Itinerary for Zion National Park in One Day

We’ve got the perfect itinerary to see Zion National Park in One Day to appreciate the beautiful landscape of this park!

Use this Zion National Park travel guide to plan your one day trip: things to see, do and photograph; best time to visit; what to pack; and where to stay.

itinerary for Zion National Park in one day

When people ask us “How Many Days Should I Spend in Zion”, we always recommend at least two days in Zion National Park.

But you can still see a lot of Zion in one full day if you’re willing to get an early start in the morning to see the sunrise and stay out until sunset. Below you’ll find the Zion itinerary we suggest you follow.

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What to Pack for Zion National Park

DOWNLOAD: Zion National Park packing list for summer and winter!

Outdoor Gear we recommend! Travel Gear & Hiking Gear

outdoor gear we use

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!

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park

If you’re wondering about the best Time to Visit Zion National Park, below you’ll find specific information about what it’s like at different seasons and months of the year to help you decide.

You’ll also find links to different articles we’ve written about each season or month specifically: Zion National Park weather, services, and things to do that time of year.

Spring Weather at Zion varies quite a bit from month to month. It’s important to pack for all types of weather because you never know when the weather will change.

It is not unusual to get rain or even snowfall in March. We recommend you watch the weather and pack a winter coat, winter hat, and winter gloves when going to Zion in early spring. A fleece jacket, hat, and gloves should be fine later in the spring.

Spring is a busy time so you’ll need to use the Zion National Park shuttle system!

Summer Weather at Zion will be HOT HOT HOT! Since the temperatures are brutal this time of year, plan your outdoor activities for the cooler mornings and evenings!

With the hot temperatures during the summer months, you’ll want to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a sun hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. It’s important to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack.

Summer is a great time to enjoy the AC as you explore the three Zion National Park scenic drives where you can drive private vehicles and avoid using the shuttle.

Monsoon season at Zion is late summer through early fall. Be aware of potential flash floods at Zion: sudden increase in the depth and speed of water in rivers, streams, or washes due to heavy rain from thunderstorms. These flood waters carry large debris like tree trunks and boulders.

When it rains at Zion, you’re in for a treat to see the pop-up waterfalls around the park!

Fall Weather at Zion starts to cool down making it a great time to explore the park because it will be cooler in the mornings and evenings, and the daytime temperatures aren’t too hot compared to the summer.

With the cooler temperatures at night, you will definitely want to bring a fleece jacket, warm hat and gloves for the nights and early mornings. 

Fall is a nice time to be in the park on a sunny day when the air isn’t stifling! It’s a perfect time to explore the Zion National Park hikes! The fall months are still busy so the shuttle will be in operation. Here’s a list of Zion hikes without the shuttle we recommend!

Winter Weather at Zion is when the temperatures really drop. It’s also the least busy season. We don’t mind the colder weather for enjoying outdoor activities, which makes the winter the best time for us to visit to escape the crowds!

BUT the cold winter weather may not be for everyone.

During the winter it is especially important to dress in layers. We recommend an insulted winter jacket, fleece jacket, warm hat and gloves if you’ll be doing any outside activities. Here’s the full list of the outdoor winter clothing we use!

We enjoy Zion National Park photography in the winter – check out these awesome photographer gloves and rechargeable hand warmers we use!

take jaw-dropping photos at Zion National Park

Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park

Located in the Southwest of Utah, near the towns of Kanab, St. George, and Cedar City, a trip to Zion national park is a truly amazing experience that is not to be missed by anyone who loves the outdoors.

Zion National Park should be on your bucket list. The landscape includes narrow sandstone canyons, high plateaus with spectacular views, and the Virgin River as it flows through the park. The hiking trails at Zion are world-famous and fun to explore.

Zion Operating Hours and Entry Fees

Zion National Park is open to visitors twenty-four hours day, every day of the year. You will want to check the website because some services and facilities do close or reduce hours during parts of the year.

If you plan on visiting other Utah National Parks, or any other US National Park during the year, we always recommend getting the US National Park pass. (Did you know when you buy the National Parks Pass from REI, they donate 10% to the National Park Foundation?)

