Visiting Zion in January

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Visiting Zion in January

Learn all about what to expect visiting Zion National Park in January

Updated: 10/06/22

Zion National Park sees just under 4.5 million visitors each year, and it may be hard to imagine peace and serenity in the park. But then winter comes along, and visitors get to experience the solitude and majesty of the park without the hustle and bustle of the summer crowds. Visiting Zion National Park in January gives you the opportunity to breathe in the fresh and crisp winter air, see incredible landscapes dusted with snow, and have space to fully enjoy it. If you are able to make it to Zion in January, you will have an amazing experience, and leave with an appreciation for the beauty and solitude of winter in the park.

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Benefits of Visiting Zion in January

The biggest benefit of visiting Zion in January is the lack of crowds. Anyone who has visited Zion in the summer knows how intense the crowds become and how the popular trails can often feel like swimming in a sea of people. But in winter, that all changes and you are able to experience the park in an entirely different way. With so many fewer people, you can better appreciate the magnitude of the walls, the hushed nature of the canyons and rivers, and the wildlife that is more willing to be seen without thousands of others around. Winter is a season of peace and quiet in Zion. Fewer crowds also means better accommodation rates and availability. Zion accommodations in the park and just outside the park book months in advance in the summer, but in winter you are more likely  to find some thing last minute. You also won’t have to shell out peak season prices for your accommodations; if you’ve gone in the summer, you’ll appreciate this even more

Another benefit of visiting in January is that you can drive through the canyon with your own car. From spring through fall, personal cars are not allowed past Canyon Junction unless you’re staying at the lodge. The only way to get around is it take the national park shuttle bus. While this is efficient and significantly mitigates the traffic in the park, it can be a hassle to deal with long lines and you are limited to the bus schedules for when you have to leave and where you want to go. But in January (in fact from November to March) personal cars are allowed through Zion Canyon. Being able to drive yourself gives you freedom to see what you want to see, on your own timeline. Take your time at the overlooks, hike some of the lesser known trails, and and drive slowly to look for wildlife on the canyon walls or crossing the roads. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of January is that the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The walls and formations at higher elevations are often dusted with snow and many of the waterfalls have icicles hanging around them. The higher water levels combined with the fewer people make January an excellent time for photography. You may have to stay a few days in order to get those snow dusted pictures in contrast to the red rocks, as snow isn’t as common as you might think and can often melt through the day. But there is truly nothing else like sunrise photography in Zion during the winter months. Make sure to get bundled up before you go out there as it will be chilly, but you won’t regret breathing the crisp winter morning air among some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen.

Drawbacks of Visiting in January

One of the largest drawbacks of visiting Zion National Park in January is that while the roads are plowed after a winter storm, trails may be closed due to snow or ice. Some years, many of the trails remain covered in ice and inaccessible for much of the winter. While snow at lower elevations often melts within hours, it remains and accumulates at higher elevations. Despite the snow melting, the subfreezing temperatures at night can turn that run off into ice, which is less fun and more dangerous. Trails with shade are often icy and some trails are closed due to the danger of falling ice. Check out the trail conditions when planning what to do for the day and stop by the visitor center to talk to a range for the most up to date information. Traction devices such as microspikes or crampons are recommended for trails at higher elevations, as well as trails with shaded sections where snow and ice are less likely to melt. A related drawback to Zion in January is that the park can be very cold. Freezing temperatures at night and highs during the day in the low 50s can make visiting with little ones or with elderly parents difficult. Camping is an option in Zion in winter, but you will need a four season tent and 0° sleeping bag.

Perhaps obviously, if one of your main bucket list items for Zion is hiking and playing in the rivers, then winter is not your time to visit. While you can still hike the Narrows, you are likely to need a neoprene wetsuit or dry suit with insulating layers underneath to keep yourself warm. Water temperatures can be as low as 38° (nearly freezing!) and visitors should also be aware of the danger of falling ice. Submersion in cold water is the quickest way to contract hypothermia, which can be life-threatening if you are not warmed up. Another danger of winter is the greater potential for flash floods due to greater rainfall even miles away. Slot canyons are particularly susceptible and visitors need to understand the dangers that these floods can bring. Water can come rushing down the canyon in a wall of 12 feet or higher, bringing with it rocks, tree trunks, boulders, and other debris. Even 6 inches of water can be strong enough to knock you off your feet and it is important to understand the warning signs of change in water temperature or color, thunder and clouds gathering (even far away from you), and excess debris in the water.

