Welcome to the National Park version of Disneyland! There are hikes that can better be described as attractions, a shuttle system to the trailheads, plus crowds and long lines. Although there is no doubt the hikes are amazing, you need to prepare for a more overwhelming experience and more crowded trails than you will find anywhere else in Utah. All that said, if you’re in Utah, you must stop through for a day! To help you prepare, we put together this Zion National Park 1 day guide to tackle what active adventurers should do to make the most out of their chance to visit!
Disclaimer: This is not your typical relaxing, I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world travel guide. Ya it would be awesome to spend 2-3 days in each Utah National Park, but let’s be honest, no American traveler has the time to do that and see them all! So this guide and all our National Park Travel Guides are written to the frugal and practical American traveler who has squeezed this adventure into a long weekend or around a holiday. It will be short on park descriptions (you’ll learn all the same fun facts about the park while you’re there) and heavy on the hiking and efficient time planning. Little to no time is set aside for restaurants. It is assumed you’ll make one stop at a grocery store to pick up everything you need to eat on the trail or at your campsite. Our goal is to help you pack as many (usually free) fun-filled things into your cherished vacation time and make the most of potentially a once in a lifetime visit to these spectacular places. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, their are plenty of other awesome travel guides out there for you!
How To Get Around Zion
Unlike every other American travel guide, we’re not just going to dive right into it. Like Disneyland, you need to know a little about the lay of the land and have a plan of attack to be successful. Therefore, we’re adding a section on how to get around Zion before diving into the itinerary.
The tourist hub of Zion National Park is at the south entrance of the park next to the town of Springdale. This is the entrance you will come to first if you’re driving in from Las Vegas. If you’re coming from Bryce Canyon, you’ll drive through the park to get to south entrance. Springdale is basically one street with hotels, restaurants and outdoor outfitters. At the south entrance to Zion, the park and Springdale blend together and you can easily walk from the Springdale shops into Zion National Park.
Parking is super limited inside Zion National Park. Plus, half of the roads in the park (including the road with attractions you came to explore) are closed to cars. If you get to the park super early (think around sunrise), you can probably find free parking at the Zion Visitor Center inside the park. If you don’t get there earlier enough, you will have to park on the street or in a parking lot in Springdale. There are no free parking spaces in Springdale so expect to spend $20/day to park your car. Due to the road and parking situation, there are two shuttle systems you need to know about to successfully navigate Zion National Park.
The Springdale shuttle is a “free” shuttle that runs taking people who parked in Springdale to the park entrance and back. Free is in quotes because you had to pay to park! Springdale only consists of one main street and the shuttle runs up and down this street from 7AM-9PM daily. No matter where you park, you will not be far from a stop. This shuttle will take you to Zion National Park shuttle.
Zion Park Shuttle
The Zion Park Shuttle is a free shuttle that starts at the south entrance of Zion National Park. This is the shuttle that will take you to all the most popular hikes in Zion. If you don’t get there early, be prepared to wait. Zion is the 3rd most visited natural park in the US (behind The Smokey Mountains and the Grand Canyon) and waiting 30+ minutes in line to board the shuttle to go hike will really drive this point home.
Due to COVID, visitors now have to reserve shuttle times online before visiting the park. Shuttle times are purchased by the hour (i.e. 9AM-10AM or 1PM-2PM) and there are limited slots per hour. Although some tickets could be reserved a couple weeks in advance (good luck with that), the remaining were made available at 9AM the day before. So just log in right at 9AM the day before and book the earliest shuttle, right? One would think, yet there is such a mad dash for these tickets that the earliest slots sell out immediately (just like popular concert tickets right when they go on sale…). Earliest you could hope to get was maybe 10AM-11AM.
Hopefully this system goes away soon as it really puts a dent in the “get there super early and have the most popular parts of the park to yourself” strategy if you can’t get on the shuttle until 1PM….
Okay, now we’re going to get right into it. This itinerary assumes you have 1 full day to spend at Zion National Park. It assumes that you’ve purchased a shuttle ticket for the 10AM-11AM time slot and will be driving to the park in the morning and camping in or around the park that night.
- Park in Springfield. Get upset that parking under 2 hours is $1 and parking 2+ hours is $20.
- Get over it. I obviously haven’t….
- Take the Springdale Shuttle to the last stop before the Zion entrance. Stop by Zion Outfitter in Springfield near the park entrance to rent some river shoes (they look like basketball shoes) and a walking stick ($25/person).