Zion Shuttle and Parking

It’s important to know all the rules and regulations for parking at Zion National Park! Visitors can park only in designated parking spaces and should avoid parking along roadways, on vegetation, and in a way that blocks traffic. If a parking lot is full, do not wait for a spot to open up. Instead, move on and look for parking elsewhere. Anyone who fails to park in designated spots will be subject to a fine and may have their vehicle towed.

You can also park in Springdale, just outside the park entrance. Use the free shuttle that takes you to Zion. Be aware though that you must pay for parking in Springdale and that a park entrance pass does not include town parking, and vice versa.

The Zion National Park Shuttle begins operations during the weekends starting mid-February. Around the first part of March, the shuttle runs daily between Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale. While the shuttle is in operation, no vehicles are permitted on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The shuttle also runs during the Christmas holiday so check the website if you’ll be visiting Zion during that time.

Throughout the high season, buses run from the early morning and into the late evening, with departures about every seven minutes. There are two separate shuttle routes that guests can take when visiting Zion National Park. The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to nine different stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Springdale Shuttle has nine stops in the town of Springdale and will take you to the pedestrian entrance near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

When the shuttle service is not in use, Zion National Park can still experience overcrowding. When this happens, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will close to the public once all parking lots are full. Therefore, be prepared and make alternative arrangements if you’re planning a Zion itinerary between December and February.

Zion National Park One Day Itinerary and Guide

When people ask us “How Many Days Should I Spend in Zion National Park”, we always recommend at least two days.

But you can still see a lot of Zion in one full day if you’re willing to get an early start in the morning to see the sunrise and stay out until sunset. Here’s the itinerary we suggest you follow.

Watch the Sunrise at Zion National Park

Here are the best photo spots for sunrise at Zion National Park that we recommend:

Towers-of-the-Virgin-Zion-Nationa-Park-at-blue-hour-by-Photo-Jeepers (1)

Sunrise at Towers of the Virgin

Photograph the Towers of the Virgin on the patio behind the Zion Human History Museum. This is a popular spot for sunrise so we recommend going early.

Towers of the Virgin Zion Nationa Park at golden hour

We like to photograph the blue hour light before sunrise, then capture the golden hour light as it shines on the towers.

Canyon Overlook at sunrise at Zion

Sunrise at Canyon Overlook Trail

We love photographing sunrise at the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail. It’s a short, easy Zion National Park hike with one of the best views of the main canyon with first light hitting the East Temple just above!

If you get there early enough, you can capture light trails as the cars drive along the switchbacks below.

Start this easy hike an hour before sunrise so you’ll be at the overlook in time to capture the glow on the tops of the mountains across the valley. You’ll need a headlamp for the first part of the hike.

The trailhead is located behind the ranger traffic booth on the north side of the road. There are spots along this 1 mile round-trip trail with steep drop offs. Canyon Overlook is a good location to get a wide angle photo to show the entire canyon! And it works well to capture a vertical orientation image too.

Explore the Zion Scenic Drives

There are 3 Zion National Park Scenic Drives accessed near Springdale: Zion Canyon, Highway 9, and Kolob Terrace. We recommend you explore these scenic roads in that order.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

When you’re planning your Zion National Park vacation, you’ll find that the Zion Canyon is the hub of the park. Most of the year, you’ll need to use the Zion National Park Shuttle to access Zion Canyon.

You can also enjoy Zion Canyon by bike. It’s a popular alternative to the shuttle buses. You’ll need to stay on the roadways and ride single file on the right side of the road. Bicycles are allowed on the shuttle buses, but you’ll need to be able to lift them on and off the front racks yourself.

There are two popular hikes at Zion National Park in this canyon: The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. NOTE: Angels Landing pilot program: On and after April 1, 2022, hikers going to Angels Landing will need a permit. The National Park Service (NPS) will issue permits using online lotteries at Recreation.gov.