Things To Do In January

January is a great time to explore Zion without the crowds. The glistening snow in the canyon and on top of the towering cliffs makes the park very photography-friendly. Make sure to catch sunrise or sunset from Canyon Overlook Trail or Watchman Overlook Trail. Winter in Zion is wonderful for sightseeing, especially since you are able to drive through the canyon in your own car. Take your time at the overlooks and really enjoy the scenery without the additional crowds. You will need to bundle up, especially if you are out in the morning or the evening, but it will be well worth it. If snow is in the forecast for overnight, get up as early as you can to get those pictures before it melts. Snow at lower elevations sometimes melts within hours of the sun coming up, so you will not want to miss your chance to capture the red and white contrast in your pictures. Snow at higher elevations doesn’t melt as fast and usually accumulates over winter, but due to inaccessible trails, you may not be able to reach these areas to take pictures.

Another great activity in January is hiking. Many trails are open throughout the winter, and give you the space to enjoy the scenery without the crowds that you’ll experience other times of the year. You can read our list of Zion’s best trails for recommendations. The Riverwalk is a great option if you are looking to stroll along the Virgin River but don’t have the equipment to brave the cold water in the Narrows. This trail is mostly flat and takes you right up to the point where the Narrows Hike begins, all the while giving you fantastic views of the river as the canyon walls getting narrower and narrower the farther you hike. Backpacking is an option in Zion, but the cold and snow will make it difficult in winter and you should make sure you have the necessary winter camping experience to make your trip safe. Check with a ranger or on the park website for more info on backpacking. Snowshoeing is also a great option for hiking on trails at higher elevation; there are many companies in Springdale that rent snowshoes. Of course, wildlife viewing is a great activity to do in Zion during the winter months. You may have a chance to see large mammals such as bighorn sheep or deer concentrated in the valleys and canyons. The contrast of the animals against a snowy background is great for viewing and photography. Also keep your eye out for larger predators that may hunt these concentrated animals such as bobcats and mountain lions. Zion does have bears in the park, but they will be in hibernation this time of year to wait out the cold. Also keep your eye out for wild turkeys which travel in large flocks and often can be found walking very slowly across the road. If the weather takes a turn for the worse and you need some indoor activities to warm up, the visitor center has great interpretive exhibits and a 22 min park film that is informative and entertaining. The Zion Human History Museum is also a great option and has exhibits on Native American history, the effect that water has on the park, and much more.

Things to see in January

Zion in January cliff waterfall clouds rock dark

There are nearly as many things to see in Zion as there are to do, and if you read the previous section you know that’s a lot. Sightseeing is one of the main activities in winter, especially if trails are closed and you are mostly limited to the roads. Snow covered cliffs, rushing rivers, half frozen water falls, and even a flock of wild turkeys can all be wonderful to see in the park. Below, we’ve created a short list of some of the must see sights in January in Zion, but make sure to do your own research to see what specifically piques your interest in the park.

Emerald Pools: Three sets of pools– lower, middle, and upper–  are aligned along an easy trail just across the road from the Zion Historic Lodge. Beautifully colored and gathered from the dripping water overhead on slick rocks, these pools are iconic to Zion. The lower pools are on a wide, paved sidewalk and are wheelchair accessible (with assistance), and the trail to the middle pools is mostly the same, albiet with a little more incline. The trail to the upper most pools, however, is sandy and much steeper. With the lower pools only being a mile trek, make sure you stop to see these beautiful features.

Kolob Canyons: The northern part of Zion national park, Kolob Canyons is truly a unique and majestic area, framed with spectacular red rock canyons. While it might be closed in the winter due to ice and snow, make sure to double check if the road and trails in this canyon are available as this is a must-see area if you can get to it.

The Canyon Overlook: This overlook requires a fairly easy 1 mile hike, but it’s well worth it. Trek a little ways up the side of the canyon from the parking lot on Highway 9, rest in the shade of the hidden cave if you like, and then journey up to the overlook where you will have a fantastic vista of the entire canyon, brilliant red rocks, and the gorgeous tree line. If you’re lucky, there will be snow topping the mountains this time of year, so make sure not to miss this stunning view.

Wildlife: Zion National Park is unique to any other place in the world and has remarkable biodiversity. If you visit Zion in January, make sure to take some time to see wildlife in the park. Bald eagles, golden eagles, and condors are only a few of the birds you might see and the snow at higher elevations will cause deer and bighorn sheep to congregate in the canyon. Get your camera ready for these amazing creatures and ask a ranger if you are interested in seeing something specific.

