Zion National Park in the Winter

Here’s to hoping that the cold never bothered you anyway, as one of the best times to visit the popular Zion National Park is during the chillier months. There are plenty of things to see and do, when visiting during the wintertime. Be sure to bring your sense of adventure, as many enjoyable moments await you. Here is a comprehensive guide to Zion National Park in the winter!

Zion Climate in the Winter

Located at the Southwestern part of Utah; Zion National Park tends to fluctuate in daily temperatures ranging up to as much of a 30-degree difference. Having a desert climate means that, typically, it will be warmer during the daytime and chillier for the evening hours. Sporadic bouts of snowfall may accumulate the further north that you travel. Meanwhile, snow rarely sticks on to the inward base of the canyon itself.

During the wintertime, which tends to be the slowest time at the park, guests tend to make their plans closer to when the weather warms up. Yet, by having mild winters, the season brings a change in scenery and allows for those passing through to enjoy the uncongested area more for themselves. Bringing a sense of peace and tranquility, while enjoying the many opportunities that you may enjoy on a solo trip or while with friends and family.

Things to Do in Zion National Park in the Winter

Surrounded by a vast amount of beauty; the Zion National Park will offer up a picturesque vacation from the norm. Detailed below are just a few ideas of the fun that you can have, especially with the crowds away.

Hiking / Backpacking

Strolling through the park, during the wintertime, will give you a complete sense of serenity. Besides the wildlife that you may see, as you hike along the trails, you may be the only one out there to enjoy the sights and silence.

Smaller animals will be hibernating during the season, but larger animals will likely graze around for food. Signs of other people being nearby may be prominent with random snowmen, or a lost article of clothing that may have fallen during the warmer part of the days.

Photography

There is plenty to take in, while away in the tranquil landscape of Zion. If you visit Observation Point, which is located within the East Rim Trail of the Zion National Park, be cautious of icy and slippery conditions. Hiking, skiing, or even snowshoes will be the best way to trek across the Zion Ponderosa to reach the plateau dubbed as one of the best parts to visit by numerous tourists.

There are bountiful amounts of wildlife, along with vegetation, that will be ready for their close-ups to highlight the allure that Zion has on anyone who comes to visit. Depending on how cold it is, you may have water exuding from crevices creating beautiful ice décor that glistens in the sun. Sunrises and sunsets are just the added frosting to fulfill your album full of amazing memories.

Scenic Drives

If hiking or backpacking is not your cup of tea, enjoy sipping on a warm cup of coffee as you drive around and through the Zion canyon. You will still have a great chance of seeing deer, elf, or the bighorn sheep that call the park “home”.

Highway 9 is the most common roadway to utilize, when sightseeing by vehicle. During the winter, you may drive your own personal vehicle through the Zion territory versus having to take the shuttle bus in and around. Just another perk for visiting during the colder, and less busy, time of the year.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is about three hours from Las Vegas and is neighbored to the Grand Canyon and the Bryce Canyon. Park Passes are available for purchase at the Ranger station.

If driving in from the eastern side, or coming in from Mt. Carmel Junction, will provide chances to travel through tunnels and switchback or two for additional scenery.

Barely a mile away is the city of Springdale, in which you may rest and relax after a beautiful day within nature.

What is Open / Closed in the Wintertime

Some attractions and sightseeing areas may be closed during the wintertime. Or, they will have limited hours due to the unpopular visitor season. Here are some of the primary areas of interest, and their operating days and or times.

Places to Stay

  • Lava Point Campground is closed during the winter season. The campground is available from June through October and offers both tent and RV sites. There are guided tours available, along with accessibility for ATVs, bicycles, hiking, and horseback riding.
  • South Campground is open around the first week in March and closes just after Thanksgiving.  Reservations can be made up to 14 days in advance. Group sites are available, along with accommodations for both RVs and tents. 
  • Watchman Campground is located near the south side entrance to Zion National Park. Open year round, but only accepting reservations from March through the Thanksgiving weekend in November. The site then becomes a first-come, first served, during their off season. Group sites are closed during the wintertime, and you will need to pay an additional $35 per vehicle for the entrance fee. South Campground and Lava Point Campgrounds are completely closed during the off season.
  • Zion National Park Lodge is the only in-park resort. For the off season, they may offer discounted rates along with holiday packages. They do offer reservations up to thirteen months in advance, so make sure to plan accordingly. As for a flight in, the closest airport is the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, NV.

