Why you definitely need to visit Zion National Park in Winter

We researched a lot online before deciding to visit Zion National Park in winter. To be honest it was a bit of a gamble, we’d read in many forums that hiking was unpleasant at this time of year, if not impossible. We decided to roll the dice and give it a go as it is a park we’d been longing to see for many years.

It is easily one of the best travel decisions we’ve made in many years on the road. This park is breathtaking, to say it stole our hearts seems an understatement. We were already planning our return before we’d even left, four days was just not long enough!

Obviously different years will have different weather during winter but considering we had some of the most snow anyone had ever seen in Zion and some pretty icy conditions, we think we can give you a good low down on what to expect in a Zion winter. We think the benefits far out weigh the cons and feel so incredibly lucky to have experienced this magical place at the quietest time of the year.

The Watchman from Cable Mountain Lodge


Which hikes are likely to be open in Zion National Park in winter?

This was first and foremost in our minds and probably in yours too. And the answer is a little more complicated than we thought it might be before arriving. This is because conditions in Zion mean that trails can be closed unexpectedly at any time of year. Flash floods and rock fall can scupper your chances on many trails, even in summer. We’ll take you through the major trails one by one and what the situation was on our winter visit.

Angels Landing

Along with the Narrows this is the most famous trail in the park and on many hikers bucket list - including ours! Now technically speaking the trail was open for our visit, although we had plenty of snow and ice which meant they don’t recommend hiking the last 0.5 miles of the trail, the spine over to Angels Landing itself.

The path becomes a lot worse under the snow and makes the chained section even scarier!

The chains in winter

I personally made it easily over to Scouts Lookout (the start of the chained section) with no problems and Joe made it halfway over to Angels Landing along the chains before conditions felt too treacherous. Some people did make it all the way to Angels Landing and back although this would only be suitable for experienced hikers and you should have YakTrax or chains on your boots.

We do not recommend taking on the spine of Angel’s Landing in the winter if it has snowed or rained recently - it comes with inherent risks as it is slippery - but you can and people did do it.

Angel’s landing in the snow - one for the adventurous

It did break my heart a little not to make it the whole way…until we decided to walk along the West Rim trail to the left of Scouts Landing.

Read next: Devil’s Bridge Sedona - what to expect from the trail and How to skip the crowds at Lower Antelope Canyon


West Rim Trail

This trail was hardly used by people with everyone’s focus being on Angels Landing, which was great for us because it was both quiet and breathtaking. We’re talking so beautiful I could not stop filming it and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

To say it was a great consolation prize is not doing it justice! In fact, even if you do conquer Angels Landing add in at least a mile of the West Rim before you head back down.

No crowds, unspoilt snow and stunning views

Canyon views from the West Rim Trail

Admiring how beautiful Zion National Park is in winter

It’s also worth noting that we had an exceptional amount of snow, if you didn’t have this you might very easily make it all the way to Angels Landing.

Read next: Incredible Death Valley hikes that you should do


Observation Point

This was closed on our visit but not due to winter conditions, but due to immense rockfall in September, see you could come in summer and still not manage all the hikes on your list!

Parks told us they hope to have it open in May but it’s not guaranteed. Had it not been shut for rockfall you could hike this trail in winter. It’s definitely one we’re coming back for!

Check on this page on the National Parks website to see the latest status of the trail.


The Narrows

The Narrows were closed for a couple of days of our visit and open for the rest. This is due to the speed of the water. You will need a special suit to wear to safely hike the Narrows in winter and ideally a stick or sticks for support.

The entry to the Narrows

You can hire the specialist gear from one of the many outfitters in Springdale village (by the park entrance). One thing to note is that it will be harder to walk this track in winter as it is more slippery and usually faster water.

It can definitely be done and you won’t suffer the crowds but it won’t be an easy ride. Still we spoke to people who did it and they were smiling from ear to ear. We know we are coming back so made the decision to hike it in the warmer months.

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The Watchman

This trail was open and rarely closes. However, it is worth noting that after rain or snow melt around 3/4 of the track becomes very, very muddy.

The viewpoint on the Watchman Trail in winter

Now this is totally doable but if squelchy isn’t your thing then save this for a dry day! We actually missed walking it in perfect conditions (with packed snow) and hiked as the snow had melted meaning mud galore! The views were great but the trail not so much. Time this one wisely.

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Canyon Overlook

This was a fabulous trail to see in winter. The snow made the views at every turn even more beautiful. The trail was a little icy in places but nothing that YakTrax couldn’t handle with ease. This trail has extremely limited parking so hiking it in winter means it is much easier to get a space.

The view from Canyon Overlook looking stunning under the snow

Other trails that were easy to hike in winter: Lower Emerald Pools (not that the upper and middle pools are closed due to rockfall and parks said they may not reopen them at all, again not winter related), Pa’rus trail, The Grotto, Weeping Rock (open for the most part but closed briefly when the icicles began melting and dropping onto the track), Riverside Walk (very icy but easy with YakTrax).

Note that the Kolob section of the park receives far higher amounts of snow that the main Zion Canyon so if you have snow in the main canyon it is likely all trails around Kolob will be closed.

Read next: The epic hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, California


Benefits of visiting Zion National Park in winter

The trails are far less crowded

It is not uncommon to get large sections of track to yourself, when there are people around it is few and far between. Now we haven’t visited in any other season yet but from what we’ve heard from many people, including Parks themselves Zion gets busy, like incredibly busy.

