How to make the most of one day in Zion
Learn about all the things you can do in Zion National Park in just one day
Zion National Park is a surprisingly large park, 229 square miles. There is the main Zion Canyon—where most visitors spend their time, as well as Kolob Canyons in the northwest corner of the park. Eight-four percent of the park is designated Wilderness, meaning it will never be built on, and will always be wild and undisturbed. This land is incredible and untamed, making it ideal for multiday backpacking trips. However, spending long amounts of time in the backcountry does not interest everyone, and most have time and budget restraints that prevent them for spending more than a couple days in Zion National Park. If you only have one day in the park, you will want to stick to Zion Canyon. This 15 mile long canyon was carved by the Virgin River, and boasts red, pink, and cream colored walls, cliffs and rock formations.
Below we’ll give you the best tips and recommendations for how to utilize your time if you only have one day in Zion National Park.
THE BEST WAY TO SEE ZION IN JUST ONE DAY
There is a lot to see in Zion Canyon even though it is only one small portion of Zion National Park. One of the best thing about visiting this area is that there are no cars allowed in the canyon during the busy seasons of spring, summer and fall. There is a free shuttle bus that runs in Zion Canyon and to the town of Springdale, just outside the park. Parking is available at the Visitor Center, and it is recommended to get there early to ensure a spot. Otherwise, there are many parking areas outside the park entrance; the Springdale shuttle bus stops at multiple locations in Springdale to bring you to the park. The best thing about the shuttle system in Zion is that you can ride as a passenger, and fully appreciate and admire the towering cliffs around you.
Each stop on the shuttle bus brings you to an exciting destination—most having multiple trailheads at each location. You can pick up a park newspaper for a map of the shuttle bus stops—you’ll want to plan your journey accordingly, so you can spend your time enjoy the sights instead of travelling in a crowded bus back and forth to your destinations.
Another great way to get the most out of your one day in Zion is to book a guided day hike. With a Zion expert, you will learn all about the geology, plants, animals and cultural history of the park while seeing the best of the best. Appropriate gear, snacks and lunch are provided, so you can focus on enjoying your hike, while the Zion guiding company takes care of the rest.
SUNRISE IN ZION
Zion is home to vibrantly colored walls and cliffs, that are lit up even more spectacularly at the first light of day. When the sun shines down on the tips of these cliffs, and the rest of the valley is sunken in dark shadows, you get to experience the most brilliant reds, pinks, corals and oranges that Zion has to offer. Zion is a dream for those who love sunrise. Below is a list of the best locations to view sunrise in Zion National Park.
1. Canyon Overlook Trail: This trail is on east side of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, and looks down on Zion Canyon—as it’s name suggests. The trail is just one mile roundtrip, so it is perfect for early morning sunrise viewing. Short and sweet, the trail gains 100 feet of elevation from the parking area to the overlook. From the overlook, you are peering down on the entirety of Zion Canyon. It provides an excellent vantage point for watching the canyon come to life as the sun slowly shows itself to the towers below.
2. Pa’rus Trail: This trail starts at the Visitor Center on the south side of the park. You can get a similar view of the Towers of the Virgin from the Visitor Center, but if you want a quieter spot, hop on the Pa’rus Trail. The trail takes you down by the Virgin River and across from the Towers of the Virgin, giving you a great view of the cliffs as they light up orange and pink from the awakening sun.
SUNSET IN ZION
Spending the day in Zion, you will see a lot of red, coral and orange-colored rocks. The best part of sunset in the park is seeing the towering walls lit up in purple and blue hues. When the sun shrinks down beneath the magnificent and massive canyon walls, the valley goes dark, and the tips of the towers are royally colored in purples and blues. If you have time, make it a priority to see sunset in Zion National Park—you will not be disappointed.
1. Canyon Junction bridge: Canyon Junction is off shuttle bus stop #3 (the last shuttle bus departs Zion Lodge at 9:30, so plan your sunset viewing accordingly). You can also walk the Watchman Overlook Trail from the Visitor Center to the Pa’rus Trail. The bridge stands over the Virgin River and gives you a great view of the rushing river, with the infamous Watchman in the background. At sunset, the tip of the Watchman is lit up purple as the rest of the valley slowly sinks into the shadows.
2. Timber Creek Overlook Trail: This destination is in the northwest section of the park, near Kolob Canyons. Interstate 15 runs from Zion National Park to south of Cedar City, a dirt road junction leads to Kolob Canyons, and takes you high on a ridge to a wonderful and expansive overlook of the canyons below. The Timber Creek Overlook Trail begins right at the end of the dirt road, and is a short, but very sweet stroll to another viewpoint looking down on Kolob Canyons.
