Zion National Park In Winter: 10 Things You Need To Know



Photo of a hiker at the summit of The Watchman Trail at sunrise in Zion National Park on a clear but cold morning in winter

Are you thinking about visiting Zion National Park in winter? We are going to answer 10 important questions you might have about your trip to Zion in December, January or February, including key things to know about weather, costs and crowds.

Is it worth visiting Zion in winter?

Yes! We have personally explored each region of Zion in December and we can confidently say it was a wonderful experience. The park is quiet, hotels have availability and they are affordable, temperatures are comfortable and you might even have iconic hiking trails entirely yourself.

In this guide we will cover:

  • 10 key things to know about visiting Zion in winter
  • In depth information about temperatures, prices and tourism
  • What you need to know about hiking and photography

Let’s get right into the 10 most important things you should know about planning a Zion National Park winter trip!

Our Zion Winter Experience

We spent 3 full days exploring Zion National Park in December 2021 near the end of our unforgettable Seattle to Sedona road trip.

Our first visit to Zion was for 3 days back in October 2019. So we knew the park well and we had already hiked most of the legendary trails.

Zion was incredibly busy when we visited in October, so we were happy knowing it would be a little quieter. It turned out to be a lot quieter!

We essentially had the freedom of the park at Zion in December.

Hiking trails were empty (even Angels Landing), we had no issues getting a next day permit to hike The Subway, Zion Lodge had a ton of availability, hotels in Springdale were empty and restaurants in town were quiet.

Sure, it was cold in the morning and at night. But we would take brisk overnight temperatures for quiet Zion hiking trails any day.

We have included Zion in our list of best places to visit in Utah.

Hiker in blue coat descending a steep rocky trail holding a metal chain
Mark hiking back down from our Angels Landing sunrise summit in December

Why Visit Zion In The Winter?

The winter months of December, January and February are all excellent times to visit Zion National Park because you will benefit from fewer crowds, cheaper hotel rooms with more availability, quieter trails and you can even drive your own vehicle into the main canyon.

Crowds, weather, roads and lodging are the four major aspects to consider when planning a trip to Zion any time of year. We are going to explain each aspect in detail and discuss how it may impact on your Zion National Park itinerary from a winter perspective.

If you typically prioritize avoiding crowds when you travel somewhere new, winter is the best time for you to visit Zion National Park.

Once the key components are covered, we will get into specifics about hiking permits and the best Zion hiking trails, plus what you need to know about food and photography.

1. Is Zion National Park Crowded In Winter?

Hiker at zion canyon overlook during a cold winter sunset in December wearing a fleece and wooly hat
Kristen enjoying the immense sunset view from Zion Canyon Overlook

Zion is one of the best national parks in the USA but it is much smaller than you might imagine, which means it very quickly becomes overcrowded every day between April and October.

However, we can tell you from first hand experience that Zion National Park is far less crowded in the winter season when compared to spring, summer or fall.

To combat the obvious and significant overcrowding in Zion, advanced reservations were required for the canyon shuttle in the summer of 2021. They have since stopped the reservations, but it is a clear signal that the small park becomes too densely crowded in peak season.

You will avoid all of the crowds by planning a Zion National Park winter vacation. We think this single perk is so important that we will more than likely only visit Zion in winter from now on.

How Busy Is Zion National Park By Month?

According to the NPS, Zion National Park received the following amount of average monthly visitors between 2015 – 2019:

  • January – 91,562
  • February – 112,890
  • March – 333,271
  • April – 431,935
  • May – 477,342
  • June – 534,610
  • July – 557,200
  • August – 491,483
  • September – 476,783
  • October – 391,538
  • November – 216,742
  • December – 136,061

Source: NPS Statistics

As you can see, most people visit Zion between April and September but the numbers are still relatively high in both March and November.

In direct contrast you can see that January, February and December are much quieter in Zion National Park.

