Visiting Zion National Park in December

Planning a trip to Zion National Park in December is a fun time to visit if you’re ok with colder temperatures and possible snow. The dusting of snow on the red rocks at Zion in the winter gives the park a magical feel, adding a whole new layer to its already breathtaking beauty.

December is a great time to visit because you can drive your car through Zion Canyon EXCEPT for the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s.

things to do in Zion NP in December

Living only a few hours away from Zion National Park, we’ve had the opportunity to visit many times during all seasons! The tips we share for planning a December vacation to Zion are based on our experiences visiting the area throughout the years!

This Zion National Park travel guide includes everything you need to know to plan your December vacation! Our biggest tip is to be prepared for the weather so you’re able to enjoy the outdoor activities you want to do!

Use our Zion National Park Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting in December! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!

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A Photo Tour of Zion National Park

Take a visual tour through Zion National Park to see the stunning landscapes you’ll see when you visit!

Visiting Zion National Park in December

Did you know that Zion is the most-visited national park in Utah and it gets crowded during the peak seasons of spring, summer and fall?

In the first part of December, you can drive your car through Zion Canyon and not worry about riding the shuttle, except during the holiday week between Christmas and New Years. Being able to access Zion Canyon without the shuttle is a BIG DEAL!

All of the Zion National Park hikes remain open year-round. But… there are some trails that can be slippery from packed snow and ice and may require traction devices and trekking poles. 

During the offseason, the popular trails like Angel’s Landing may close due to bad weather and dangerous trail conditions. Also, if you want to hike The Narrows, the water will be COLD and you’ll need full-body drysuits that you can rent from local outfitters.

If you’re ok with the possibility of missing out on these two famous hikes due to bad weather or trail conditions, then consider visiting in December

Does the Zion Shuttle Run in December?

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles during the shuttle season. Typically, Zion National Park shuttles are only operational in December the week between Christmas and New Years.

Visit the Zion National Park website to get the most updated shuttle information for the time you’ll be visiting.

December Weather at Zion

December is the coldest time of year at Zion with highs around 54 degrees and lows around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Zion National Park weather can be unpredictable so be prepared for sunny, rainy, snowy days in December.

It’s important to stay hydrated and if you’re not used to a dry environment you’ll find in Utah, keep lip balm and lotion with you!!

It’s important to stay hydrated and if you’re not used to a dry environment you’ll find in Utah, keep lip balm and lotion with you!!

winter hiking gear

Does it Snow at Zion in December?

Zion is located in Southern Utah. Normally they do not see a lot of snow. They may see up to 5 inches a year in the park. It can snow during any of the winter months, including December!

But when it does snow at Zion, it’s such a treat to see! The contrast of the colorful rocks with the white snow is just beautiful.

Can You Drive Through Zion National Park in December?

With December being less crowded, one of the benefits is that you can drive your car through Zion Canyon EXCEPT for the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s.

All four Zion National Park scenic drives are open in December, but when a storm rolls through, they may close if conditions are bad so always check the park service website for updated road conditions.

The upper part of the Kolob Terrace Road, including Lava Point, closes in the winter. Kolob Canyons regularly closes during inclement weather. Driving conditions can be very poor during a storm, but roads are usually plowed quickly after.

What Services Are Available in December?

Zion National Park is open all year long. It is open every day of the year. The Zion National Park Shuttle only runs during the last week of December, check the website for the hours of operation.

Check the website for the most current Zion National Park facilities winter hours:

  • Zion Canyon Visitor Center
  • Park Store
  • Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk
  • Zion Human History Museum
  • Zion Nature Center
  • Kolob Canyons Visitor Center

South Campground is closed in the winter, but Watchman Campground is open.

Is December a Good Time to Visit Zion?

A December trip to Zion is awesome if you want to avoid the crowds – it’s one of our favorite times to go! But the weather will be cold and it may snow which could limit some of the outdoor activities.

Check out our guide for finding the best time to visit Zion National Park. Each season and month of the year will have different activities and services available.

Things to Do at Zion National Park in December

Here’s a list of fun Zion National Park winter activities you can do in December.

Even if you have visited Zion National park in the fall or summer, a trip in the winter is a completely different experience that you will never forget.

Zion Scenic Drive in the winter
Zion Highway 9 in the winter

Zion Scenic Drives in December

The first part of December you can access all four Zion National Park Scenic Drives.

Zion Canyon: This road will require shuttle access from Christmas through New Years. During the first part of December you can drive your vehicle along the 6.5 mile in and out road to see the most incredible rock formations and hiking trails.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel: Explore the area from Zion Canyon to the east entrance along Highway 9. From Zion Canyon you’ll head up switchbacks, drive through a cool tunnel that’s 1.1 miles long and make your way through stunning landscape to the east entrance. Stop at any of the pullouts to take photos, or even take a hike.