- Walk into the park and take the shuttle over to the The Narrows trailhead. This roughly 6-8 mile trail takes you literally up the mouth a river as the canyon walls narrow around you. No matter how hot it is outside, it is always cool back here due to the canyon’s geography so it’s perfect for the heat of the day.
- Take the shuttle back to the Zion National Park Lodge. Relax and eat lunch (plus maybe some soft-serve ice cream) under the massive trees there.
- About 3-4 hours before sunset, take the shuttle to the Angel’s Landing trailhead. This steep trail (roughly 7 miles roundtrip) is best done first thing in the morning or in the mid-late afternoon when there is shade on the ascent! This hike has a unique ropes sections at the end that takes you out to a spectacular viewpoint. No special training is needed to do the ropes, just watch your step!
Total Miles: ~15 miles
So we didn’t end up hiking through The Narrows (because this well planned travel guide hadn’t been written yet…), but everyone we talked to said the shoes and walking stick were well worth it. They cost $25 no matter where you go to get them.
How To Get There
Zion National Park is roughly 2.5 hours east from Las Vegas and about 1.5 hours west from Bryce Canyon National Park. To get to Bryce Canyon, you should drive through the park and go through Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel. You can rent a small, fuel efficient sedan and be just fine. If you have to camp outside the park, there will be some gravel roads but they’re manageable.
Where To Stay
At Zion, you’ve got two options: plan ahead and get a spot in the park or be prepared to drive 30+ minutes to/from the park to your campsite.
In The Park
Zion has two campground in the park near the main attractions: Watchman and South campground. They are both near the south entrance near Springdale. Watchman can be booked up to 6 months advance so you’ll likely not get a spot there. On the other hand, South Campground can only be booked 2 weeks in advance, so mark your calendar for the morning campsite for the dates you want open up and get ready to refresh that browser! A campsite in the park will cost $20/night.
Around The Park
It’s hard to believe that there are no reasonable camping options in Springdale. There are plenty of hotels and other luxury options but few campsites. You can expect the few campsites in/near Springdale will be full and overpriced. Your best bet is fill up that water cube and drive 30+ minutes to the federal land to the west of the park. To get there, you will drive out of Springdale on the main road (RTE 9) for around 20 minutes and look for a brown sign on the right hand side of the road near the town of Virgin that says something like “Kolob Canyon Reservoir” and make a right. After your drive down this road for 5-10 minutes, you’ll see lights from campers and other cars on both sides of the road. Pick a gravel turn off and hope for the best! These gravel roads are not pristine so be careful. We did see plenty of small cars parked back here though!
If you want to shower, there are showers at Zion Outfitter where you picked up your boots. Showers are $4 for 5 minutes. If you chose to shower at the end of your day, keep in mind that the Springdale shuttle stops running at 9PM and it might be a better idea to get your car first and then drive back to Zion Outfitter to shower. At night, parking there is free.
Where To Go Next
The Other Utah National Parks
You’re in luck, we’ve also put together adventure-packed 1 Day American Traveler Itineraries for Canyonlands – The Needles, Canyonlands – Island In The Sky, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon National Park.
If you’re looking to plan a week long trip to Utah to see them all, then be sure to check out our EPIC 10 Day Utah National Park American Traveler Guide!
Wishing these travel guides included a little more information and fun facts about the park? No worries, we left that up to the experts. GyPSy is a location based guide service that will provide you with awesome fun facts and park navigation directions as you drive. It costs a total of $10 to download both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park guides and it is 100% worth it. We named the guide Roger, he sounds like a Roger. So say hi to him for us!
Probably our favorite travel app ever made. It has all the hiking trails and walking paths clearly marked and has easy to download offline maps. Whether we are in Colombia or Glacier National park, we know we’ll never be lost with Maps.me. Plus, it’s completely free!
Be sure to open the app and download the map when you have WiFi. You download regional maps by zooming in on a certain area. There’s nothing worse than opening up Maps.Me once you’re on trail and realizing you forgot to download your map!
An app that gives you trail distances and recent reviews for hiking trails. It’s worth checking AllTrails a day or two before you do a longer hike as it is updated frequently for hikers. It’s basically Yelp for hiking. Plus, it’s free too!
You’re good to go for Zion National Park. You’ve got an itinerary broken down into a power-packed yet manageable day. Plus you’ve got all our lessons learned!
So there you have it, our Zion National Park 1 Day guide. From us to you, happy adventuring!