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Hiking in January

Hiking is a great winter activity because the crowds have thinned so immensely and you are more likely to have the trail to yourself. While roads are plowed during the winter months, some hiking trails may be closed due to snow or ice. Which trails are closed and when they will be closed will depend on the year and the snowfall. You can stop by the visitor center to ask a ranger or read the current conditions online for up-to-date information. Do not attempt to hike a trail that is closed for ice and snow, even if there is not ice or snow on the ground. Many of the trails are closed due to the risk of falling ice, which is often times much more dangerous than ice on the ground. Beware of shady spots on trails that are otherwise free of ice and watch for increased of ice and snow as you go higher in elevation. There are a multitude of hiking trails in Zion with a full range of easy to strenuous routes. The Riverwalk is a great option for those looking to hike along the river but don’t have the equipment to brave the chilly waters of the Narrows in the winter. This hike takes you along the Virgin River right to where the Narrows begin. It is mostly flat and gives you a taste of a slot canyon as the walls getting narrower and narrow or as you hike. Hiking the Narrows in the Virgin River is possible in winter, but you will need a neoprene wet suit or a dry suit with warm layers underneath to keep warm. The water can be as cold as 38° F and immersion in cold water is the quickest way to contract hypothermia. Depending on precipitation throughout the Colorado plateau, there can be places in the Narrows where you have to swim and thus completely submerge yourself in frigid water. This can be incredibly dangerous and visitors should use caution. We do not recommend doing this hike in winter unless you are very experienced. If you want to hike the Narrows, it’s best to come in summer when the temperature is warm and the water is refreshing, if cold on your feet.

Emerald pools and the Canyon overlook Trail are other great options for easier hikes, with the latter being a little bit steeper than the former. Perhaps the most famous hike in the park is Scout Lookout leading up to Angels Landing. The trail up to Scout Lookout is fairly moderate and this point provides you with great views of the canyon. The last section of the hike to Angels Landing is very steep, very narrow, and has incredible heights exposure with the last climb– called the spine– often having to be done on all fours gripping the small ridge of rock. If this sounds intimidating during regular weather, you can imagine how nerve-racking and dangerous it is when there is ice and snow. Angels Landing Trail is not always closed when there’s ice and snow and visitors should use extreme caution. Even those with microspikes or crampons should reconsider their decision once they see the conditions at Scout Lookout. Many of the steep steps can become walls of ice with one slip sending you off the cliff. If you’re not sure what the conditions will be, the hike to Scout Lookout can be done in most conditions as long as you have traction devices on your boots. From there you will be able to see some of what the trail looks like. Visitors are advised to use extreme caution and to always check with the ranger to see what the conditions will be.

Early mornings will be chilly in Zion, so make sure you start off with many layers, including hats and gloves. Even though it’s cold outside, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day; it is recommended to take at least three liters with you. Remember that the sun sets early during the winter, so make sure you set out with enough time to finish you hike before the sun goes down. A great option for hiking in January is an inn-based tour, where you will experience the best of Zion and Bryce Canyon on day hikes with a local and knowledgeable guide, and enjoy evenings at your warm and cozy lodge. These trips take care of all the planning, accommodations, and meals, so you can enjoy your vacation without any of the stress that comes with planning a National Park trip.

backpacking in january

Zion in January backpacking hiking Narrows river canyon slotZion is a world renowned backpacking destination, but it can be an extreme environment and dangerous to spend multiple nights in the back country. Zion has different regulations than other national parks, with stricter limits on group size, camping locations, and wilderness-human impact. Most areas in the park that you can backpack to have designated sites that you must camp in. A backpacking trip through the Narrows is possible and there are 12 designated sites along the canyon. Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail is a great option if Kolob canyons is accessible. Talk to a ranger or to others who have backpacked on their own for more Trail recommendations for the park. Zion has a pack-it-in, pack-it-out rule that includes all trash as well as human waste. Backpacking on any of these trails in winter will be more difficult, especially on the ones at higher elevations that are likely to have ice and snow. Crampons or microspikes are a must as well as a four season tent and a 0° sleeping bag. Hiking in the winter is no joke and the desert environment in Zion can be very unforgiving. Freezing temperatures, lack of drinkable water, dangers from wildlife, and ice and snow can all cause problem for the backpack.