In fact, if you add the three winter months together, you only get 8% of all annual visitors. Compare that with the single month of July which accounts for 13% of all annual visitors.

We can tell you from experience that the difference in visitor numbers was considerable even between our October and December Zion trips.

Not sure when to visit Zion? Read our guide on the best time to visit Zion National Park to investigate each season further.

How Will Fewer Visitors Benefit You?

  • Zion’s unique adventure hiking trails are so much quieter and more pleasant in winter.
  • Zion’s main canyon is open to private vehicle access which means no relying upon shuttles.
  • Springdale has plenty of hotel rooms available and at more affordable price points.
  • It is easier to get permits for hike Angels Landing and The Subway in Zion during Winter.
  • Eating out, hiking, booking a hotel and photography will all be more relaxing.

Remember, Zion is one of the most popular places to visit in America, so you should seriously consider a winter vacation if you want to see the famous park in relative peace and quiet.

2. What Is The Weather Like At Zion National Park In Winter?

Brilliant blue sky with orange canyons in shadow in utah
Sunny and clear day at Zion in December

Zion National Park winter weather is cold overnight but crisp and cool during the day, which are fantastic conditions for hiking. Rainfall is common at Zion in winter, with between 5-7 rainy days expected in December, January and February.

When we visited Zion National Park in December, we had exactly the weather conditions we expected. Mornings and evenings were bitterly cold but they were sandwiched by comfortable hiking temperatures during the day.

We hiked Angels Landing for sunrise during our visit to Zion in December and it was very cold at the summit. But we knew it would be, so we wore plenty of layers including gloves and hats for the top.

Conversely, we were warm enough in shorts and t-shirts for hiking The Subway and Kolob Canyons during the middle of the day.

How Often Does It Snow In Zion?

Zion National Park receives a very small amount of snowfall each winter but the snow rarely makes it down to the canyon floor. However, there are a handful of days in December, January and February in which a light layer on snow will settle on the red rocks.

Therefore, if you time it just right, you will be one of very few fortunate people each year able to take home photos of Zion’s mighty red rocks covered in a blanket of snow.

You have a better chance of seeing snow at the Grand Canyon than Zion in winter.

Have you been to nearby Grand Canyon in Winter?

Springdale and Zion’s canyon floor sit at just 3,900 ft elevation. Whereas, Grand Canyon South Rim is 6,800 ft above sea level, which is a huge difference when compared to Zion.

The lower elevation in Zion National Park results in less chance of snow settling in winter months, except maybe on top of the tallest peaks.

Photo of a hiker stood in front of the natural formation in Zion known as The Subway
Kristen at The Subway in Zion in the winter

What Is The Coldest Month Of The Year In Zion National Park?

December is the coldest month of the year in Zion National Park with a slightly colder average low and average high temperature than January.

December also has the highest amount of expected days in which the temperature drops below freezing (32F or 0C) at 20.8 days.

Let’s take a quick look at some temperature statistics:

December temperatures in Zion

  • Low – 30F
  • High – 54F

January temperatures in Zion

  • Low – 30F
  • High – 54F

February temperatures in Zion

  • Low – 34F
  • High – 59F

Source: NPS Weather and Climate

December and January are very cold in Zion National Park. But you can see the average temperatures beginning to warm in Zion in February.

March has higher average highs and lows than November on either side of the Zion winter season.

Need help planning your trip to Zion?

Our popular Zion travel guidebook helps you with planning every aspect of your visit, including the unmissable hikes, where to eat and stay, itinerary ideas and map!

View Zion Guidebook
Where Are Those Morgans Zion travel guidebook

3. Are Zion Roads Open In Winter?

Car parked in a parking lot with orange canyon walls behind on a sunny day with blue sky
Our car parked in Kolob Canyons at Zion in December

All roads throughout the three main regions of Zion National Park are open in winter.

The major highway running through Springdale and the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel and all roads into the major tourist areas from the closest airports to Zion National Park remain open year round.