For this Zion one day itinerary, there won’t be enough time to do either of these strenuous hikes. You would have the time to do these shorter hikes:

end of Zion Riverside Walk where The Narrows begins

Riverside Walk

  • Shuttle Stop: #9 Temple of Sinawava
  • Pets: No
  • Trailhead Location: Adjacent to bathrooms and water refill station.
  • Distance (roundtrip): 2.2 mi
  • Elevation Change: 57 ft
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5 hours
  • Accessible: wheelchairs may need assistance.

The Riverside Walk is a paved Zion National Park trail that follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon. It’s a wonderful place to photograph the river and small waterfalls along the trail.

At the end of the Riverside Walk, the bottom up Narrows trail begins. This is one of the popular trails in Zion national Park so it’s pretty crowded most of the day.

Three patriarchs waterfall and bridge at Zion National Park

Court of the Patriarchs Hike

  • Shuttle Stop: #4 Court of the Patriarchs
  • Pets: No
  • Trailhead Location: there are trails on both sides of the road
  • Estimated Hiking Time:5 to 30 minutes
  • Accessible: wheelchairs may need assistance.

The Three Patriarchs area is a terrific Zion National Park photo spot. There are quite a few ways to photograph this area. Walk along the service road toward the buildings and you’ll see a dirt path to the right. Walk along that trail for a short distance until you come to the bridge. This is a great spot to photograph the river, waterfalls, bridge and Three Patriarchs.

Three Patriarchs reflection in the River at Zion

There’s also a path that goes along the river. You can find many opportunities to photograph reflections of the Three Patriarchs in the river. As you can see, we enjoy taking photos at Zion National Park in the winter!

Court of the Patriarchs Viewpoint at Zion National Park

And finally, the view from the short overlook hike on the opposite side of the road from the river provides a different vantage point as well. But it’s best to photograph late afternoon and close to sunset when there’s light on the tops of the patriarchs.

Pa'rus Trail at sunset at zion national park

Pa’rus Trail

  • Shuttle Stop: #1 Visitor Center
  • Pets: Yes
  • Trailhead Location: Access is up the canyon from the Visitor Center and across the bridge adjacent to the South Campground. This trail can also be accessed from the Canyon Junction shuttle stop.
  • Distance (roundtrip): 3.5 mi
  • Elevation Change: 50 ft
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 2 hours
  • Accessible: Wheelchairs may need assistance.
  • Services: Bathrooms and water filling stations are available at the Visitor Center.

The Pa’rus Trail is one of the best places to watch the red rock glow at sunset so you can fit this hike in at that time!

Deer frequent the area as the path follows the Virgin River. This is the only trail in Zion National Park that allows both pets (on a leash up to 6 feet) and bicycles.

Landscape along Highway 9

Highway 9 or Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

There are a few names for this stretch of road from Springdale to the Mt. Carmel Junction past the east entrance to Zion National Park. It’s known as Utah Scenic Byway-9, Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Mt. Carmel Scenic Byway. No matter what you call it, it’s definitely a scenic drive!

This section of road through Zion National Park never closes, and you can drive your personal vehicle. There’s no shuttle bus along this route.

Note that large campers, RVs and buses must have an escort and requires a permit to drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel.

Along the 10 mile scenic drive you’ll encounter two tunnels, switchbacks, slickrock and fantastic views. There are numerous spots where you can pull off the road to take pictures or enjoy a short hike.

This stretch of road is a terrific place to enjoy the autumn colors at Zion National Park in the fall.

It’s amazing driving through the tunnels carved into the deep stone mountains. They are lit within by windows cut through to the face of the cliffs.

There are no pull-off points, and no walking or biking is allowed within the tunnels, so you’re left to see the views through the “windows” as you drive.

Right after you exit the tunnel, there’s a very small parking lot to access the one official hiking trail along this road:

view at Canyon Overlook at Zion National Park

Canyon Overlook Trail

  • NOT accessible by shuttle
  • Pets: No
  • Trailhead Location: Located near the east entrance of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
  • Distance (roundtrip): 1.0 mi
  • Elevation Change: 163 ft
  • Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour
  • Services: Pit toilets are available in the parking area.

Canyon Overlook trail is short, a little challenging, has a great view at the end, and you might see bighorn sheep.

