Zion National Park attracts three million visitors each year, but when winter rolls in you’d hardly know that Zion is Utah’s most popular national park. Winter in Zion National Park is mild, which allows park visitors to experience the beauty and solitude of Zion without the crowds and heat of peak summer season. Fresh air, scenery, and exciting outdoor adventures offer the perfect escape from the winter blues. Here are five things to do in Zion National Park during the winter.
1. Scenic Drive
During the height of tourist season, shuttle buses take visitors into Zion’s main canyon, stopping at main sites and trailheads along the way. From November to March, the shuttle isn’t required and you can enjoy the scenic drive through Zion Canyon from the convenience of your own vehicle. The 6.5-mile scenic drive runs along the Virgin River and features stunning views of the canyon and famous Zion rock formations. Be sure to stop at designated stops along the way to take short hikes and pictures.
2. Hiking in Zion
Winter is arguably the best time to spend hiking in Zion. You can drive your car right to the trailheads, and on some days there’s a good chance you’ll have entire sections of the canyon to yourself.
Most trails in Zion Canyon remain open during winter but some trails, such as Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, Riverside Walk, and Angels Landing, may have areas that see little sun so be wary of icy patches. You may find snow and ice accumulation as you head out of the canyon on trails, so traction aides are recommended. East Rim to Cable Mountain is only recommended for experienced snow hikers.
You also shouldn’t overlook canyoneering opportunities within Zion. Our guides take clients on these technical hikes through November, and it’s a great time to learn the ropes, so to speak. You’ll get the benefit of a much emptier canyon, a leisurely pace, and more opportunity to ask questions if it’s your first time canyoneering. If you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s still worth a trip through some of the canyons — winter tends to bring out aspects of the landscape that just can be captured during any other season.
Lastly, to make sure that you have the best hiking experience possible, make sure you have the right clothing and gear for Zion in the Winter. The weather can be just as unpredictable in winter as during the summer, so wearing layers and packing extra clothes is always a good idea. It wouldn’t hurt to add an overnight survival kit either, just in case.
From inside Zion National Park, the East Rim Trail to Observation Point can be icy, so it’s a good idea to hike, cross country ski, or snowshoe across Zion Ponderosa’s forested plateau to one of the most beautiful views in all of Utah. This should definitely be on your list of things to do in winter at Zion.
This view alone is enough to earn Zion a place in the “best national parks to visit in the winter.”
4. Wildlife Viewing
Winter is a great time of year to catch a glimpse of wild turkeys roaming around Zion National Park, and Bald or Golden eagles soaring overhead. While some of the smaller mammals will be hibernating, you’re likely to see some large animals such as deer, elk, and Bighorn sheep. Those aren’t the only animals that call Zion National Park home — Zion wildlife includes 8 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and eight species of fish.
Photography should definitely be on your list of things to do in Zion. Photographers claim the upper elevations on the east side of Zion National Park to be a dreamscape when the red rock is blanketed beneath brilliant white snow. Zion Canyon, on the other hand, experiences milder weather at lower elevations so the winterscape is quite different. That’s not to say the landscape isn’t magical: water levels in the Virgin River are higher, mist swirls around waterfalls, and snowcapped peaks contrast with Zion’s beautiful red rock.
What’s truly great about Zion National Park in the winter is the myriad of adventures it has to offer. Places to stay near Zion are easy to find, and you’ll likely get great off-season rates. So if you’re a serial adrenaline junkie, or just want to get outside more in the winter, a trip to Zion is a great idea.
Overall, winter is a wonderland-ful time to visit Zion National Park. And for a cozy ending to a perfect park day, Zion Ponderosa’s beautiful Zion vacation homes and cabin suites are the perfect base for your stay and are available all winter long.