Ultimate Zion National Park One Day Itinerary

Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the USA, and the most popular of the many famous national parks in Utah.  It is also home to two of the most popular and well-known national park hikes, Angels Landing and The Narrows.  All of this makes it a must-see destination on a Southwest USA road trip, even if you only have one day in Zion National Park.

With this Zion National Park one day itinerary, we’ve combined the best sights to see in just one day, so that you can properly experience this wonderful national park on your visit.

Entrance to Zion National Park

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Is One Day Enough for Zion National Park?

While one day in Zion National Park allows you to see some of the highlights, such as the famous Angels Landing or The Narrows hike, you won’t be able to see everything. You will however be able to get a good feel for what the park has to offer, and you will definitely want to come back! If you only have one day in your itinerary available to see Zion National Park and are wondering if it is worth it, the resounding answer is yes!

View from Angels Landing Zion National Park

Can You See Bryce and Zion National Parks in One Day?

If you’re just driving through the parks and not doing any hiking, you could visit both Bryce and Zion National Park in one day, but if you want to hike in one or the other, it’s not recommended.  You just wouldn’t be able to see or do much in either if you went to both Zion and Bryce in one day. You would also spend a large amount of the daylight hours driving between the two parks. We recommend planning at least 1 day in each park at a minimum, however ideally you should plan for at least two days per park, so you get a good taste of what the parks are like.

Angels Landing View Keychain Section Zion National Park

Directions to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is in the southwest corner of Utah, not far from Bryce Canyon National Park, the bustling town of St. George, the outdoor capital of Kanab, and slightly further, Las Vegas.  If you’re flying, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are the best airports to fly in to. The closest town to the entrance of Zion National Park is Springdale.

Salt Lake City to Zion National Park

From Salt Lake City International Airport, it’s a 312 mile (502 km) drive that takes just under 4.5 hours.  While you won’t be able to do a day trip to Zion from Salt Lake City, it is a nice and easy drive down Interstate 15 to St. George, Utah before exiting to head to the park.  If you have to rent a car, there are plenty of rental car options available at Salt Lake City International Airport. A standard economy car is just fine for this road trip, as there is no need for four wheel drive.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park

If you’re in Las Vegas, a day trip to Zion is definitely possible, and is very popular with those visiting Las Vegas as part of a longer trip. A day trip to Zion National Park would be a very long day, but it would be an amazing experience!

From Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, it’s about a 175 mile (282 km) drive to Zion National Park and it takes just under three hours. Like Salt Lake City, it’s an easy drive along Interstate 15 from Las Vegas to St. George, before the exit to the park.  There are plenty of rental car options at Las Vegas airport as well, and even tours for days trips to Zion if you are not able to, or don’t want to drive.

Zion Shuttle Service Explained

There are a few different areas of Zion National Park to explore, but if you are visiting the main part of the park, Zion Canyon, to hike either Angels Landing or The Narrows, you will need to take the Zion National Park shuttle. The Zion Park shuttle has been operational for a number of years due to the overwhelming popularity of this park. The park road system is unable to accommodate the number of tourists visiting, and so you are required to park at designated areas, and take the Zion Park shuttle into the Zion Canyon area of the park.

As Zion National Park is an extremely busy park, knowing how the shuttle works will help you make the most of Zion National Park in one day. There are actually two shuttles available, and fortunately both are free. The first is the Springdale Shuttle which will pick you up in the nearby town of Springdale and drop you off at the park’s pedestrian/bike entrance. The other is the Zion Canyon Shuttle which starts at the main Zion National Park Visitor Center and goes into Zion Canyon making stops at the Zion Lodge and almost all the trailheads along the way.

Shuttle Bus in Zion National Park

The shuttles usually run every day from mid-March to November, plus on weekends in February, March, and the last week of December. Anytime the shuttle isn’t running (most of December, January, and weekdays in February) you can drive the Zion Canyon road yourself, but if parking is full, they may close the road for a bit.

During the shuttle season, definitely start your day early because even the Visitor Center parking lot fills up fast and you may have to park in Springdale.

Zion Hiking Permits

There are only a couple of trails in Zion that require hiking permits, due to there overwhelming popularity. The first trail is The Subway, which is a little more technical than other hikes and not the best option if you are just in Zion National Park for one day.

The other is Angels Landing hike, but only for the top chains section. You can still hike up to Scouts Landing at the top of the Walters Wiggles switchbacks but beyond that, starting April 1, 2022, a permit is required. Keep reading further below for all the details about the Angels Landing hike as part of the ultimate Zion National Park one day itinerary.