TAKE A HIKE IN ZION
If you are just in Zion for one day, you may want to focus on Zion Canyon, as it is the most accessible area of the park. There are so many great trails in Zion Canyon that no matter which one(s) you decide to take, you are sure to have a spectacular experience. For a more comprehensive list, check out our list of the best hikes in Zion, sorted by category. To stay up-to-date on trail closures in the park, you can read Zion’s current conditions. Below are the best hikes in Zion Canyon:
1. OBSERVATION POINT: This is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in Zion National Park. The trailhead for Observation Point is located at shuttle stop #7. At 8 miles roundtrip, and 2,000 feet of elevation gain, you will hike switchbacks through sandstone, providing you will incredible and panoramic views of the canyon below. Once you reach the top, you will be standing across the canyon, looking down 700 feet on the infamous Angel’s Landing.
2. ANGEL’S LANDING: Angel’s Landing is the most iconic trail in Zion National Park. The trail begins at shuttle stop #6, The Grotto. Switchbacks define the trail for the first 2 miles, taking you into the chilly and shaded “Refrigerator Canyon”, and then to Walter’s Wiggles—21 tight and steep switchbacks up to Scout’s Lookout. Here, at Scout’s Lookout, is a flat and broad overlook into the canyon, and is a great turnaround spot for hikers who want to skip the chains up to Angel’s Landing. The last half mile (although it seems like much longer) to Angel’s Landing is along the narrow spine of a ridgeline. Chains are bolted into the rock to assist hikers; this trail is for the adventurous thrill-seeker. At the top of Angel’s Landing, you are rewarded with a 360 degree of the canyon below you.
3. EMERALD POOLS: This is a great trail for those seeking a short stroll, or for those who want a longer and more strenuous loop trail, as there are three pools along the Emerald Pools Trail. A short, half mile trail takes you to the falls of Lower Emerald Pools; from here, you can continue to the top of the falls at Middle Emerald Pools. And for the adventure-seekers, you can climb the stairs to Upper Emerald Pools, then continue to the Kayenta Trail to turn this into a loop.
4. CANYON OVERLOOK TRAIL: The Canyon Overlook Trail is on the east side of Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, and looks down on Zion Canyon—as it’s name suggests. Short and sweet, the trail is just one mile roundtrip and gains only 100 feet of elevation from the parking area to the overlook. From the top, you are at a great vantage point to take in the expanse of Zion Canyon.
5. WATCHMAN OVERLOOK TRAIL: One of the best things about this trail is how close the trailhead is—simply walk across the road from the Visitor Center to the Watchman’s Campground to where the Watchman Overlook Trail begins. The trail is 3 miles roundtrip and only has 500 feet of elevation gain, making it suitable for all ages and abilities. You will be walking through massive cottonwoods, and next to a flowing spring. Eventually, the loop will take you to incredible views of Observation Point and Angel’s Landing to the north, and the Watchman to the south.
6. THE NARROWS: To access the Narrows, you can either hike from the bottom up, or from the top down. The Narrows is most easily accessed from the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava, from here, you can hike as far as you want through the Virgin River into the most narrow canyon in Zion National Park. The massively towering walls rise thousands of feet above you, and the river can grow up to 30 feet wide. Read “How To Hike The Narrows” for more information.
7. THE PA’RUS TRAIL: The Pa’rus Trail is mostly flat, making it accessible for families, wheelchairs, biking, and pets on leashes. To get to the trailhead from the Visitor Center, cross the road toward Watchman’s Campground and over the bridge is the trailhead. You can also access it from shuttle stop #3 if you are already in the canyon. The Pa’rus Trail takes you along the river and presents you with some of the best views of the towering features in the park. Roundtrip, this trail is 3.5 miles long.
FOOD AND OTHER ATTRACTIONS
There are only two places to eat in Zion National Park. Both are located at the Zion Lodge—a sit-down restaurant, and a cafeteria-style café. The town of Springdale, located just outside the park has many dining options, but you may want to ride the shuttle bus into town, so you can keep your parking spot, if parked at the Visitor Center. There is also a grocery store in Springdale, so you can take lunch into the park with you. Picnic spots are abundant in Zion, and there are plenty of places tucked away from the crowds, so you can enjoy a fresh lunch in a quiet spot by the Virgin River, or in the shadows of the towering cliffs of Zion Canyon.
If you need some respite from the sun, or rain, check out the Zion Human History Museum, located at shuttle stop #1. Temporary and rotating exhibits include Civilian Conservation Corps member diaries, Union Pacific Railroad replicas, and historic ranger photography. You can also pick up a Junior Ranger activity book here—for kids and adults alike!
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.