It is very important that those are thinking about backpacking in the park are aware of the dangers that they might encounter and how to deal with them. Hypothermia is one of the biggest dangers, especially if you are hiking the Narrows in the Virgin River. Hypothermia can lead to death if not treated and you can contract it when the temperature is above freezing. Look for symptoms of the “umbles,” stumbling, mumbling, fumbling, grumbling. The best way to avoid this condition is to put on your warm clothes before you start shivering and your rain gear before you get wet. If you’re hiking in the Narrows have dry clothes in a dry bag ready to put on immediately when your hike is done for the day and avoid extended periods of time out of the water in wet clothes. No campfires are allowed anywhere in the park, so you cannot rely on fire to warm you back up. All hikers, but especially backpackers, need to be aware of the dangers of cyanobacteria that may be present in the parks water sources. At time of writing, there has been a recent bloom in cyanotoxins especially in the Virgin River. Exposure to this toxin through ingesting water or through an opening in the skin can lead to severe illness and death. Cyanobacteria toxin can be contracted by recreating in the water or drinking it. No commercial filtration method is known to remove the pathogen. Always get water directly from a springs and not from rivers or creeks where is the toxic bacteria is likely to have grown. You can read more about backpacking regulation and safety in the Zion on the park’s website.

Weather in January

Zion is large park and the weather you experience will vary greatly depending on your location and your elevation. Despite it being a desert, Zion receives a good amount of precipitation in the winter and in the summer monsoon season. As one of the steps in the drainage of the Colorado plateau, Zion receives much of its water from the Virgin River that flows south through the park. Thus, weather outside the park, often far north of it, can greatly affect weather conditions in the park such as flash floods and water temperature. Weather in Zion during the month of January is typically cold and wet. The average temperature for Zion Canyon is a high of 52, and a low of 29 degrees Fahrenheit (11/-1 degrees Celsius). In Kolob Canyons, the average temperature is a high of 52, and a low of 27 degrees Fahrenheit (11/-2 degrees Celsius). On average, it rains or snows 7 days in January. Notice that it rains or snows in January. Morning rain after snow at night will quickly melt the gorgeous snow on the top of the mountains, but a day time rain before a night the dips below freezing will result in icy roads and trails. Snow on trails that has been compacted by hikers often melts and turns to ice, making it more slippery than it looks. Never attempt to hike any trails that are closed due to ice and snow, even if there does not appear to be ice or snow on the trail. If the trail goes up in elevation, it’s likely that there is ice and snow further up; trails are also sometimes closed due to the danger of falling ice which can be much more dangerous than ice on the ground. Microspikes or crampons are a must in January for hiking as black ice or ice in shady sections of trails can catch visitors off guard. You are not likely to encounter a snow storm or become snowed in in Zion because the snow often doesn’t stick around that long.

Visitors should be prepared for the worst weather they might encounter, and while it might only be for a short time, severe winter weather is possible in Zion. Dress in layers that you can remove or put on based on the temperature around you. All visitors should be aware of the dangers of hypothermia and how to prevent this condition i.e., put on your warm clothes before you start shivering and your rain jacket before you get wet. Immersion in cold water is the quickest way to contract hypothermia, so do not enter the rivers or stream if you do not have proper gear to keep youself warm. If you’re camping, make sure you have a four season tent and the 0° sleeping bag. The temperature drops sharply after dark, and you will not want to be caught out in the elements in the early onset of winter nights. Know when the sun sets and make sure you have enough time to make it back to your car or camp before it does. While hiking the Narrows in the winter is only for the experienced, all visitors need to be aware of the dangers of flash floods that can be spurred on by rain storms miles away. Water can roll down slot canyons in walls of 12 feet or higher bringing with them boulders, tree trunks, and other debris. Watch for warning signs of changing water color, roaring water upstream, or change of how swift the current is moving. Seek high ground immediately; even a few feet can save your life. You cannot out run or out swim a flash flood, so heed all warnings and advisories about them. Zion is simply stunning in the winter, but the weather does pose some risks that need to be managed. Understanding these risks is the first step in preventing them, so make sure you do your research about what you can do to make your trip fun and safe.

