The Many Benefits of Exploring Zion National Park in the Winter

Enjoy Zion during its most glorious months. Bonus: No crowds.

By: Nicole Atkins
January 6, 2017

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Anyone who has visited Zion knows almost immediately how intensely beautiful it is. Those who haven’t been there yet are in for a treat. The towering canyons have a profound lasting effect on anyone who enters and leaves the park.

That said, the high price for the adventure and scenery are the crowds. It can be difficult to find a camping spot unless you’ve made arrangements months ahead of time. If you’re lodging in the adjacent town of Springdale, you fare no better. Driving or parking is a hassle that can take hours out of your day. Hiking any of the popular trails can feel like swimming aimlessly in a tin of sardines.

But there’s good news. It doesn’t have to be that way. With some planning and thick skin, you can have your cake and eat it too. With an extra dollop of frosting. Visiting Zion in the off-season is the most tranquil way of experiencing the park. It transforms into a veritable winter wonderland.

If you’re lucky, you'll be there during a snowstorm. You’ll get to see the stark contrast of the intense reds and oranges of the canyon walls against the white snow. Green foliage adds even more depth and contrast, making the landscapes even more dramatic. If the clouds open up to offer blue skies, you’ll be wandering in a palette of brilliance.

Hiker in Zion Canyon

Who can resist, right?

Well, lots of people. Mostly because of the weather. It can get down to freezing temperatures during some months, but don't let that deter you. If you plan on camping, bring a four season tent. It’s not bad if you’re prepared. Bundle up, and prepare to wake up to the most beautiful scene you’ve immersed yourself in. It’s well worth the trade-off. And hey, no fighting for camping spots. Most years I’ve been there, I haven’t seen more than 15-20 spots taken up at any given time.

The best part is, no crowds. No tour buses, or groups of 100 people at a time. Just you and your fellow winter warriors.

The main road through the park, Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (Hwy 9), stays open year round. During snow storms, the road is plowed and sanded. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive opens up to cars in the winter but isn’t always maintained to the end of the road. The Kolob Canyons road is not plowed, so it’s usually closed. As always, drive with caution. It’s easy to do since there’s so much majesty surrounding you at every bend.

Most of the hikes in the park are inaccessible, with good reason. But the ones that are open are well worth taking. Even if you’ve hiked them before, you’ll be seeing them with new eyes. The emerald pools aren’t emerald but they offer a completely different type of beauty.

Virgin River & Emerald Pools

Be sure to come prepared with micro spikes or snowshoes if there’s snow on the ground.

Give yourself at least a few days to enjoy the park. Take a day to meander around. Go for a stroll along the riverwalk. The next day, take a hike or two. Snap some photos. If you have time, head on over to Bryce Canyon. It’s about 90 minutes away and is just as magnificent in the winter.

No matter what, you can’t lose. Visiting Zion in the winter is sure to be on your list of favorite experiences. You’ll be surrounded by all the splendor the famed park offers, sans crowds. If that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

The West Temple, The Sundial, Altar of Sacrifice


Fast stats:

In 2016, Zion broke 4 million visitors in less than a year

December gets about 80% less visitors than July (the busiest month)

January gets about 84% less visitors than July

February gets about 81% less visitors than July

Average high/low temp in December: 53/30

Average high/low temp in January: 52/29

Average high/low temp in February: 57/31

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.