To obtain a permit for the Angels Landing hike, there are two lottery processes available. There is a seasonal lottery process which occurs once per quarter and there is a daily lottery process for a ‘day before’ application. You can apply online for both of them at recreation.gov. The permit process for Zion National Park is new, however similar permits have been used for years at other popular hikes such as The Wave.

What to Do in Zion for One Day: Ultimate Zion National Park One Day Itinerary

Thankfully, Zion National Park is not overly large, so even with just one day in Zion you’ll be able to see and do quite a bit, especially if you plan ahead. There is a $30 USD entrance fee for Zion National Park, but an American the Beautiful annual National Park pass is also accepted. You can purchase your National Park Pass online here or obtain one at the park entrance.

The Zion National Park one day itinerary below starts on the east side of the park with the Mount Carmel Highway, so get started early. If you’re coming from Kanab, you won’t have to do any backtracking since this is the most convenient way to enter the park from there.

If you are coming from Springdale, Hurricane, or St. George, you will have to drive up the switchbacks and back down so you get to see it from both directions. It is more time consuming to drive this way but the views are absolutely worth it! Of course, you can just as easily complete this one day Zion itinerary in the opposite direction, depending on your preference of hiking early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

We put together this Zion National Park one day itinerary for you to make sure you can get the most out of your day in the park and hike up to the best views that Zion has to offer.

View from Angels Landing in Fall Zion National Park

Drive the Zion to Mount Carmel Highway

It’s a 9.9 mile (16 km) drive taking about 30 minutes to get from the east entrance of Zion National Park to the central Zion Canyon Junction on the Mount Carmel Highway. While there aren’t as many official trails on this section of highway, there are a few prominent ones, and some incredible scenery that’s totally different than the Zion Canyon. This upper area is home to some incredible rock formations that you can easily explore at your own pace.

Checkerboard Mesa

There is no official trail at Checkerboard Mesa, but it’s a wide open area perfect for exploring on your own. There are tons of pull outs nearby that can also be explored and are good ways to escape the crowds that concentrate further inside the park near the Zion Canyon. Exploring the Checkerboard Mesa area is a great way to get out by yourself to find a special viewpoint.

Checkerboard Mesa Zion National Park

Location on Google Maps: Checkerboard Mesa

Facilities: No facilities here.

What to Bring: Just your sense of exploration and memory of where you parked your car!

Helpful Tips: There is a parking area here but it’s not huge. There are a couple of others nearby you can use just don’t park on the road and if you do have to walk from a different parking area, keep an eye out for traffic since there is no sidewalk in this area.

Optional: Hike the Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is an easy one-mile (1.6 km) round-trip hike with a view rivaling Angels Landing, but with a lot less effort and without the steep and scary drop-offs. It is also a great place to see bighorn sheep that call Zion National Park home. The trail can be busy and there is not a lot of parking spots so it can’t get quite as busy as other trails in the park. If you want to add an easy hike to your Zion National Park one day itinerary, this is one of the best options.

Canyon Overlook Train in Zion National Park

Location on Google Maps: Canyon Overlook trailhead and Parking Lot

Facilities: Toilets are located near the parking area.

What to Bring: Some good hiking boots and water. Zion can get very hot and dry anytime of year.

Helpful Tips: Parking is very limited here. The main parking area is just before the entrance to the tunnel and the other parking lot is located just around the curve in the road. If these parking lots are full, you may have to try again later.

Drive Through the Tunnel and Switchbacks

This is the most famous section of the Mount Carmel Highway in Zion National Park. The drive through the tunnel and down the switchbacks is incredible, and a destination itself. The tunnel is an engineering feat as it goes straight through the incredible rocky landscape. The views along the switchbacks are what are most impressive. Your mind will be blown as you exit the darkness of the tunnel and are presented with the stunning towering red cliffs all around you.

Switchback Roads in Zion National Park

Location on Google Maps: Tunnel and switchbacks

Facilities: None.

What to Bring: Dramamine if you get carsick as there are a number of very tight switchbacks!

Helpful Tips: You’re not allowed to stop in the tunnel, but there is lots of safe parking on the corners of the switchbacks to stop and enjoy the views. If you have an RV, be sure to check tunnel operation hours and dates before going.

Zion National Park Visitor Center and the Zion Shuttle

After your drive through the southern portion of Zion National Park along the Mount Carmel Highway, the next stop is the Zion National Park Visitor Center. This is where you will catch the Zion Shuttle to get to the various trailheads and also where you can find out everything you need to know before starting your one day in Zion. You can find information about hikes, drive times, the shuttle, wildlife, and everything else park related here.

Be sure to stop in the Visitor Center gift shop, which is one of our favorites out of all the nearby National Parks. This is also where you’ll find the campground, bathrooms, park maps, and more.