Wildlife in january

Zion in January big horn sheep animals wildlife cliff rock Wildlife in Zion National Park is abundant in January, perhaps unintuitively. Because of the colder temperatures and the snow on the mountains, many of the animals come down and congregate in the valleys and canyons. Mule deer, bighorn and sheep are both more concentrated in the lower elevations. This phenomenon coupled with the lack of crowds and traffic, makes viewing these animals much easier and more peaceful. What are you will see depends mostly on what time of day you look. During the day you’re likely to see mule deer, rock squirrels, and maybe a coyote along the road. You may also catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep which prefer high, rocky areas and blend in perfectly with the cliffs. Zion has few bears, so few each sighting should be reported to a park ranger. B you have a very very small chance of seeing them in winter, as they will be hibernating wherever they are. Bats are also a common wildlife sighting especially at dawn and dusk. The park is home to many different species which are difficult to identify as they fly around quickly. At night, if you’re walking around with a flashlight or driving on the roads, you might catch the eye shine of a gray or red fox. Coyotes are also common to see and hear at night, and if you’re very lucky you may catch some of the elusive movements of a ringtail cat. Although it is closely related to the raccoon and not a cat at all, this strictly nocturnal animal is often described as “the cutest animal you’ve never seen” due to its elusive habits. Zion also has a population of California condors, the largest bird native to North America. With a wingspan that can reach up to 9 1/2 feet, these birds are truly majestic to see and are critical scavengers. They can often be seen riding updrafts of warm air from the canyons up to the higher elevations, so break out your binoculars and see if you can find any of these majestic birds. If you’re interested in seeing something specific, ask a ranger about where the best place and best time of day would be.

REcommended wildland trips in january

Zion in January hiking backpacking guided tour groupPlanning a trip to Zion in January can be a headache as you try to keep up with current conditions, what trails and roads are open, and what the weather will be while you’re there. Making your own itinerary, packing list, and planning your own meals can be a headache on a trip to a place as remote as Zion. But you can bypass all that headache by booking a trip with Wildland Trekking. We offer hiking tours in a variety of styles, one of which is sure to fit the vacation that you were thinking of. Whether you want to camp with us, stay at a lodge on an inn based tour, or just spend the single day with one of our expert guides showing you around, we have some thing for you. Feel free to check out all the trips we offer in Zion, but here are a few we especially recommend for January.

Zion and Bryce 4 Day Tour: Experience the best of both Zion and Bryce Canyon without the crowds on this 4 day tour in January. See the Narrows, hike around the hoodoos, experience the panoramic views of both parks, and feel safe in the hands of one of our expert guides. All inclusive with your meals, accommodations, much of your hiking gear, and local transportation included, you won’t want to miss out on this fantastic western adventure.

Snow Canyon Private Day Hike: Explore the wonders of “mini Zion Canyon” in Snow Canyon on this daytime tour. See this amazing canyon and its remarkable lava flows in the heart of Zion’s red rock canyon. With top of the line backpacks and trekking poles included along with trail snacks and a picnic lunch, this hike is one you won’t want to miss as the area is remote and your expert local guide will be able to show you around the remarkable scenery.

Zion in a Day Private Tour: If you only have one day to spend in Zion and you want to make sure you hit all the high points, this is the trip for you. You can expect to embark on 3 or 4 short day hikes in distinct areas of the park interspersed by a picnic lunch, tasty snacks, and opportunities to learn about the history and culture of the region. The Temple of Sinawava, the Narrows, the Virgin River, Emerald Pools, and Watchman trail all in one day is quite the feat, but you won’t be sorry you saw it all with only one day in the park.

Join a Guided Hiking Adventure

Zion National Park is home to some of the most epic and amazing hiking vacations in the world. Wildland Trekking offers trips with the best of Zion: canyons, views, wildlife, solitude, adventure and fascinating natural and cultural interpretation.

Guided Zion treks are all-inclusive which covers permits; local transportation (excluded on certain tours); meals; equipment; safety systems and professional hiking/wilderness guides; all of which allows visitors to maximize their time in Zion and focus entirely on enjoying the Park.

ZION ADVENTURE TOURS

  • INN-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
  • ZION CAMPING TOURS: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of Zion on wonderful outdoor vacations.
  • ZION DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Zion on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour on one of the Park’s best trails.
  • ALL UTAH HIKING TOURS: check out a full list of Utah offerings, which include Bryce Canyon, the North Rim, Arches, Canyonlands and more.
  • UTAH BACKPACKING TRIPS: explore options for discovering Utah on an all-inclusive backpacking trip with expert guides and mind-blowing scenery.