Can you see Zion National Park in one day? Yes! Find out where to stay, what to see, and more in this complete guide
Zion National Park is one of five national parks in Utah – including Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef – but of the “Mighty 5”, Zion is by far the most popular. Seeing just about 4 million visitors per year, this popular park can get crowded, which means you need to have a strategy to visit in order to maximize your experience.
Don’t let the threat of crowds deter you. Zion is a stunningly beautiful national park that is absolutely worth seeing, even during the height of busy season.
It’s easy to see Zion National Park in one day with this comprehensive itinerary! Find all the best tips, tricks, and tips below.
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Everything you need to know about Zion National Park
Zion National Park is Utah’s first national park, as well as the most popular park. Located in the southwestern corner of Utah, it’s only about 2 1/2 hours from Las Vegas (the closest major airport) and a quick hour and a half from Bryce Canyon.
It makes me laugh that Hurricane & Tropic are towns in southern Utah and there’s the Dixie National Forest. Coming from Houston, where hurricanes are a very real threat, it just seems very southern for this western desert.
The closest town to Zion is Springdale and it offers great options for lodging and dining. Plus the views really can’t be beat!
Although there is a “Scenic Drive” intersecting Zion, it isn’t a drive that’s accessible for most people. If you’re visiting during the peak season (basically “not winter”), you’re going to have to ride a shuttle to the different viewpoints in Zion Canyon.
Parking for the shuttle is an absolute mess, so you’ll either want to (1) get to the Visitor’s Lot early in the morning or (2) stay at a hotel with close shuttle access. More on that below!
Where to stay to see Zion National Park
You really need to stay in Springdale if you want to visit Zion. Because Zion is only accessible via shuttle, and the visitor parking lot is small, it’s best to stay somewhere near the city shuttle stops.
Let’s explain the Zion shuttle system really quickly.
There are two different shuttle systems that access Zion Canyon. The first is the Springdale shuttle. It circulates through Springdale and drops visitos off at the Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center, you hop on the Scenic Drive shuttle.
If you drive into Springdale any time after about 10 am, the streets are filled to the gills with cars. Even within the town of Springdale, it can be hard to find parking for the Springdale shuttle – let alone the Zion Canyon shuttle! What does this mean?
It’s worth the money to stay at a hotel that offers free parking near a shuttle stop.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Springdale and, no lie, it was one of the nicest, prettiest hotels I have stayed at in the US.
Yes. I know. It’s a Holiday Inn – how good can it be? Well, I think the pictures speak for themselves:
With a stunning pool, gorgeous firepits, public spaces with soaring ceilings, this hotel offers everything. But the cherry on top? It’s literally right on the Springdale shuttle line, with free parking!
This is going to be my hotel of choice whenever I return. I was sincerely so impressed with this hotel.
The perfect Zion National Park one day itinerary
Get to the visitor’s parking lot in time for the first shuttle
My advice is to stay near the Springdale shuttle loop, but the best way to see Zion is to start early. My advice? Get to the visitor’s parking lot ~15 minutes before the first shuttle starts. You’ll be able to beat the crowds, guarantee a nice parking spot, and beat the heat!
This is especially important if you’re planning on hiking Angel’s Landing, the most popular hike at Zion.
Hike Angel’s Landing – if you dare
Angel’s Landing is the most popular hike at Zion.
If you mention Zion to people, they’ll ask about Angel’s Landing. It’s often the main reason people visit Zion.
However, it’s very important to know that Angel’s Landing is one of the most deadly hikes in the United States. If you’re unfamiliar with Angel’s Landing, it’s a high-point in Zion that is accessible via literal thousand-foot cliffs where your only handhold is a chain. Literally a few feet on either side of you is death. It’s only a few feet wide at its narrowest point so the risk of slipping is real.
Angel’s Landing gets crowded – and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to navigate the trail above with a crowd. This is why you need to get there ASAP, literally as soon as the park opens.
If you are interested in Angel’s Landing, plan on it taking about 4 hours long. This is a strenuous, 5-mile roundtrip hike.
One thing to keep in mind: Given how popular Angel’s Landing is, there are rumors that Zion wants to start a lottery system to limit who can hike it. Check before you go!
I didn’t hike Angel’s Landing because I was too scared. Two people died on Angel’s Landing in the months leading up to my trip and I couldn’t stomach the thought of being that high up during the most crowded weekend (Memorial Day) in the most popular Utah national park. If you’re too scared to hike Angel’s Landing, no need to fret. Zion offers up so many other great things to see in one day.
