We’ve been to Zion National Park many times over the years and it’s by far our favorite national park. Usually if it’s a choice between somewhere new or Zion, Zion wins. We are that hooked on it. Part of that is largely because there are still so many trails left on our list and also because we keep trying to get walk-in permits for The Wave and failing.
All that to say, we’ve been to Zion a fair amount of times, in all different seasons. I’ve written this article to convince you that Zion National Park is actually worth the visit in the winter, despite what many people might think.
I’ll get started.
Reason #1 to visit Zion in the Winter: The road is actually open.
If you’ve been to Zion in the Summer, you know the drill. Pay for your Discovery Pass at the park gates. Park your car (much easier than it sounds). Stand in the sweltering heat with hundreds of other people waiting for the shuttle bus. Expect to wait between 30-60 minutes. Squeeze your way onto the bus. Try desperately to pay attention to the stops as you’re being thrown around. Repeat on the way back.
FYI: If you haven’t been to Zion in the Summer, the road is closed to all vehicles except the shuttle bus. Meaning you can’t just wake up and drive straight to the trailhead of the hike you want to do. You’re at the mercy of the shuttle and a million other factors like limited parking, ridiculous crowds, remembering what time the last bus comes, etc.
By now, we have our routine down pat and that helps to minimize the hassle but I’d still take driving my own vehicle to the trailhead any day.
From late Autumn to early Spring (dates subject to change, please see the Zion NPS website for the most up-to-date information) the crowds die down, and the road re-opens to traffic. This fact alone means I almost always prefer visiting in the Winter.
Reason #2 to visit Zion in the Winter: There’s less competition for lottery tickets.
By now I’ve come to realize that most people hate cold weather. I, on the other hand, really don’t mind it and would actually prefer to throw on another layer than be sweating profusely and not being able to do much about it.
Most people do their travel in the summer. Either because they prefer warmer temperatures, or because the kids are off school or because the winter months are busy enough with Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years.
All of these factors play a part not only in less crowded hiking spots, but getting tickets for said trails. If you don’t know, many of Zion’s most popular trails operate on a lottery system to regulate overcrowding and provide a “fair” opportunity for all guests to bid on a chance to hike them.
Reason #3 to visit Zion in Winter: Less crowding overall.
Angel’s Landing is a hike not for the faint of heart. Once you’ve reached the top of the switchbacks, you find yourself staring at a narrow ridge, with nothing to hold onto other than a flimsy chain. This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, except for the huge bottleneck this chain creates. I’ve seen people literally sit down and start crying at this section and there’s no way around them because, well, you’re on a ridge. A section that should normally take about 30 minutes now ends up taking an extra hour or two between the 2-way traffic, people crawling on their hands and knees, those in full-blown panic mode and the occasional stretcher being brought down by rescue teams (the ridge is too narrow for a helicopter to land).
Why have I painted this terrifying picture for you?
To give you an idea of how much MORE dangerous a dangerous hike can be if you add lots and lots of people.
Do this hike in November, though, and this won’t be something you encounter.
Reason #4 to visit Zion in Winter: Cheaper accommodation
Trying to book a hotel near Zion in the peak of summer isn’t likely to yield many results. If you do manage to pick up someone’s last minute cancellation, you’ll probably pay a pretty penny for it.
As for getting a campground reservation? Forget about it.
None of this is a problem in the winter. Prices will likely be much cheaper and you’ll have your pick of spots. Sadly, the pool at your hotel probably won’t be open but I mean, it’s winter.
Reason #5 to visit Zion in Winter: Do the Narrows looking like a member of the Starfleet
My husband insisted I include this as a reason for any potential Trekkies out there. To be honest, though, it was a pretty wild experience donning a full suit to wade through the cool waters of The Narrows (my favorite hike and one I definitely do in my bathing suit and Tevas in the summer).
It makes for a memorable photo opportunity as well.