On the east side of the tunnel, right before the tunnel entrance, is the trailhead and parking for Canyon Overlook. There is a bit of a climb of elevation (163 feet total), but it’s nothing crazy and doesn’t last long. You’ll be making your way up into the canyon and eventually come to a little bridge leading to “the cave” before making the push to the final overlook.

The trail is pretty straightforward with very minimal rock scrambling. At the end, you have a fabulous view overlooking Echo Canyon, where you just (most likely) drove up from. You can also see the window holes from the tunnel off to the left.

IF you can’t find a parking spot, keep in mind there are many other unofficial hiking trails all along this highway. Just find a good spot to park at a pullout and head off!

We recommend you stop at the various pullouts as you drive so you can photograph the stunning landscape here that’s a bit different from what you see in Zion Canyon.

Be sure to pull into the Checkerboard Mesa parking lot to see the unique rock formation with checkerboard patterned lines.

At this point, you’ll turn around and head back to Springdale. If you kept driving past Checkerboard Mesa, you’d reach the East entrance to Zion National Park.

Kolob Terrace at sunset

Kolob Terrace Scenic Drive

The Kolob Terrace Scenic Drive is another beautiful area that starts near the town of Virgin. Because it’s a bit away from Zion Canyon and Mt. Carmel, it’s not as crowded.

Kolob Terrace is a high plateau area towering above an open desert with amazing views of the colorful rocks famous at Zion.

Most of the trailheads here lead into the Zion wilderness. Exploring the backcountry and canyoneering are popular things to do at Zion National Park.

The road is open all year, but if you’re visiting Zion National Park in the winter, be prepared for unpredictable weather in this area. Access to the upper part of the Kolob Terrace Road, including Lava Point, closes in the winter. Driving conditions can be very poor during a storm, but roads are usually plowed quickly after.

take jaw-dropping photos at Zion National Park

Watch the Sunset at Zion National Park

There are two locations we recommend for Zion National Park photography at sunset:

Hop Valley view Kolob Terrace at sunset

Kolob Terrace Road at Sunset

Kolob Terrace Road is amazing in the late afternoon and around sunset. Access this road near the town of Virgin, just west of Springdale.

Park at the Left Fork trail and walk a short distance to see this amazing view! The reflected sun on the landscape is just stunning!

Keep driving along the road until you get to the Hop Valley Trailhead. You’ll find stunning views of the valley from the ridge that lights up at sunset.

hoodoo city at Zion in Kolob Terrace

“Hoodoo City” is a favorite photo spot at Zion for us. It’s just east of the Hop Valley Trailhead. You can hike from the trailhead, or park at a pull-off about ½ mile to the east. Hike along the shelf above the valley until you find a spot to access the hoodoo formations below.

This is also a nice location to photograph the hoodoos with the night sky!

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

Pa’rus Trail and The Watchman at Sunset

The BEST and most iconic place for sunset is along the Pa’rus Trail to see The Watchman illuminated by the golden light. Access the trail near the Visitor Center – watch for the signs. The Pa’rus Trail runs along the Virgin River providing many spots to take photos!

In the late afternoon and around sunset there’s golden light on the Watchman. Capture the golden reflection in the Virgin River for a stunning shot!

You’ll see deer along the trail in the evening so be prepared to photograph wildlife too!

BUY AT AMAZON: Zion National Park Guides and Maps

Zion national park guides and maps

Plan Your Vacation to Zion National Park

Where to Stay Near Zion National Park

You definitely want to stay in Springdale which borders the entrance to Zion.

  • Holiday Inn Express – our favorite place to stay with an outdoor pool and amenities you’d find in a high end hotel
  • Zion Lodge – we haven’t had a chance to stay here yet, but you can’t go wrong staying right IN the park!
  • Under Canvas Zion – if you want to experience a less crowded part of Zion, this is the place! It’s in the Kolob section of the park.
  • Vacation Rentals in Springdale – you’ll want to stay in Springdale so you’re close to the park entrance and can walk to shopping and restaurants. 

Resources for camping near Zion:

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