Our Best Tips for Visiting Zion National Park

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Planning on visiting Zion National Park soon? Here are our best tips for making the most of your trip to Zion canyon! Our tips will help save you a little money during your trip and can help reduce some stress, too!

photo  collage of photos of Zion with text that says "Zion travel tips"

If you love exploring the outdoors and seeing amazing views, Zion National Park should be on your bucket list!

Zion National Park has had a huge increase in popularity over the years in large part due to social media (visitors have increased 60% in the last 10 years). This can make getting around and seeing everything a bit of a challenge.

Since Zion can get super busy and a little crowded in the peak visiting seasons, we’re giving you some insights in how to make the most of your trip to Zion!

Our tips for visiting Zion will help you save a little money, avoid long shuttle return lines, and reduce some stress during your trip.

We’ve also included some of our favorite photos from our trip to Zion, anjoy!

The photos in this post are all taken by me, please do not copy, print, or distribute these photos without permission.

Our best tips for hiking and visiting Zion National Park

Please note that we traveled to Zion in February 2021 when masks and social distancing were still required. So if you’re reading this at a later date, things may have changed slightly (visit the Zion website for the latest requirements), but these are our best tips during this time.

Get to know the shuttle system and schedule

Because the Zion canyon is so small and can easily get clogged up with drive-in traffic, Zion has a shuttle schedule set up for the majority of the year.

So for 2021, weekend shuttles are scheduled starting February 13th, and 7 days a week shuttles started on March 13. They go back to just weekend shuttles in the fall and winter again.

From what I could find online, the shuttles go from February (weekend shuttles) and March (full week shuttles) until October (full week shuttles) to November (weekend shuttles).

So make sure you check to see if the shuttle system is running or not for your chosen travel dates!

Photo of the Virgin River near Court of the Patriarchs
The Virgin River near Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

Being the well prepared person that I am, I didn’t bother checking to see if there was a shuttle system in Zion canyon before we went. Yikes, that was a mess. Definitely a lesson learned.

We drove into the canyon on Friday the 12th and didn’t realize that their first shuttle weekend of the year started the very next day. It was really nice to be able to drive in and we expected to get to do the same thing the next day, but no such luck!

Once we got in, we found out shuttle tickets need to be purchased in advance. Some tickets are available to purchase farther in advance and some are day-before tickets.

You can purchase some day-before tickets the same day you’re there if there are any left, but the earliest shuttle times will likely be completely full and you won’t get to pick early enough times to hike much before the shuttles stop bringing people back to the visitors center.

Where to find the Zion shuttle map and schedule

For the full Zion shuttle map and shuttle schedule, you can check out their website for the latest updated details of the Zion shuttle system. The actual ticket purchases are made through the Recreation.gov website (you’ll need to create an account to purchase tickets).

The day-before tickets go on sale the night before at 5 pm, and if you want earlier tickets, you need to log on AT 5 pm to buy your tickets or the earliest shuttle times sell out. I logged on at about 5:20 and the earliest we could get shuttle tickets was for 10 am!

view of Angel's Landing and The Great White Throne in Zion
View of Angel’s Landing and the Great White Throne

Shuttle tickets are only $1 for each person, so they aren’t costly and they help to keep the traffic into the canyon managed.

If you want to skip the shuttle system, you can walk in, bicycle in, or pick a time of the year when they aren’t running shuttles (which is in the middle of winter). We were lucky enough to get to drive in on the first day we were in Zion!

Tips for the Zion shuttle system

If you’re getting to Zion NP on shuttle days, make sure to begin leaving earlier than the last shuttles leave. When we went in February, the shuttles stopped running at around 5 pm, but in the summer it looks like they run later to 7:30 pm.

Plan your days accordingly to make sure you can get your hiking and sightseeing done before the shuttles get super busy to head back (when we went the shuttles were already getting super busy at 3-4 pm).

By 3-4 pm, the lines were getting quite long for grabbing the shuttle back to the visitors center. The shuttle stops at the Zion Lodge and the Temple of Sinawava areas have the longest lines for getting back to the visitor’s center. If you can avoid it, don’t try to get on the return shuttle at those locations.

The Virgin River near Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park
Virgin River near the Court of the Patriarchs

But here’s a trick that worked for us: if you happen to be at the Zion Lodge and the shuttle lines are long, take the shuttle UP to The Grotto and get off there to wait for the Visitor’s Center shuttle back down.

The shuttle lines to go up the canyon later in the day are much shorter since everyone is trying to get back down to the visitors center. The line waiting for the shuttle at the smaller stops (like the Grotto) are much shorter and you won’t be waiting as long to get back to the visitor’s center.

This only works as long as it’s not too late for shuttles going up the canyon. Once we got on the shuttle up, we noticed not too long after on our way back down that they closed up the shuttles going up the canyon, so we were lucky we made it on that shuttle to the Grotto to wait in much shorter lines.

Pack plenty of supplies

Because Zion uses a shuttle system, you won’t have quick access to your vehicle if you run out of snacks, water, extra layers/jackets, etc. if you plan on hiking most of the day.

If you’re coming in to Zion during shuttle times, make sure to bring a backpack (or several) with everything you need for the day since shuttle waits can get long and your vehicle will not be accessible.

The beginning of The Narrows in Zion National Park
The beginning of The Narrows, Zion National Park

At the Zion Lodge, there are places to get coffee, snacks, and food, but the offerings were limited due to social distancing, etc. Plus it was a bit expensive, so make sure you plan ahead for lunch if you’re going to be there all day and you don’t want to spend a lot.