Visitor Center in Zion National Park

Location on Google Maps: Zion National Park Visitor Center

Facilities: Campground, bathrooms, rangers for questions, Zion shuttle, lots of parking

What to Bring: Everything you will need for the rest of the day. Once on the Zion shuttle, you won’t have time to return to your car until the end of the day.

Helpful Tips: The visitor center and park store are both open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily. If you’re visiting in the busy season or over holidays, make sure to arrive early. Parking will fill up in the summer, over holidays, and school breaks meaning you may have to park in Springdale and take an additional shuttle.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive by Zion Shuttle

On the Zion Shuttle, you will learn all about the history of Zion National Park from a recording that plays throughout the journey. It is interesting to hear about many aspects of the park as you travel through the beautiful Zion Canyon. The Zion Shuttle that takes you from the Visitor Center all the way through the Zion Canyon is the main way to access all of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park.

Location on Google Maps: Zion National Park Visitor Center

Facilities: Within Zion Canyon, there are multiple bathrooms as well as the full service Zion Lodge.

What to Bring: Anything you’ll need throughout the day so you don’t have to go back to your car parked at the Visitor Center.

Helpful Tips: Get a window seat! This way you can enjoy the breathtaking views along the way. Keep your camera ready just in case you see any wildlife, of which there is a lot in this area of the park. You can get on and off the Zion Shuttle as many times as you like. There are frequent shuttles throughout the day, so you will never be waiting long on your Zion National Park one day itinerary.

Hike to the Famous Angels Landing

Angels Landing is probably the most famous hike in all of Zion National Park. One day in Zion is plenty of time to complete this hike as well as many other popular viewpoints and hikes. The Angels Landing hike is divided into two main sections. The first section that leads up to Scouts Landing is a steep hike but not technically difficult. There are some strenuous switchbacks to get here but the views are worth it.

Even if you are not a seasoned hiker, you can hike up to Scouts Landing and take it slow along the paved, easy to follow pathway. The second section is called the Chains section and this is the portion you need a permit for starting April 1, 2022.

Angles Landing Hiking Trail Paved Section

This is a strenuous hike at 4.4 miles (7.1 km) with 1,600 feet (488 m) of elevation gain. The Chains section has steep drop offs and is not for anyone with a strong fear of heights. There are a few somewhat technical locations, too, but if you take your time and are in good physical condition, you should be able to do this.

The biggest difficulty and frustration of this hike is waiting for slower hikers in the Chains section. Many of the areas are one-way only, causing long delays and many people waiting in precarious positions on the hike. This is the primary reason why the permit system now exists.

Angels Landing Hiking Trail Chains Section

When you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views in Zion National Park and you’ll have conquered the trail that scares a lot of people off. This is one of the best and most interesting hikes in all of the U.S. National Parks thanks to its unique trail, the switchbacks and chains, and the incredible view. The view is probably only topped by Observation Point, which looks down at Angels Landing from above.

View from Angels Landing Zion National Park

Location on Google Maps: Angels Landing Trailhead

Facilities: A picnic area and bathrooms are located at Scouts Landing.

What to Bring: Sunscreen and lots of water, if you’re hiking it in the winter, micro spikes may be necessary as the trail can get snowy and icy.

Helpful Tips: Be sure to take your time, especially if it’s busy on the chains section. The trailhead for Angels Landing is at The Grotto shuttle stop. This hike should take about three hours roundtrip.

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park

There is no bad time to visit Zion National Park, but some seasons are better than others for a variety of reasons. No matter which season you choose, you will be able to add all of these activities to your Zion National Park one day itinerary.

Winter in Zion National Park

Winter is going to be the least busy time of the year (aside from the holiday period of Christmas and New Year’s) but it can also get snowy and icy. Trails may be closed due to ice, or they might be a lot more difficult than normal. Microspikes, like Yaktrax, and good winter boots will make your experience a lot more enjoyable if there is ice. Trails can also be pretty muddy if there has been recent snow melting. 

Temperatures can vary wildly from well below freezing to 70 F (21 C) during the day. Check the weather before you go to make sure you are properly prepared and have the right gear for your one day in Zion itinerary. You also won’t have to use the Zion Shuttle if you visit in December, January, or weekdays in February, and can drive to the trailheads in Zion Canyon yourself. Keep in mind that park officials can close the Zion National Park roads to trailheads if the parking lots are overflowing.

Restaurants in Springdale have different opening times in winter and may not be open. It helps to do some research in advance to make sure your favorite restaurants are open.