Skipping Angel’s Landing? Start at the Emerald Pools
If you’re skipping Angel’s Landing (no judgment here!), then you can opt to sleep in a bit and take the shuttle into Zion from the convenience of your hotel. I still think it’s better to start earlier, but a 5 am wakeup isn’t going to be as necessary.
Head to the Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop and cross the street to start at the Emerald Pools.
There are two trails available for reaching the Emerald Pools. If you want to make the hike just a bit easier (but just as scenic!), I recommend you start with the Lower Emerald Pool trail and come down on the Middle Emerald Pool Trail.
The Lower Emerald Pool trail is about half a mile one-way and will take you roughly half an hour. This hike takes you underneath the small waterfalls that lead to the pools and it is absolutely gorgeous.
After getting your fill of the pools, head up just a bit towards the Upper Emerald Pool trail. This will get you to the Middle Emerald Pool trail. Don’t bother with the Upper Emerald Pool unless you’re super motivated – it’s not as scenic as the two lower trails, and you only have one day in Zion National Park!
Follow signs for the Middle Emerald Pool trail and enjoy all the scenery that Zion Canyon has to offer.
Walk the Grotto Trail from Zion Lodge to the Grotto Stop
After you finish up with the Emerald Pools, return to Zion Lodge and walk the short Grotto Trail to the Grotto Stop. This is a short, easy trail and is a great way to enjoy Zion at a more casual pace.
Pro tip: are you hungry? There’s a cafe at the Lodge that sells drinks & sandwiches, and the breakfast sandwiches are legit. If you’re hungry, stop here for a nice, warm breakfast!
Take the shuttle from The Grotto to Temple of Sinewava
Temple of Sinewava is the stop that services both the Riverside Walk and the Narrows.
The Riverside Walk is a fairly easy, 2.2-mile roundtrip path that follows the Virgin River towards the Narrows. It’s generally accessible – even wheelchair accessible for the first part! – and most anyone can complete it. There are beautiful views of the canyon, the river, and even the wildlife here. Plus, you can get into the river!
If you’re feeling adventurous, continue on from the end of the Riverside Walk to the Narrows. The Narrows is one of the most popular slot canyon hikes in the world and requires you to literally walk, wade, and swim in the river between the canyon walls.
You need to do some prep to hike the Narrows. The best way to prepare is to rent neoprene boots, neoprene socks, and a hiking stick. You risk ruining your personal shoes otherwise – not to mention the risk of slipping and falling!
There are tons of places in Springdale to rent equipment, but Zion Outfitter is the most popular.
Additionally, the Narrows can be prone to flash flooding! Check the weather you go and avoid this hike if rain is in the forecast.
The Narrows is an out-and-back hike, so you can go as far up the canyon as you wish. The water gets deeper and more difficult to wade through as you go further, so go until you’re tired of wading in water!
Stop by the Big Bend shuttle stop to see Angel’s Landing
After the Narrows, you’re likely going to be exhausted. No shame! I recommend swinging by the Big Bend shuttle stop to see Angel’s Landing from the road. There’s nothing to do besides see the view – get your fill and hop on the shuttle back to the Visitor Center.
Head back to your hotel to relax and clean up
After your day at Zion National Park, you deserve to head back to the hotel to relax. Take the shuttle back to your car and enjoy a shower and a nap. You earned it!
Enjoy dinner at Switchback Grille
If you’re staying at the Holiday Inn, the Switchback Grille could not be more convenient. Just across the parking lot from the hotel, you can easily walk there – avoiding the parking headache in Springdale AND giving yourself the opportunity to imbibe guilt-free!
The Switchback Grille is a tasty steakhouse offering up delicious food for everyone. I really enjoyed my food and it was excellent to have a filling, fresh meal after a day on the trails.
Zion or Bryce Canyon: which is better?
Oof. That’s a hard one. Comparing Zion to Bryce is like comparing apples to oranges. They have totally different landscapes and are completely different experiences.
For me personally, I prefer Bryce Canyon. You can really only see the hoodoos at Bryce, so it’s a very unique experience. Zion is gorgeous, of course, but it’s less unique.
It’s easy to spend both one day at Zion National Park and one day at Bryce Canyon National Park, so I would recommend you visit both!