Roadways

  • Highway 9 is mainly plowed, and is easy to access, due to the snow barely accumulating. This route gives way to the main entrance of the Zion National Park and is a part of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Open year round, Hwy 9 provides a natural guided tour that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own vehicle.
  • Interstate 15 provides additional scenery, as it is the byway that runs alongside the Virgin River. Joining in with Hwy 9 will provide you an estimated time of 40 minutes to enjoy a glimpse of what Zion has to offer.
  • Kolob Canyons Road is open during the winter, weather permitting. Due to its elevation, it does have a greater chance of closing due to poor road condition. If you do have the opportunity to drive along, the route will highlight beautiful scenery at different outlook locations.
  • Zion Canyon Scenic Drive runs 54 miles and is open to the public during the slow season. Only during March through November is it accessible by the Zion Shuttle Bus, or by private vehicles if you are staying at the Zion Lodge. This specific route will take you along winding roads, and through tunnels.
  • Zion Shuttle System is closed during the wintertime.

Visitor Centers

  • Backcountry Desk at Kolob Canyon Visitor Center is open daily, with the exception of December 25th. Their winter hours are from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Backcountry Desk at Zion Canyon Visitor Center is open, during winter, between 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Kolob Canyon Visitor Center is open daily, except for December 25th. During the wintertime, it is accessible during the hours of 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Zion Canyon Visitor Center is open during the winter, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. It is closed on December 25th.
  • Zion Human History Center is closed during the months of November through March.

Best Gear for Zion National Park in the Winter

With a fluctuation in temperatures, from daytime to nighttime, along with the changes in elevation; layering is the key factor to consider when packing. Keep in mind that you want to stay warm, comfortable, dry, and hydrated during your visit. Weather conditions vary, and you must be prepared. This will allow you to enjoy the scenic views and the calm essence of Zion.

Men’s Gear for Zion National Park in the Winter

Start with a base layer, to keep you warm and dry. Try a fleece-lined thermal top and bottom, that retains the heat. You want to wear something that will allow you to breathe, and the flexibility to move.

Next, be sure to pack a long sleeve shirt. Preferably something that is lightweight and offers UV protection. Bright, and / or reflective, colors will make you more visible to any other visitors that may be out on the trails.

When shopping around for the best pants, look for ones that will be weather-resistant and have zippered pockets for keys and your phone. The bottom of the pants should be comfortable to wear, either tucked inside of your boots or on the outside of your hiking shoes. For an extra layer of protection against the elements, wind pants will keep you both dry and warm.

To complete your layers, top it off with a water-resistant jacket. Preferably one that is lighter in weight, to make it easy for packing, and with a hood. This will provide the ultimate coverage against anything that the Zion winter season may have in store.

Your feet need to be taken care of, as well, since you will presumably on them for most of the day. Go with something that is made specific for the wintertime in Zion.  A durable boot, specifically made to hike through any weather condition, will be ideal.

Women’s Gear for Zion National Park in the Winter

A cozy base layer will be the best starter, as you begin to layer up for the day. You will want to wear something that will keep the warmth in, without feeling bulky. Most styles are form fitting, which prevent you from looking bulky with the rest of your gear on.

Long sleeve shirts will add on to the base layer. Try one that is aimed more for athletic wear, so that it is a bit more breathable. One that has thumbholes, with a zipper closer that covers the neck will provide more versatility.

Be sure to cover up your legs with pants that are water-resistant. Idealistically, ones that have deep zippered pockets will better protect phones and items that are normally kept on hand. Insulated pants are another option; offering an extra layer of warmth and protection.

An interchangeable jacket will allow versatility for the changes in the weather. Since this is the top layer, you may prefer something lightweight, but strong enough to handle the elements. Make sure that it is weather-proof, has a hood, and deep pockets.

Protect your feet with a durable boot that will keep your feet warm with its insulation. Having flexibility, and breathability, while withstanding whatever that Zion may bring. Memory foam inside will provide extra cushion during those beautiful hikes amongst the scenery.

Accessories and other gear

To enjoy the breathtaking views, be sure to pack accordingly and utilize a daypack backpack to store all of your essentials. If you plan on hiking through the Zion National Park for more than just one day, you will need a high-performance backpack that will withstand the surrounding environment.

When it comes to capturing those breathtaking moments, you want to be sure that your camera is capable of meeting and exceeding your expectations. As an amateur photographer; you may prefer a mirrorless camera, with a base model to produce higher quality pictures versus taking them with your smartphone. Whereas, if you are an avid photographer, and want your photos to be of a professional quality, then you will need a high-performance camera. Be sure that your camera is lightweight, easily accessible, and weather sealed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Zion National Park in the Winter

Be prepared for an experience of a lifetime, by studying up and packing accordingly. Here are some common questions and answers about Zion in the wintertime.

What will the weather be like?

Typically, winters in Zion are damp and cold, and the weather can fluctuate between daytime to nighttime. Snow is always a possibility. Common sense is key; if it gets to be to bad, make sure that you turn back around.

Are there any restaurants?

Yes, the Zion Lodges has a restaurant that operates the entire year.

Is it possible for rockfalls?

Yes, rockfalls can occur at any time.

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