Spring in Zion National Park

The shuttle service starts back up in spring and the park starts to get busier, especially during spring break. Cacti start to bloom and trees start turning green again. With snow melting, the Virgin River may be high and The Narrows may be closed for extended periods. Temperatures are pleasantly comfortable but spring can also be windy in the desert. Be sure to bring layers for all weather possibilities that spring in Zion National Park may bring.

Summer in Zion National Park

Summer in Zion is busy and hot. Everything is in full swing as it is peak season after all. While other seasons can be more flexible, your one day in Zion National Park in the summer might need to be planned out a little more, especially if you want to hike Angels Landing. Be ready to start your day early and drink a lot of water. Most hikes in Zion Canyon will be very busy. If you’re hiking The Narrows in July, August or September, be sure to watch the weather and keep an eye out for rain. You don’t want to get caught in a flash flood.

Fall in Zion National Park

Fall is the best time to visit Zion National Park. One day there will be easy to pack full of great hikes and Zion Canyon is stunning with the beautiful fall colors on the trees! The cottonwood trees along the Virgin River will be turning yellow, the shuttle is still running but it is not quite as busy as summer, and the weather is hard to beat in fall. We visited Zion National Park in November and the temperatures were perfect for hiking. None of the hikes were too crowded and with the remaining fall foliage, the views were hard to beat.

Fall Foliage at Zion National Park

Best Place to Stay Near Zion National Park

There are tons of places to stay near Zion National Park no matter what your budget is or what type of stay you are looking for. There are budget options, luxury hotels, glamping resorts, and campgrounds available.

Hotels Near Zion National Park

If you want to stay as close to Zion National Park as possible, which is recommended if you only have one day in Zion, the small town of Springdale is your best bet. If you’re on a tight budget, the Zion Park motel is a good choice for it’s great location in the center of town, and close access to the shuttle. If you’re looking for something a little bit nicer after a long day of hiking, the Cable Mountain Lodge offers beautiful red rock mountain views, and a lovely outdoor swimming pool. If you want try glamping, the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort is perfect, however it does require a minimum two-night stay during peak periods. The glamping experience on offer is perfect for really taking in the natural beauty of Utah.

Camping in Zion National Park

There are two campgrounds in Zion Canyon, the Watchman Campground (open year-round) and the South Campground (closed in winter). They are both located right by the visitor center. Reservations are required for both campgrounds (six months in advance for the Watchman Campground and 14 days for the South Campground) and they do fill up almost every day in the summer.

The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for the Ultimate Zion National Park One Day Itinerary

To make the most of your one day in Zion, you’ll want to plan ahead and these top tips will help you do that to the make the most of your Zion National Park one day itinerary.

Research the Weather and Plan Ahead

While the weather is pretty straight-forward most of the year in Zion, you’ll still want to check to make sure you’ve got the right clothes and gear.  Late summer is monsoon season and you don’t want to be caught on some of these hikes in the rain. The area around Zion is prone to flash floods in these monsoon storms and they can be dangerous. If there is rain in the forecast, you may have to switch around activities in your Zion National Park one day itinerary. For a winter visit, just keep an eye out for snow to be prepared for any possibly icy trails.

Plan Out Your Itinerary Ahead

Since you just have one day in Zion, you will want to plan out your hikes and activities in advance to make sure you can squeeze it all in. This is especially important if you want to hike Angels Landing and need to get a permit in advance. If you don’t get one in advance, you can try applying for one the night before but you might want a backup plan just in case. If you are doing a day trip to Zion, you might want to really choose your priority hikes to really maximize your time in the park.

Pack Everything You Need for the Day

When you are getting on the shuttle, make sure you have everything you need for the day. You can get snacks and water at the Zion Lodge but if you have other things like your camera and extra batteries, sunglasses, hat, or sunscreen, you will want to be sure you have them with you so you don’t have to go back to your car.

Check the Zion Shuttle Bus Schedule Ahead of Time

While the shuttle has a pretty reliable schedule, double check the start and end times to make sure you know what time you need to be done with hikes so you can still get the shuttle back to your car at the end of the day. You don’t want to have to walk all the way back to your car from the Zion Canyon after a long day of hiking.

Wear Good Shoes or Boots

Most hikes in Zion are on rocky trails with uneven terrain.  You will want to wear good, sturdy hiking shoes, especially for hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows.

Ultimate Zion National Park One Day Itinerary Summary

Hopefully you found this Zion National Park one day itinerary helpful for planning your visit to this beautiful park! Did we miss any of the must-visit areas in Zion National Park for two days? Let us know in the comments!

One Day in Zion National Park Itinerary
One Day in Zion National Park Itinerary

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