Undoubtedly, Zion National Park holds significant popularity. Ranking as the third most visited national park in the United States in 2022, it is crucial to engage in careful planning to ensure an optimal experience. This planning entails selecting the most suitable season for your visit.
Zion’s climate exhibits considerable variations throughout the year, ranging from winter snowstorms to summer temperatures exceeding 100°F. Our recommended time for exploring the park is the autumn, though every season except summer has its unique merits.
Let’s explore what you can anticipate when you decide to journey to Zion during spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Spring (March and April)
During the springtime at Zion National Park, cacti and wildflowers burst into bloom. Springtime at Zion National Park witnesses the blooming of cacti and wildflowers. Spring stands as a preferred choice for visiting Zion, and this preference is well-founded. Mild daytime temperatures ranging from the 60s to 70s, coupled with a low probability of thunderstorms, make it a splendid time to explore. Early blossoms grace the landscape, and trees begin to regain their leaves. Given Zion’s varying elevation, ranging from 3,666 to 8,726 feet, some higher trails might still be covered in snow and ice. Trails like Angels Landing can be particularly treacherous if snow or ice persists. Prior to embarking, verify the absence of snow on your chosen trail using GAIA GPS (www.gaiagps.com).
Snowmelt leads to elevated water levels in the Virgin River during this season, often resulting in the extended closure of the renowned Narrows hike. If this hike is a must-see for you, it’s advisable to choose a different time of the year.
A primary drawback of a spring visit is the crowds. Many schools nationwide schedule spring break in March, while Utah’s public schools generally observe it in April. As Zion is a favored family vacation destination, higher crowds are to be expected in spring compared to winter. Opting for a late April visit provides the best chance for a less crowded spring experience.
The complimentary Zion Canyon shuttle typically resumes service in early March. While operational, it is the sole means of accessing trailheads and viewpoints along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Summer (May through September)
The summer sun reflects off the Virgin River in Zion National Park. The summer sun casts its glow on the Virgin River in Zion National Park. This marks the busiest period for the park and aligns with the hottest temperatures. Frequent afternoon thunderstorms elevate the risk of flash floods. In recent years, toxic cyanobacteria blooms have often affected the Virgin River and adjacent streams during the hotter months. If possible, it’s recommended to avoid a summer visit to Zion.
May offers the most pleasant conditions during the summer, with average highs in the 80s and a reduced likelihood of thunderstorms. However, as June arrives, temperatures ascend into the 90s, reaching close to 100°F in July and August. Temperatures then dip back into the 90s in September. The park’s trails offer minimal shade, and heat-related ailments are common among summer hikers. Should a summer visit be necessary, aim to hit the trails early and carry at least two liters of water per person for short hikes, and three liters for longer hikes.
The summer months bring a serious risk of flash floods, especially from July through September. Given the arid and compact nature of desert terrain, rain struggles to be absorbed. Even a small amount of rainfall can induce hazardous flooding, and the abruptness of frequent afternoon thunderstorms exacerbates this. A formerly dry wash can swiftly transform into a raging river. Checking the weather forecast before setting out on trails or remote routes in the summer is crucial, along with monitoring the National Weather Service’s flash flood forecast (www.weather.gov/slc/flashflood). While hiking, keep a vigilant eye on the weather, and if you spot dark, gathering clouds, consider turning back. Should you find yourself caught in a flood, seek higher ground immediately.
Throughout the summer, crowds remain a constant at Zion. Parking is often scarce by 9 a.m., so arriving early or utilizing the town shuttle from Springdale into the park is advisable. Weekends and holidays should be avoided.
Fall (October and November)
Autumn leaves create a vibrant backdrop for the waterfalls along Zion National Park’s Emerald Pools Trail. Autumn leaves set a vivid scene around the waterfalls of Zion National Park’s Emerald Pools Trail. Autumn emerges as a favored time to experience Zion. Crowds tend to diminish after the fall break, and the weather maintains a mostly moderate disposition with average highs ranging from the 60s to 70s. Particularly in November, you can escape the crowds and evade snow, although early storms are not unheard of.
The secret to a successful fall visit lies in layering. Nights tend to be considerably colder than days, and the early hours of the morning can be quite chilly. If you intend to tackle the Narrows during this period, wearing a drysuit is imperative, even on a splendid autumn day. Water temperatures remain cold and can lead to hypothermia rapidly. While fall is generally tranquil, occasional thunderstorms and flash flood risks persist, thus it’s crucial to diligently check the forecast before setting out.
Though not typically associated with Zion, fall does bring its own form of beauty through foliage. Trees in Zion Canyon start to change color in late October or early November, with higher elevations experiencing this transformation slightly earlier.
Winter (December through February)
In winter, Zion Canyon is adorned with snow-dusted red rock walls, as seen from a viewpoint showcasing the tree-shaded Virgin River and Mt. Kinesava. Winter blankets Zion Canyon with snow-kissed red rock formations, as observed from a vantage point highlighting the Virgin River and Mt. Kinesava. For those seeking solitude, winter is the prime period to explore the park, as crowds thin to a fraction of their summer size. While you must contend with damp and chilly conditions, the spectacle of snow-adorned red rock formations is usually well worth it.
Daytime highs typically linger in the 50s and 60s, yet nighttime lows frequently plummet below freezing. Consequently, snow tends to melt rapidly, resulting in icy roads and trails. During winter, the upper segment of Kolob Terrace Road closes, and the rest of the road is often inaccessible due to winter storms. Certain trails may also be closed due to the risk of falling ice. Therefore, prior to embarking, ensure you’re informed about the status of roads and trails, and equip yourself with microspikes or other traction devices to navigate slippery hikes.
In the winter, park shuttles operate exclusively during the holiday season. Parking concerns are generally less pronounced at this time of year, although if you plan to visit during MLK Day or Presidents’ Day weekends, arriving early is advisable to secure a parking spot.