With that said, certain roads in Zion may close at short notice in due to snow or ice. Therefore, we strongly recommend you check current road conditions for live updates on roads if you visit Zion in winter.

Many of the best USA road trips are centered around the southern states because they are still accessible in winter. One of our favorite things about Zion is that it is completely open all year.

Let’s take a closer look at roads in each of the three Zion regions:

1. Main Zion Canyon

A major benefit to planning a Zion National Park winter vacation is being able to drive your own vehicle into the main Zion canyon.

From the beginning of December all the way through to the middle of March you are permitted to enter Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and park at all hiking trailheads.

As a result, you won’t have to figure out shuttle bus timetables, stand in long lines waiting for those shuttles or deal with finding parking spaces for your vehicle around Zion Visitor Center.

In a nutshell, you will have so much more independence.

One downside is that parking at major trailheads like Angels Landing can be challenging despite the significantly reduced tourist numbers.

Just remember there are several places you can park along the scenic drive before hiking connecting trails between the more popular areas.


2. Kolob Terrace

Kolob Terrace is around 20 miles from the main Zion canyon and it is where you will find Left Fork Trailhead which leads to The Subway.

Read our guide to day hiking The Subway bottom up if you plan to apply for a permit. The Subway is an amazing experience but you do have to be aware of the roads suddenly closing if visiting Zion in winter.

Kolob Terrace is subject to occasional closures if ice or snow are deemed too dangerous. The road can be closed at different points (mile markers) in any given weather cycle.

In truth, you are less likely to visit Kolob Terrace than you are to drive over to Kolob Canyons.

3. Kolob Canyons

Are you planning to explore the Kolob Canyons area during your visit to Zion in winter?

Kolob Canyon is the furthest region of Zion to reach from the main canyon at 40 miles but it is a hugely underrated part of the national park in our opinion.

This lesser known area of Zion National Park is so quiet in winter that you will likely have a hike to yourself. Read our guide about the 4 best hikes in Kolob Canyon for more information on the trails.

The only major road into and out of Kolob Canyons is subject to closures when snow or ice make it impassible. Keep an eye on current conditions in the days leading up to your visit and check daily weather reports.

4. Are Zion National Park Hotels Expensive In Winter?

Sunrise at a hotel in Springdale Utah with orange canyon walls glowing at dawn
Sunrise view over Zion walls from a hotel in Springdale

Finding affordable rooms or even available rooms at popular US national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite can be a real problem. We have struggled through hotel bookings at parks several times.

Fortunately, you won’t have to deal with this issue if you visit Zion National Park in winter.

Zion has no problem with hotel availability because there are several towns very close to the park, most notably Springdale which is overflowing with quality hotels and restaurants.

The problem with Zion is when you visit in peak summer months. Hotels are booked up far in advance and the prices inflate significantly.

Many visitors are forced to book hotels in La Verkin or Hurricane in summer because any remaining Springdale hotels have no value for money.

However, by visiting Zion in winter you can effectively choose which hotel you want to stay at and you will not overpay. This is another major reason we think the winter months of December, January and February are some of the very best times to visit Zion National Park.

Let’s take a quick look at where to stay in Zion:

Zion Lodge

Zion Lodge is the only accommodation available inside the boundaries of the park. It is located opposite the trailhead for Emerald Pools half way up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in the main canyon.

You can book hotel rooms, suites or semi-detached log cabins. A buffet style breakfast is included but you will have to pay extra for coffee.

We stayed at Zion Lodge for one night during our visit to Zion in December. Our reasoning was to be as close as possible to Angels Landing so we could summit at sunrise (before permits were introduced).

Truth be told, we were disappointed by cabin we stayed in. It wasn’t clean and our neighbors were loud. For the price we paid, we could have stayed in one of the best rooms in a top rated hotel in Springdale.

But with all that said, it is still an experience and you get to stay inside Zion canyon. Next time, we would definitely stay in a hotel room or suite rather than a cabin.

