Zion National Park is easily one of the most popular national parks in the United States. People flock to southwest Utah to hike The Narrows or Angel’s Landing, see the red rock formations, and experience one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Oftentimes, this park is a stop on a Utah road trip to all 5 national parks in Southern Utah. For that reason, you might have limited time! Keep reading for the perfect Zion National Park itinerary for any amount of time (2-4 days).
The best time to visit Zion National Park
I made a huge mistake when I took a road trip down to Zion. I went in the middle of a heat wave across western USA. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed that I love the cold. Austin and I love to travel in the winter to snowy destinations.
This was actually the first time I had ever taken a trip in the summer, so I can’t totally blame myself for not thinking about the weather. However, that didn’t stop it from cutting my trip short. I had planned to visit all of Utah’s National Parks, but I just couldn’t take the 108 degree days anymore!
BUT my struggle wasn’t for northing because I’m able to bring you this Zion National park itinerary!
Learn from my mistakes! If you don’t love the heat or crowds, don’t plan to go in the summer. April, May, and September are the optimal months to visit Zion National Park because the weather will still be warm, but much more tolerable.
I will also say that a friend of mine went to Zion in the winter one year and it looked absolutely beautiful! The park was covered in snow, there weren’t many people around, and you can drive yourself through the park without having to take the shuttle.
Zion National Park Shuttle
Speaking of the Zion shuttle, here’s what you need to know before you go. If you’re traveling to Zion in the spring, summer, or fall, unless you go very early in the spring or very late in the fall, you will have to take the shuttle. You can’t drive your own car unless you’re staying at the Zion Lodge.
The shuttle starts running at 6am each morning and the last shuttle back to the visitors center is at 8:15pm.
During the height of Covid, the National Park Service was requiring visitors to purchase shuttle tickets beforehand, but that’s no longer a requirement. You just need to show up and get in line. You will, however, need to wear a mask.
If you want to be on one of the first few shuttles (which you likely do if you want to avoid crowds), I’d recommend getting to the park by 5am. The first shuttle doesn’t leave until 6am, but the line starts forming around 5am. I made the mistake of getting in line at 6am my first day and I didn’t get on a shuttle until 7:30am. The second day, I arrived at 5am and got on the second shuttle at 6:10am.
This makes a huge difference if you’re heading to one of the more popular hikes like The Narrows or Angel’s Landing. These hikes get crowded fast, so you’ll want to try to arrive before anyone else.
Day 1: The Narrows Hike + Helicoper Ride
Your “first day” in Zion should technically be your first full day in the park because you’ll want to arrive as early as possible to avoid massive crowds looking to hike the Narrows. Like I mentioned above, you’ll want to arrive at around 5am to get in line for the shuttle that will take you to the trail head for the Narrows. If you’re not an early bird, just know that the later you go, the more people you’ll have to deal with.
Specifically for the Narrows hike, you’ll want to bring hiking poles and wear waterproof clothing. If you have water shoes, those will also be good to bring, but I hiked in regular hiking boots and it wasn’t too bad. If you want, there is also an option to rent water shoes and a hiking stick from the visitor’s center (where you’ll wait for the shuttle).
The Narrows hike is an out-and-back trail, meaning you don’t have to do the entire thing. If you start early in the morning, chances are, you’ll be done by late afternoon. When you finish your hike, head back to the shuttle and take it back to the visitor’s center to leave the park for the day.
If you have time in the evening, I’d highly recommend a helicoptor tour! Zion Helicoptors has a few different tour options that will allow you to see Zion and the surrounding area from above. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so seeing it from all angles is incredible!
Day 2: Angel’s Landing or Emerald Pools Hike + Zion Scenic Drive
Day one on this Zion National Park itinerary was EPIC. If this is your first time to Utah, the Narrows hike was probably one of the coolest hikes you’ve ever done. Get ready for another day just like that!
Angel’s Landing Hike
Angel’s Landing is probably one of the most common hikes on people’s bucket lists. This hike isn’t for the faint of heart, but the views are incredible.
I’ll be totally honest with you – I chickened out.
I had planned to hike Angel’s Landing, but after watching YouTube videos of other people doing it, I just couldn’t. BUT I want to go back with people who will hype me up to want to give it a try.
I’ve heard a lot of stories, but most people say that this hike isn’t THAT bad. The people who have done it generally say that no one judges you for going slow or even crawling at certain points because it’s very scary, but also very doable. So, if you’re up for it, I’d highly recommend trying this hike.
If you end up trying Angel’s Landing, you’ll want to get to the shuttle line just as early as you did for the Narrows because this hike is just as popular. You’ll want to get to the trailhead as early as possible to avoid a ton of people.
Emerald Pools Hike
If you’re like me and don’t think you can attempt Angel’s Landing right now, don’t worry! There’s another hike called the Emerald Pools that I know you’ll love. For this hike, you’ll take the shuttle to the Zion Lodge (where you’ll likely say you want to stay next time you visit!) and then cross the street to get to the trail head.
The Emerald Pools hike is beautiful and takes you by several pools and waterfalls in Zion. I’d say it’s an intermediate hike because it wasn’t hard by any means, but there were some parts where I needed to climb over rocks and such.
If you choose the Emerald Pools hike, you probably don’t need to get to the shuttle at 5am, but remember, the earlier you arrive, the less people you’ll have to share the trail with.
Both of these hikes are relatively short, so you’ll have your afternoon free. This is the perfect time to check out the Zion scenic drive! Grab your camera and hop in the car to see some of the coolest rock formations in Southwest Utah!
Day 3: Horseback Riding + Night Hike
If you stopped at the Zion Lodge on Day 2, you may have seen horse stables on your way to the Emerald Pools hike. This is the check in spot for Canyon Trail Rides – a company that offers horseback riding in the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon. They have a couple different options to choose from: a 1 hour ride or a 3 hour ride.
I wanted to switch things up on Day 3 of this Zion National Park Itinerary. The last two days have been filled with day hikes which can honestly got hot and tiring if you’re visiting in the summer. So, I suggest having one day to embark on a night hike!
This is one sure fire way to avoid the heat and the crowds. It’s also a great way to get a good look at the stars over Zion.
Since the shuttle doesn’t run past 8pm, you’ll need to walk to wherever you’re hiking at night. Fortunately, there’s a trailhead right at the beginning of Zion: Pa’rus Trail. It’s a short, easy trail to walk at night, but make sure to still bring a flashlight because it gets pitch black in the park at night.
If you’re interested in other spots to stargaze or watch the sunset, the National Park Service has a lot of great ideas on where to do this!
Day 4: Full Day Hike
If you’re lucky enough to spend four full days in Zion National Park, you might be tired by now! However, all the hikes you’ve done so far (if you’re following this itinerary) have been relatively short and at most, a half day. Why not try a full day hike to round out your visit?
Here is a list of all the hikes in Zion Canyon. A few of them are longer hikes such as Observation Point via East Rim Trail, so those are the types of hikes that you can make a day out of! You can bring some lunch, have a picnic somewhere and just take your time instead of being worried about getting to the next activity.
Currently a few of the hikes are closed, so make sure to check back to the link above before you finalize any plans.
How Excited Are You for Zion?!
Let me know in the comments if you’re planning to use any part of this Zion National Park itinerary. This is seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in the US and I know you’ll have an amazing time, too!