Split your Zion hiking trips into several days

If you’re determined to hit every (or nearly every) hiking trail in Zion, plan on spreading out your hiking trips into Zion over the course of 2-3 days if possible.

Due to the limitations of the shuttle system, availability of shuttle ticket time slots, long lines for return shuttles in the afternoons and evenings, etc. it’s often not possible to see everything in just 1 day unless you are just sightseeing off the canyon road.

Since we couldn’t get shuttle tickets very early, we only had time to get 2 moderate length hikes in that day before trying to get the return shuttle by 3 pm to beat the crowds (this included a lunch stop at Zion Lodge).

Our first day when we were able to drive in, we actually didn’t do any hiking since we didn’t get into the canyon until about 2 pm, so we just did some sightseeing and took photos.

For the least hurried and least stressed experience, spread out your visit to Zion over several days so you have time to hike for several hours and still avoid the very long, last minute return shuttle lines to the visitor’s center at the end of the day.

Upper Emerald Pools Trail

If you can only be in the canyon for one day, try to get there as early as possible, and pick just a few hikes you absolutely can’t miss. The trails can get very crowded, and you often won’t be able to hike as quickly as you normally would.

When we walked the River Walk trail towards The Narrows, the trail was very busy and our pace was much slower than our normal hiking/walking pace. So make sure to plan ahead for a slower hiking pace due to crowds on the more popular trails.

Don’t try to cram all the hikes into one day (especially if you stop a lot for photos like we did). You’ll just end up being stressed trying to rush through the hikes and get to the return shuttle lines late when they’re really busy.

Of course if you stay right in Zion Lodge you probably won’t have to worry too much about the return shuttles to the visitor’s center!

Try to get your supplies in nearby towns, not in Springdale

Springdale is a really nice little town, but the convenience stores and the grocery stores can be really expensive. So if you’re trying to save a little cash, try to stock up on supplies (snacks, sunscreen, etc.) in the surrounding towns instead of Springdale.

I made the mistake of stopping for last minute snacks in Springdale before we went into Zion, and the little store we went into was double the prices of anything else in the surrounding towns. Ouch!

The nearby towns of Hurricane and La Verkin have several stores (like Walmart and Dollar Tree) where you can stock up on hiking snacks and supplies at reasonable prices.

A friendly reminder to pack in, pack out and leave no trace! Take your wrappers and trash back out with you, stay on designated trails, and respect the park and wildlife so future generations can enjoy Zion for years to come.

view south from the southern area of Zion Canyon
View looking south from the southern part of Zion Canyon

When is the best time to visit Zion National Park to avoid crowds?

Like we mentioned a bit earlier, the best times to go to Zion are in late fall, winter, and early spring. We went in the middle of February and while there were fewer people during the week, it still got pretty busy on the weekend.

If you can manage it, go during the middle of the week rather than the weekend, you’ll encounter fewer people (though in the summer this might not make a difference in the sheer numbers of people coming in).

The best time to visit Zion National Park if you want to drive in and experience fewer people is during the winter months in the middle of the week.

Weather in Zion National Park

When we went to Zion in the middle of February, the lows were in the 18-25 degrees F and highs in the 50s-60s.

Keep in mind that in the shade it can get quite chilly, so dress in light layers that you can remove as you warm up from hiking or as the weather warms up.

When we went in on Friday, it was warmer, but on Sunday it cooled down more due to a cold front coming in and I ended up wearing my coat to hike in. On Monday, it was snowing in Springdale and Zion as we were leaving to head home.

Make sure you check the weather for your chosen days ahead of time so you can plan your layers for your trip into Zion.

view of the Zion canyon from the Middle Emerald Pools Trail
View of Zion canyon from Middle Emerald Pools Trail

In the summer months temperatures range from lows in the 50s to highs in 80s on average. Still fairly moderate temperatures, but it can get hot if you’re doing long hikes in the higher temperatures.

Even though there are places to get water in the canyon (like at the Temple of Sinawava stop and Zion Inn), you should still pack extra water with you for hikes when you can’t get to a refill station.

We love using the CamelBak hydration packs (or knockoffs) for longer hikes or bike rides to stay hydrated.

For long excursions or heavy activity, we also carry a separate bottle of water mixed with electrolyte tablets and alternate sips of water and electrolytes. If it’s hot in the canyon, make sure to carry some electrolyte tablets or powder with you to add into your water whenever you need it.

Our recommended gear for hiking in Zion

If you plan on hiking most of the time you’re in Zion, here are our recommended items to bring:

photo of the lower emerald pools in Zion National Park with text overlay
Lower Emerald Pools in Zion National Park

Places to eat near Zion National Park

We didn’t get to eat at a ton of local places on our trip to Zion since some days and nights we were too busy to go out for local fare and the restaurants closed pretty early for some reason.

But we did get to try a few pretty awesome places!

If you want good coffee, the River Rock Roasting Company has some delicious coffee! They have 2 locations in La Verkin, one is right next to the turn off to Highway 9 to Zion.

River Rock Roasting has dairy free alternatives for their drinks: I got an oat milk latte, but they also have almond, soy, and coconut milk. My kids got fresh fruit smoothies and loved them!

If you want some amazing dairy free soft serve ice cream, head to Feel Love Coffee in Springdale! They have several other dairy free offerings in their tiny cafe, but we only got the dairy free soft serve and it was incredible with large portions, too.

If you want to see some of the other places to eat near Zion, here are some restaurants in Springdale. If you want to keep costs down or get more choices, drive down into La Verkin, Hurricane, or St. George and Washington for more dining options.

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