Compare prices for your dates:

Hiker in light upper layer walking around Zion in December on a clear day
Kristen hiking around Zion in light layers in December

Best Hotels Near Zion National Park

Springdale is the best place to book a hotel for your visit to Zion National Park any time of year but especially in winter when it is more affordable.

We have written a popular guide on where to stay near Zion National Park which covers the best hotels for all budgets in Springdale and surrounding towns.

Springdale has plenty of hotel options, restaurants, grocery stores and coffee shops. But we would also suggest looking at La Verkin and Hurricane to see if prices are more suitable for your budget.

Here are a handful of the top rated hotels in Springdale, La Verkin and Hurricane to check out:

1. Springdale

2. La Verkin

3. Hurricane

Zion Camping In Winter

Do you have a motorhome or converted van? Or are you brave enough to tent camp at Zion in winter?!

All Zion campgrounds are closed in winter except Watchman campground which is open but requires advanced reservations. There may be some walk in spots available in winter but it is best to book ahead.

Watchman is the main campground in Zion and it is located just a few minutes walk from the main visitor center. This campground is perfectly located for hiking The Watchman Trail and Pa’rus Trail, both of which are easier hikes.

We spent a night in our tent at Watchman Campground when we visited Zion in October. It was freezing cold at night then, so make sure you have heaps of warm gear if you camp at Zion in December, January or February.

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5. Do You Need Hiking Permits At Zion In Winter?

Hiker taking a photo on The Subway hike requiring permit in Zion national park in december winter
Kristen photographing The Subway in Zion in winter

You need to win hiking permits if you want to hike Angels Landing, The Narrows top down and The Subway bottom up or top down when visiting Zion in winter or any other time of year.

Hiking permits for popular trails in the US are notoriously tough to win through online or next day lotteries. We have had 3 attempts at Half Dome and haven’t been successful yet, so we know how frustrating it can be.

Getting a permit for The Subway has always been tough because there are only 60 advanced reservation permits per day and a minimum of 20 last minute draws or walk in permits.

Angels Landing permits are reasonably easy to win but you have to select between 3 different time slots on any given day. Time slots are before 9.00am, 9.00am to 12.00pm and after 12.00pm.

It is important to know that you can hike The Narrows bottom up without a permit year round.

Here’s more information on permits for popular Zion hikes:

Getting A Hiking Permit In Winter

Visiting Zion National Park in winter means the odds are stacked in your favor when it comes to hiking permits. Far fewer visitors means less demand and a higher percentage chance of you snagging an all important permit.

Not only will you have less competition if applying in advance for a permit, but you also stand a very good chance of picking up a walk-in permit when you arrive into Zion National Park in December, January of February.

We didn’t know the exact date we would arrive into Zion in winter during our road trip. But we were able to apply for and win a next day walk-in permit to hike The Subway, and we only saw 7 people all day.

Note: You also need permits for canyoneering in Zion National Park, which are likely to be easier to obtain in winter.

6. Is It Safe To Hike Angels Landing In Winter?

Angels Landing at sunrise in december on a cold winter morning at dawn stunning landscape and amazing photo
Photo we took of Angels Landing in Zion during our sunrise ascent in December

Angels Landing is the most iconic hike in Zion and it is safe to hike in winter as long as the conditions are fine. Do not hike Angels Landing in below freezing temperatures after after rain or snow.

You do not want to hike Angels Landing if there is the remotest chance of ice on the trail. Trust us, it’s hard enough without doing your best triple pike.

After hiking to the summit twice, we can tell you from experience that Angels Landing is an exhilarating but terrifying hike no matter when you do it.

However, if the weather is fine and conditions are safe, we think winter is one of the best times of the entire year to hike Angels Landing because it is so much quieter.

We were truly shocked by how many people were on the razor thin Angels Landing Trail when we hiked it first back in October 2019.