Kolob Terrace:  Another fun drive is along the Kolob Terrace road that’s accessed west of Springdale in the town of Virgin. It’s a great way to get away from the crowds. The road near the end may be closed due to snow in the upper elevation.

Kolob Canyons: About 40 miles north of Zion Canyon, you can visit the Kolob Canyons section of the park and see a different side of Zion here. This scenic drive will close when road conditions aren’t safe due to snow.

We REALLY like the Zion GuideAlong App to hear fun behind-the scenes stories and local tips that play automatically as you drive, based on your GPS location. It’s like having a park ranger in the car with you!

Hiking trail at Zion in the winter
Zion hiking trail in the winter

December Hiking at Zion

Winter hiking in Zion National Park in December is quite different from summer when you’re sweating and worrying about heat exhaustion. Remember it’s still important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen in the winter!

Keep in mind you may encounter ice, snow and mud in shady areas of the trails because December is a cold month of the year at the park and the wet areas don’t always dry out. You may need traction devices on some trails. And some trails may close due to bad conditions. Check with the visitor’s center for the most current trail conditions.

Remember there are Zion hikes without the shuttle if you don’t want to battle the crowds! We like exploring the “slot canyon” type hikes found along Highway 9. We find a pullout to park, then head down to the riverbed and start walking!

We recommend you check with the Visitor Center for updated trail conditions before setting out on any hike because the Zion landscape is always changing which means trails may close due to falling rocks, rockslides and other unsafe conditions.

Also, It gets darker earlier at Zion in December, which may limit the time you spend hiking. Be sure to check whether Zion hiking permits are required for any of the trails you want to explore. Angels Landing permits are required year-round to hike the chains section. You can hike to Scouts Landing and back without a permit.

Zion Narrows hiking trail
Zion Narrows

Canyoneering in December at Zion

The Subway and The Narrows are two famous trails for canyoneering at Zion. These trails involves route finding, rappelling, hiking, and swimming! The water will be COLD in December so you’ll need to rent special water suits and boots in Springdale.

Some of these technical hikes require a permit, and all overnight trips in these areas also require a permit. If you want to give it a try, check out these Zion canyoneering tours!

photographing the Virgin River and the Watchman at Zion in the winter
Virgin River and the Watchman at Zion in the winter

Zion Photography in December

If you are lucky enough to visit after it snows, the contrast of the white snow on the red rocks is creates stunning Zion National Park winter photos

Keep in mind that sunrise and sunset at Zion you’re looking for the reflected light on the rock structures, and not the sun rising or setting. Our favorite Zion National Park photo spots for sunrise and sunset:

  • History Museum back patio: sunrise
  • Canyon Overlook: sunrise
  • Three Patriarchs (shuttle stop): early morning
  • Riverside Walk (shuttle stop): early morning
  • Highway 9 landscape and bighorn sheep: early morning and evening
  • Checkerboard Mesa: early morning and evening
  • Pa’rus Trail: sunset
  • Kolob Terrace: sunset

Highway 9 has many places to photograph the Zion landscape. Stop at pullouts as you drive along. The views along the Kolob Terrace Road are also amazing, especially at sunset!

We like to use photographer gloves and keep rechargeable hand warmers in our coat pockets!

If you’re looking for a list of good photo spots and tips, check out our Zion National Park Photography Guide!

Bicycling in December at Zion

Bicycling at Zion is a fun way to get around the park in December if there’s no snow or ice on the roads. You can rent bicycles in Springdale. Be aware of the rules for riding your bike at Zion:

  • Bicycling is permitted on the park roadways and the Pa’rus Trail. The areas closed to bikes: all other park trails, off-trail routes, and the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. 
  • Bikes must be ridden single file on the right side of the park roads and Pa’rus Trail. Due to the narrow park roads, there is a limit of 6 bicycles or less for every cycling group.
  • Wear your helmet.

Zion Tours in December

Whether you’re looking for a half-day or full-day excursion, there are plenty of Zion National Park tours available to fit your needs: guided hikes, canyoneering, photography, and off-road experiences!

Since it’s the off-season, be sure to check what tours are available for the time you’ll be visiting Zion:

Zion National Park sign
Zion National Park sign

Zion Winter Camping in December

There are three campgrounds, but only is open for winter camping in Zion National Park: Watchman Campground.

Any time of year, camping at Zion is only permitted in the campground designated campsites. You cannot camp in pullouts or parking lots.

One good thing about winter camping at Zion is the less-restrictive time requirement. From March through mid-November, the park-wide camping limit is 14 nights. An additional 30 nights is permitted the rest of the year.

You can also do winter camping at some of the RV parks near Zion National Park.


Zion national park guides and maps

Things To Do Near Zion in December

You’ll find a ton of other places to visit in Utah that are near Zion National Park to add to your December vacation:

Zion National Park Itinerary

Click the graphic below to get your FREE Travel Bundle that includes 3-day printable itineraries. The links below provide detailed information for visiting Zion depending on the amount of time you have to spend at the park!

Zion Travel Bundle optin

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