few hours, I would rather spend a few hours in Arches. There is just a lot more to do that doesn’t take too long to do so you’ll be able to squeeze in quite a bit.

Zion would still be good but the hikes there are longer and you have to wait for the shuttle for the main canyon. It’s not bad but you would be able to enjoy the highlights of Arches much more easily with less time. A lot of arches can be seen from the road or with just a short walk. Arches wins this one.

Is Zion or Arches better for a whole day?

This one is tougher but it may depend on if you want to just do a couple of longer hikes or do a lot of short hikes. If you want a couple of long hikes, Zion. If you want a lot of shorter hikes with a couple slightly longer, then Arches.

With one day in Zion you could hike the Narrows and Angels Landing (assuming you can get a permit) or you could do a few other hikes and stop at pull-offs on the east side.

Personally, if I just had one day, I would go with Arches. You could definitely hike Park Avenue, Delicate Arch, Broken Arch, The Windows area, and Landscape Arch plus see Sand Dune Arch, Double Arch, Skyline Arch, and all the overlooks. But I think Arches wins this one.

Is Zion or Arches better for 2+ days?

Now for two days, I was going to say Zion for sure but but having a second day in Arches to hike to Tower Arch and/or Fiery Furnace would be absolutely worth it. But you would need a permit for Fiery Furnace and another entry permit.

With two days or more in Zion, you could do Angels Landing (permit pending, of course) and The Narrows in one day then you could spend the next doing some other hikes like The Watchman Trail, Sand Bench Trail and Emerald Pools Trail. I’m giving this one to Zion. It’s great for multi-day trips.

Arches or Zion for spring break?

Honestly, neither. Both are incredibly busy over spring break and I would pick an area to explore outside of the parks, but I’m forcing myself to pick one for this, too.

I was, surprisingly, leaning toward Zion for this but I actually want to change my answer to Arches. But only because if it’s so packed that you can’t do anything, you can always try Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, or one of the other awesome places near Moab.

Arches wins this one for what is nearby. I would just be sure to start your day super early, no matter which park you choose. Like, sunrise early because it’s likely Arches will fill up by like, ten.

Arches or Zion in spring?

I don’t love Utah in spring because it can be horribly windy which makes hiking miserable, but there is one I would pick for this. And I’m surprising myself yet again.

I’m giving this round to Zion because there is more hiking you can do in a canyon as opposed to wide open sandstone at Arches. When the wind cooperates, the temperatures are great and hiking is very enjoyable.

Arches or Zion in summer?

Arches requires the timed entry permit now and if you can’t get one, then you can’t go unless you go before 6AM, after 5PM, are camping in the park, or have a Fiery Furnace permit.

Zion doesn’t require a permit for entry, just for Angels Landing, but it does have the shuttle running and waiting for that, and to enter the park can take forever. And parking can be impossible to find.

But it has water hikes so that’s why it wins. Just expect it to be insanely busy (see the 5 million+ visitors mentioned above) because most people visit in the summer.

Honestly I would say neither, or Capitol Reef, but I have to pick one of these and, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Zion wins this round.

Arches or Zion in fall?

This one is hard to choose because both would be great to visit in the fall. You can see leaves turning yellow on the cottonwood trees, both are less busy, and weather is perfect.

I still think Zion would be very busy in the fall, so I’m giving this one to Arches. I’ve visited Moab in the fall and it’s amazing. It’s much less busy than summer, weather is perfect, and I just love it. Don’t get me wrong, Zion is close behind in the this one but Arches wins.

Arches or Zion in winter?

I love Zion in the winter. It’s really only the only time I’ll go there because summer is just so busy. I spent a week there in January 2022 and loved it but. But.

Without microspikes or good winter boots, you’re pretty much confined to the main canyon and Canyon Overlook. Which is probably OK for a lot of people, but we wanted to explore the east side.

Trails, even in the main canyon, like Angels Landing can be very icy and dangerous. They will close occasionally because of ice. And there may not be many people in The Narrows, but that water will be cold.

I love Zion in the winter, you can drive yourself into the main canyon unlike in the summer, but it can fill up and you won’t be able to go in. It’s still busy on the weekends and holidays.

But this round is going to Arches. Yes, trails can be icy and I wouldn’t even attempt Fiery Furnace or the full Devils Garden Primitive Loop if those trails were really icy but for the most part, hiking in Arches in winter is great.

It does get snow occasionally but not too often and if you want to do a lot of hiking, I think Arches is better in winter. If you pick Zion in winter though, just be sure you’re prepared for ice.