Our Angels Landing Zion Hike In Winter

Due to how crowded it was the first time we hiked the famous trail back in October 2019, we made a point of summiting Angels Landing at sunrise when we visited Zion in December.

It was freezing cold to begin but we soon warmed up on the steep ascent up West Rim Trail. There was no ice and fortunately we didn’t encounter any slick surfaces on any section of the hike to Scout Lookout or Angels Landing.

We were the only two at Angels Landing for sunrise, which was awesome. Afterwards, we didn’t see a single other hiker until part way down the descent, on the flat cut-through after Walters Wiggles.

Even with permits in place, you will be able to hike Angels Landing in winter with fewer hikers in each time slot. Angels Landing is one of the best hikes in Utah and we enjoyed it so much more when it was quiet.

Want to hike Angels Landing? Here’s our complete guide to hiking Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park.

7. Can You Hike The Zion Narrows In Winter?

Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park in Winter dry pants package with waterproof backpack waist deep in water through a narrow slot canyon
Mark hiking The Narrows in Zion

You can hike The Zion Narrows bottom up year round which means it open throughout the winter months of December, January and February.

Hiking up a narrow slot canyon through a river is quite an adventure, so naturally The Narrows is an immensely popular hike.

However, hiking The Narrows in winter means you can completely escape the crowds and get a real lost world feel. You will share the Virgin River with very few others and it will be a much better experience than it would be in summer.

The only downside to hiking The Narrows in winter is how cold the water is going to be throughout. You will have to rent the dry pants package from Zion Outfitter or similar outfitter in Springdale.

You might even need to wear a dry suit if you plan to hike as far as you are permitted on a day hike into The Narrows.

Do not underestimate how cold the water and the air temperature will be inside The Narrows in winter. In addition, it is imperative that you hire a wooden pole to walk with. You will not get far without one, trust us!

Our Hike Up The Narrows

Despite getting on the very first shuttle of the morning, The Narrows was already busy once we reached the Virgin River staging area during our visit to Zion in October.

As we hiked further into The Narrows, the crowds began to thin out and we saw fewer people until all of a sudden there was nobody else around and we were completely alone wading through water for hours.

Very few people make it all the way to the end on The Narrows bottom up day hike. Most hikers will wade upstream for an hour or two and turn around.

We hiked The Narrows all the way to Big Springs which is the furthest you can go on a bottom up day hike, which took us 8 hours in total. It was amazing but very tiring!

We hired the dry pants package and needed it in October, so you definitely need it if you visit Zion in December, January or February.

Remember you can drive your own vehicle to the Temple of Sinawava if you visit Zion in winter.

Want to hike The Narrows? Read our guide on exactly how to day hike The Narrows bottom up for all the information you need.

8. Is Winter A Good Time To Hike In Zion?

Hiker with camera at sunrise silhouetted against sunlit orange canyon walls in utah
Kristen at the summit of Zion Watchman Trail at sunrise in winter

Winter is the perfect time of year to hike the more relaxing family friendly trails in Zion National Park such as Emerald Pools Trail or Zion Canyon Overlook. There are fewer hikers on the trails, you will be able to park at trailheads more easily and daytime temperatures are comfortable.

We have covered Angels Landing and The Narrows in great detail because they are so popular. But there are so many more hikes in Zion and we think December, January and February are ideal for hitting the trails.

Kolob Canyon will be even quieter in winter than it already is in peak season. You might even have Timber Creek Overlook Trail, South Fork Trail and Taylor Creek Trail to yourself.

We saw nobody else at the summit of Watchman Trail, Pa’rus Trail was deserted and even the popular Zion Canyon Overlook Trail was exceptionally quiet when we visited Zion in December.

Just remember to take plenty of layers when winter hiking in Zion National Park. You will need under-layers, light middle layers and thick outer layers for when you stop at viewpoints.

