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Over my last winter in Utah, technically Arizona, I wanted to do as much as I possibly could. While we didn’t make to all five Utah national parks, we did make it to three. I already have posts about Arches in winter and Canyonlands in winter and now that I finished my Zion hiking posts, it’s time for one all about Zion in winter.
Winter in Zion is my favorite, I won’t even visit in the summer anymore because of how busy it is. While the trees may be bare, the park is still plenty beautiful. Today I’m sharing tons of great tips and things to know before you visit Zion National Park in the winter.
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
Discover Cars – I recommend Discover Cars for rental cars.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
See all my resources here.
Some of it may seem obvious, but some of it I learned on our January trip. Also, this is just tips for visiting Zion in winter, not things to do in Zion in the winter because it’s pretty much the same as summer with a few caveats mentioned below.
I will say though, if you’ve thought about visiting Zion in winter and weren’t sure if you should, definitely do it! Or, I mean, don’t? (But definitely do.)
I feel a slight need to preface this by saying you shouldn’t just not visit Zion in the summer. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad about contributing to the crowds. I do it myself, everyone does. I know I say I won’t visit in the summer, but I still would if it was the only time I could go.
I choose to visit in the off-season because I’m lucky enough to have the time and schedule freedom to do that, I know not everyone can. The important thing is everyone being able to enjoy the outdoors to the best of their time and abilities.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
It’s WAY more budget friendly
We spent almost a week there in January for less than $500 for almost a week. In Springdale. I don’t remember the exact cost but I know it was a lot less than a summer visit. I’m mostly talking about Springdale for this point since there are budget places in Hurricane and St. George all year.
Now, there are a couple of places that are the same in January and June, but a lot are much, much cheaper in the winter, like, hundreds of dollars cheaper. Right outside the park entrance. You can’t beat that. Unless you’re staying at the lodge in the park. Visiting in the winter let us easily spend more than one day in Zion.
I would highly recommend the Zion Park Motel for a budget stay in Springdale year-round. It’s not fancy, but it’s affordable and in a great location. Also, none of this applies to holidays.
A ton of places in Springdale are closed
This may apply to shops but we noticed it the most with restaurants. Some are closed for the season, some just on certain days or certain hours. But almost none update Google for their winter hours so you’re stuck driving around reading signs taped to doors.
There are enough places to eat, it wasn’t a problem, it was just annoying with the not-updated hours. You may be eating at the same places a lot if you’re there for a few days but there are some good choices like Deep Creek Coffee Company for coffee and breakfast.
Related rant: It drives me nuts that businesses don’t update their hours on Google. It makes me not want to go to them when they are actually open but I can’t tell when they’re actually open, so there’s that.
You (probably) don’t need to take the shuttle
The shuttle runs from March to November, plus the week of Christmas and New Years and weekends in February. So if you’re visiting outside of those times, which I would recommend, you’ll be able to drive your own car into the main canyon!
They do still temporarily close it if the parking is full but you can do a hike outside of that area and check back a little later. We saw it closed I think twice but it didn’t last long either time.
You’ll still need a permit for Angels Landing
Starting last spring you needed a permit to hike Angels Landing (the chains part after Scouts Lookout) and you need one year-round. This is to help cut down on crowds on the most dangerous part of the hike.
There are advance lottery permits and there are day-before permits as well that you can try for if it’s a last minute trip or you didn’t get one in advance. They are $6 and the park pass or park entry fee do not cover this.
You can still camp
There are three campgrounds in Zion you can stay at in the summer, but only the Watchman Campground is open in the winter, and with less capacity than summer. All sites there require reservations year-round and can be made six months in advance.
If you do decide to camp in Zion in winter, just make sure you’re prepared in case it gets cold. It can snow and can get well below freezing at night. Be prepared for low temperatures.
There could be snow
This varies pretty wildly throughout the park but I think the area least likely to have snow is the main canyon where most people go. Kolob Terrace Road will be snowed in after a certain point (more below) and the east side of the park may also be snowy but not to the point of inaccessibility.
You probably won’t need to specifically bring snow boots and full winter gear but at least be prepared with a hat, gloves, scarf, layers, warm socks, etc.