Is Zion or Arches easier to get to?

Neither park is difficult to get to, but if you are flying in for a few days, there is an obvious answer. Moab does have a small airport but it’s not one to easily fly in and out of. Grand Junction is a couple of hours away but you have to stop in Salt Lake City, too.

The closest major airport is Salt Lake City but to get to Moab from there, you then have to drive almost four hours. On the other hand, Zion is closer to Las Vegas which is an even more major airport than Salt Lake.

The drive from there to Zion is just under three hours so it’s not a quick hop over but it’s not bad. An hour might not seem like that big of a difference, but on a short visit, it is. Zion wins this round!

Is Arches or Zion cheaper to visit?

This one is hard to choose and I will be assuming you are visiting in the summer for this one. And I’m considering the towns closest to the parks, not entrance fees or anything because they are the same for both.

Moab is the closest place to stay near Arches and it’s not cheap in the summer but I just checked a Thursday night in July and there were a good number of choices under $200 per night.

Springdale, the town closest to Zion, is expensive for the same Thursday night in July. Like, almost nothing less than $250 and only two under $200. You could always stay in Hurricane or St. George which are more budget-friendly but involve more driving.

I’m going to give this one to Arches/Moab for a few reasons. Budget(ish) hotels are easier to come by in Moab and it’s closer than having to stay in Hurricane or St George for visiting Zion.

I also think food and shops are better in Moab than Springdale (though it does have good options) and I know that doesn’t have much to do with cost but I do think Moab has more budget food options so Arches wins this one.

Does Arches or Zion have more to do nearby?

This one is also tough but I’m answering this one by personal preference. Both Arches and Zion have tons of things to do nearby including other national parks, state parks, tours, shops, drives, lots of things.

I have a whole post about things to do near Zion and they’re good things. But a lot of the hikes outside of Zion and the state parks feel like city hikes and I don’t like those as much. They’re not bad but I just think this area is so much busier.

I’m definitely giving this one to Arches because I love that area a lot more and the variety of things you can do near Arches is much better (see the tour section below.)

You can explore two national parks, see tons of rock art and ruins, swim in the Colorado River, go off-roading, go canyoneering, visit a winery, go rock climbing, do no less than three scenic drives, and even go to the mountains! Moab for sure.

Does Zion or Arches have better views?

This is an easy one. Both have great views but I think Arches is better for seeing cool rock formations and geology so this is definitely going to Zion. Zion is really known for it’s views.

Zion is home to some of the most iconic Utah views like Angels Landing and Observation Point. But a lot of hikes there have incredible views like The Watchman Trail, Canyon Overlook Trail, and the Sand bench Trail.

Does Zion or Arches have better tours?

This could be a tie but I’m making myself pick one. Both have a bunch of tours that sound really great but there is a clear winner here to me.

Zion may have a lot of extremely cool looking canyoneering tours but that variety you can choose from in Moab/Arches wins this one. You can go rafting, hiking, canyoneering, off-roading, climbing, and more both in and out of Arches.

So, which is the better Utah national park, Zion or Arches?

The final tally is in: Zion comes in with 7 wins but Arches has 8! So Arches is the official winner here but it’s honestly so hard to choose which is better because both are so great.

You really can’t go wrong with either and I think which you should pick will depend a lot on the type of scenery you want to experience, how much time you have, and the time of year you will be going. Whichever you do choose, these Utah travel tips will help your trip go smoothly.

So in this battle of which Utah national park is better: Arches vs Zion, Arches officially wins. I will say, when I started writing this, I immediately thought oh, Arches is way better than Zion, but had myself questioning that throughout the post.

I’d love to know which one you decided to go to and why you decided that. And of course what you think of it after your trip! And if you have any questions I missed, let me know below!

Have you been to Zion and Arches? Which do you like better and why? What is your favorite thing about each one?

2 thoughts on “Which Is The Better National Park In Utah: Zion Vs Arches National Park

  1. Tough question. I would probably pick Zion because I like to hike, but I agree with everything you say. You can see Arches well in a day. Zion has more beauty and variety for a longer stay. Moab is definitely cheaper and more funky (in a good way) than Springdale. You didn’t mention Canyonlands, but Arches puts you conveniently close to that.

    Anyway, glad to see you talking about these. I already want to go back.

    1. Right!? It’s a tough choice! I’ve got more from our winter trip to Zion on the way, too. I feel you on all the points you made and also can’t wait to go back!

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