9. Are Restaurants In Springdale Open In Winter?

Eating out at Camp Outpost in Springdale Utah chicken potatoes and salad
Mark’s dinner at Camp Outpost in Springdale after hiking The Subway in winter

One of the only minor downsides to planning a Zion winter trip is that a handful of restaurants in Springdale close for the off season.

However, that doesn’t mean all restaurants will close.

If you are in the planning stages and you have already picked out a restaurant or two you like the look of in Springdale, be sure to check out their websites to see if there is any information about seasonal closures.

Remember, you can load up Google Maps and see if the restaurant is open or closed by clicking on the restaurant name and checking opening hours.

The good news is that you won’t have to make reservations at restaurants in Springdale if you visit Zion in winter. We can only imagine what it must be like to get a table in July!

Best Places To Eat In Springdale

There is a wide range of excellent places eat in Springdale, so even with some restaurant closures in the off season you will still be able to grab a decent dinner after a full day of hiking.

Just be prepared for one or two places to be closed.

For example, we wanted to eat at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co, which is a popular pizza place and always has a line outside the door in peak season, but it closed on November 30th in 2021 when we were in Zion.

We did at Camp Outpost and Oscar’s Cafe, both are highly rated and they were excellent. Camp Outpost serves up rotisserie style American comfort food and Oscar’s is a Tex-Mex with a great atmosphere.

Thai Sapa is the only Thai place in Springdale and it has a fairly low rating on google. However, we love to eat Thai food so we went anyway and we have to say it was much better than its rating.

10. Is Winter A Good Time For Photography In Zion?

Camera on tripod where are those morgans photography shooting sunset at Zion canyon overlook on a cold day in december for winter shots
Our camera and tripod at Zion Canyon Overlook in winter

Winter is one of the best times of year for photography in Zion National Park thanks to fewer people at photo spots, shorter days and the possibility of snow.

Of course you must be careful with sunrise and sunset photography at Zion in winter because it can be brutally cold at dawn and dusk. Trust us, we were out in it every morning and evening!

But those bitterly cold winter mornings and evenings do come with a major benefit thanks to fewer daylight hours. You don’t have to wake up too early for sunrises and you don’t have to stay out too late for sunsets.

You can wake up at a reasonable hour and hike to Watchman Overlook, Zion Canyon Overlook or even Angels Landing before sunrise.

Cool, crisp and haze free conditions are common on winter days in Zion, which make for the clearest down-canyon shots.

If you are among the few each year who leaves the park with photos of snow covering Zion’s iconic sandstone mountains, you can count yourself as fortunate.

Zion Photography Tip: Many parts of the canyon and most trails are in shadow throughout the day. You will need your tripod if you want to keep your ISO down at 100, especially if you take your camera into The Narrows.

More Winter Destinations

Want more Utah content? Head over to our Utah Travel Guides to explore the Mighty Five National Parks and beyond.

We hope this detailed guide helps with planning your visit to Zion National Park in the Winter!

Please let us know if you have any questions about planning a Zion winter vacation in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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2 thoughts on “Zion National Park In Winter: 10 Things You Need To Know”

  1. I am planning my first ever trip to Zion this December 2022 and this is the first blog that gave me complete information. except about the clothing (except for The Narrows). If you could have include a separate paragraph highlighting the winter clothing, that would have being the best. Afterall, all I am looking was that information. But overall very good content.

    • Hi Snehal, packing for Zion in December is challenging because you are going to need plenty of lightweight and heavy layers. The mornings are going to be freezing cold, so you’ll need a thick winter coat, thermal underlayers for both top and bottom, gloves and hat. If you plan to hike during the day you will need lightweight and medium-weight long layers on top and bottom, with spares because you will sweat a lot on ascents. Evenings are cold but not as chilly as the morning. Take at least one spare pair of everything including shoes just in case. Despite the cold temperatures, Zion’s canyon walls keep the worst of the wind away so wind chill shouldn’t be an issue. The best way to keep warm in the morning is to get out on the trails asap. Have a great trip!


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