Keep an eye on the weather before you plan to go to see what it will be like and what its like leading up to your arrival. I do wish we had them so we could have hiked on the east side of the park. It was too snowy for the shoes we had but we couldn’t have known unless we called to ask, which I would recommend doing.
You can still hike The Narrows
Yup, you can still hike the beautiful Narrows in the winter. But it will be cold. Freezing cold. You’ll have to rent a dry suit from somewhere in Springdale, for sure.
If you’re brave enough to face the icy waters of the Virgin River, you’ll probably be lucky enough to have the Narrows maybe not entirely to yourself but probably not far from it.
Only some of Kolob Terrace Road is accessible
Most visitors don’t venture down Kolob Terrace Road since there is so much to do in the main part of the park, but this is where The Subway trailhead is and a few other great trails.
However, in the winter, you can really only access part of the road, half of it maybe. The lower part of it wasn’t snowy but eventually the road was covered in packed snow and it is just closed past a certain point because of snow. So don’t plan to go all the way up there.
The trails will probably be muddy
Especially if it’s rained or snowed recently. Entiire trails likely won’t be muddy but there is a good chance sections of them will be. One section of the Watchman Trail was pretty bad, but not bad enough to turn around, and parts of the Sand Bench Trail were also a little muddy but not as bad as the Watchman.
Just know you may encounter muddy trails on a winter visit to Zion and know your shoes might get a little dirty. This is something you would probably experience in most of the Utah national parks in winter.
It is WAY less busy. Mostly.
As long as you avoid the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day, New Years Eve/Day, Easter, Spring Break), you should be good. I know the last two are spring, technically, but still avoid them.
The main canyon can occasionally close if parking is full but that doesn’t usually last long. Even if the main road closes temporarily, it is still SO MUCH less busy than in the summer. There is plenty of parking available at the visitor center and along the Mount Carmel Highway.
This alone is reason enough to visit Zion in winter. It’s really the only time we’ll go there now. Plus, Springdale is also a lot less crowded making parking and walking around there a lot easier and more enjoyable.
Trails may close due to ice
There is the possibility of trail closures due to ice. While we were at Zion in January, the Emerald Pools Trail was closed because of ice, though you could still reach it from the Kayenta Trail.
I know the Angels Landing Trail can also be extremely icy but I can’t remember if I’ve seen it closed because of that. I’ll get to it more in my next point, but if you’re planning to hike Angels Landing in winter, bring microspikes just in case.
You’ll want microspikes
Finally, you’ll want to bring microspikes which are little spiky shoe covers, basically, to help you when you’re hiking on icy surfaces. They just strap onto the bottom of your shoes. We got by without them but they would have been handy to have on part of the Emerald Pools Trail.
They would also be very helpful on Angels Landing if the switchbacks are really icy so you’re not sliding all over. I also saw tracks from people wearing them on the Lower Pine Creek Waterfall trail because they scratched the rock on the path we followed.
What to bring to Zion in winter
Warm hat – You’ll obviously want to keep your ears warm in the winter. Check out the hat here.
Microspikes – These are very handy to have for hiking in the desert in winter. They aren’t always necessary but if trails are icy and steep, these make hiking much easier. Buy microspikes here.
Gloves – If you plan on being outside all day, you’ll probably want thicker gloves, but these are perfect for a few hours. Buy my gloves here.
Hand and toe warmers – If you don’t want to get thicker gloves, bring some hand warmers. If your feet get really cold really easily, definitely bring toe warmers. They’re a game-changer. Buy hand warmers here.
Warm socks – I love my Darn Tough socks. I only have one pair right now but I think next time I need hiking socks, I’ll get these again.
Warm boots – I love my Sorel boots. They’re cute, comfy, and warm. Plus, there is room under my toes for toe warmers. Buy my boots here.
Patagonia Synchilla – I think of my Patagonia sweatshirts, the Synchilla is the warmest. I have two of these and really like them.
Utah posts you may also like:
Have you been to Zion in winter? What did you think of it? Do you want to go then? What is your favorite time to go?
One thought on “Winter In Zion: Top Tips For Utah’s Most Popular National Park In The Off-Season”
Thanks for this post Megan. It’s especially relevant for me because I’m about to move to Arizona and this now becomes possible. Of the Winter months, is there a best one?