One of the views on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail

You will not experience that in winter. Wherever we went locals kept telling us how lucky we were to experience the park without the crowds, we didn’t even need telling, we already knew.

The start of the trail to Angel’s Landing

It is the cheapest time to visit the park

If your budget is on the slender side, seeing Zion in winter means lower prices. You can snag a bargain at one of the many places to stay in the area and availability is plentiful, even with little notice. You will find that some restaurants may be closed but there are still plenty enough open, or grab a room with a kitchen and cook for yourself - saving even more money.

The views from Scouts Lookout


You can drive your car to the hikes

In the winter months the shuttle system in the park doesn’t operate, meaning you can drive your own car right through the canyon. This was a fantastic experience and allows you to see more of the park in a shorter amount of time.

Note that the shuttle begins on weekends only from February 16th, from this point to March 9th (when daily shuttles kick in) you would need to visit midweek to be able to drive through.

Benefits of Zion National Park in Winter

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You might see snow!

This is definitely not a given in Zion, and when it does happen it is more often than not just a dusting but if you get really lucky it will be a winter wonderland like it was for us! Seeing the towering red cliffs speckled with white was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Snow in Zion


Disadvantages of visiting Zion National Park in winter

It’s cold!

We’ve spent the last seven years either living in Australia or travelling in Southeast Asia, to say I was nervous about the temperatures in Zion in February is an understatement. I may have been checking the weather reports about ten times a day for the week leading up to our visit….

I can honestly say when I got there it just didn’t matter anymore. As long as you have the right gear the cold won’t be a problem. More often than not we had blazing blue skies and gorgeous sunshine which made the hiking temperatures really pleasant.

One thing to note though is that as mentioned above the Narrows hike is trickier at this time and does require additional gear rental.

Even the Bighorn Sheep feel the cold!

Conditions on the tracks can be challenging

As we mentioned conditions on Zion’s hikes can be challenging at any time of year but winter does pose the potential issue of snow and more importantly ice.

With traction on your boots we found walking on snow and ice way easier than we imagined, in fact it was fun and a novel experience for us! It does mean that the spine of Angels Landing is potentially more hazardous than usual.

You need more gear than in warmer months

This one kind of depends how much winter gear you own. For us the answer was virtually nothing so we did need to buy a few things before embarking on this winter adventure!

You will need traction devices for your boots (you can rent them at the park but we paid so little for our YakTrax that renting doesn’t seem worth it), a good down jacket or similar, warm socks and possibly thermals depending on the temperature at the time. We needed to wear thermals for around half our visit, the other half was warm enough that I didn’t even need a coat!

Just some of the gear we took!


Overall thoughts on visiting Zion in winter

We had the most amazing time visiting Zion in winter and I honestly wince at the thought that we might have listened to the online forums and not make the trip.

It was such a special time to visit, and yes the snow added to the magic, but even without the snow the majesty of the scenery combined with the very few people around made for one of the best national park experiences we have ever had.

If you’re thinking about it, just do it!


How to plan your trip to Zion National Park in winter

Visit the NPS website for which trails are open

The National Parks’ website is regularly updated to let you know the status of the trails and which are open. Use this link to find out.

Check the conditions with the Visitor’s Centre when you arrive

The Visitor’s Centre will give you up to the moment information about the trail conditions, weather and recommendations.


Zion National Park Entrance Fee

You can use the America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass to get into Zion. Otherwise it will cost $35 for entry with a car valid for 7 days. Otherwise it will cost $30 for a motorbike or $20 per person on foot or bike.

As the National Parks Pass is $80 for the year, if you plan on visiting at least three parks in a year it is well worth it.

Get the right gear

Traction devices for your shoes

Having traction devices will make a huge difference. We saw a lot of people slipping for the whole trail without tracks when we walked as if there wasn’t any snow. They are cheap, so buy a set before you go - you can get them on Amazon from the link below.

 

Thermals

Having base layer thermals will keep you warm in cold conditions. We’ve used them in New Zealand and the USA when temperatures have dropped below zero and they made a big difference.

We recommend Icebreaker as they made the best quality and have found them really reliable. Click the link below to get them from Amazon.

 

Down jacket

A down jacket with thermals will work together to trap heat and keep you warm. You will want to check the temperatures the jackets can work to, but we’ve used Jack Wolfskin and found them to work really well for Zion winter conditions.

We recommend using a renowned outdoor brand like Jack Wolfskin, North Face or Berghaus as many brands which we looked at and were cheaper we found weren’t wind proof and wouldn’t keep you warm below around 3C (37F). You can click below to get the jacket Cat used.

 

Where to stay in Zion

Cable Mountain Lodge

When it comes to staying in Zion, the majority of accommodation is concentrated in the nearby village of Springdale. We stayed at Cable Mountain Lodge and absolutely loved it. The lodge is literally steps away from the entrance to the park and the Visitor’s Centre, meaning you won’t lose any time driving to and from the park!

The views from Cable Mountain Lodge

The room at Cable Mountain Lodge

The rooms here are beautiful, comfortable and have stunning views of the Watchman and Zion Canyon. Many rooms also come with kitchenettes which allows you to self cater which was a massive bonus for us. It was the perfect place to relax after a long day hiking. There’s a pool and hot tub with great views. The pool wasn’t open on our visit as it is outdoors but we definitely made use of the outdoor hot tub - even when it was snowing!

Booking.com
Booking.com

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Have you visited Zion National Park in winter? Have any questions for us? Let us know in the comments below!


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