Zion National Park in December– What You Need To Know
Nestled in the heart of Southwest Utah, the quaint town of Springdale has a small population of only 500 residents, but it vibrates wth energy as it welcomes thousands of vacationers annually. The magnet drawing them? The icnonic Zion National Park!
Over the years, we’ve made several trips to Zion National Park in the winter. Each trip has been a unique experience for us. It’s a place we’ve come to enjoy, especially in the colder months, because of the different perspective it offers.
Zion National Park in December is one of the best seasons to visit, with fewer tourists on popular hiking routes and the freedom to drive your own car into the canyon. But there are a few things you should know before visiting Zion National Park during the winter months of December, January, and February.
The five key factors to consider when planning a trip to Zion is what exactly to do in Zion National Park, the crowds, the weather, road closures, and lodging.
Zion Regional Map: Where is Zion National Park?
Situated to the east of Interstate 15 in Southern Utah, Zion National Park is an excellent addition to any Utah road trip itinerary.
The park has 3 entrances:
– Northwest Entrance lies East of Interstate 15.
– East Entrance is accessible from Zion- Mount Carmel Highway (SR-9).
– South Entrance is also located on Utah State Route 9, just at the exit of the little town of Springsdale (Utah).
The South Entrance to Zion Canyon is the most visited entrance to the park.
How To Travel To Zion National Park
To reach Zion National Park, many visitors choose to fly into either Las Vegas McCarran International Airport or Salt Lake City International Airport and do a self guided tour to the park.
From Las Vegas, it’s approximately a 2.5-hour drive, while from Salt Lake City, the drive takes around 4.5 hours.
Additionally, some visitors opt for bus tours or shuttle services that operate from nearby towns, providing a convenient way to reach the park without the need for personal transportation.
Zion National Park Map
Looking For Other Great Things to Do in Utah?
- 34 Fun And Unique Things To Do In Moab
- 7 Not To Miss Arches National Park Hikes
- Arches National Park And The Delicate Arch Hike
- How To Visit Arches National Park In The Winter
- The Mighty 5 Utah National Park Tour
- Utah and Arizona Road Trip (Beginners Guide To The Best Utah and Arizona Drive)
- Zion National Park In March (The Best Time To Visit Zion National Park)
When to Visit Zion National Park
While the crowd at the park are quite less in December, you might see a spike in numbers around Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. So, if you really want to avoid the rush, it’s better to plan a trip in the early weeks or mid of December.
Alternatively, we are also fans of beating the summer heat and visiting Zion National Park in March. Sure, you may experience the crowds of spring breakers, but it’s generally a more pleasant time for outdoor activities compared to the scorching summer months.
Advantages of Visiting Zion in December
Similar to visiting Arches National park in December the most significant advantage of visiting Zion in December is the lack of visitors. You can appreciate the scale of park and the the tall canyon walls without hundreds of people.
Another advantage of going in December is that you can drive your own vehicle through the canyon.
Zion Canyon is accessible by private vehicle from November through March. Being able to drive yourself allows you to discover what you want to see on your own time, which is liberating.
Last but not least, the walls and formations at higher elevations are frequently dusted with snow; despite the fact that it might melt as the day goes on, there’s nothing like sunrise photography in Zion during the winter months.
Disadvantages of Visiting Zion in December
One disadvantage of visiting Zion National Park in December is that, while the roads are cleared after a storm, trails may be closed due to snow or ice. Check out the trail conditions when planning what to do for the day.
What Months Can You Drive Your Own Car Through Zion?
Late November through March is the period during which you have the opportunity to drive your own vehicle in Zion National Park.
Typically the middle of March is when the full-time shuttle service resumes in Zion Canyon and Springdale. Access to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is free by shuttle bus only. Please check the shuttle schedule here.
Weather In Zion National Park in December
December is usually cold and rainy in Zion, with nearly half of the annual rainfall in Zion Canyon occurring between December and March. If cold weather isn’t your thing here are our favorite warm winter vacations in the US.
From November through February, daytime temperatures usually reach the 50’s °F. At night, temperatures are frequently below zero degrees Fahrenheit, with an average low of around 20° F. Freezing temperatures are common during the night, with a low temperature of around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
The winter rains in Zion are heavier than the summer rains, and it rains on average 6 or 7 days throughout the winter months.
Because of its low elevation, Zion rarely gets snow and when it does, it melts fast. Snow is frequently seen on the higher mountain peaks due to their elevation..
In the winter, Zion’s more shaded hikes are frequently icy due to the freezing temperatures. Trails such as Angels Landing, Weeping Rock, Observation Point, and the Emerald Pools are all prone to icy sections in the winter.
Always Check the Weather in Zion Before Heading Out
Also, before heading off to the park to adventure, make sure to check the weather forecast. Usually, the sun is out in December, and the chances of rain are quite small, but the weather can be unpredictable.
So, make sure to schedule your daily activities in consideration of the weather conditions to prevent any potential issues.
Winter Temperatures in Zion
Winter temperatures in Zion National Park can be chilly, especially at higher elevations. If you’re not a fan of the colder weather temperatures I recommend visiting Zion National Park in April.
Does It Snow at Zion During the Winter?
There is generally minimal to no snow accumulation on the canyon floor in Zion National Park. If snow does fall, the sun typically melts it within hours, unless the temperatures stay below freezing.
However, be prepared for snow when exploring the higher elevations and peaks within Zion.
At an elevation of 3,900 feet above sea level, the valley floor in Springdale and Zion Canyon is quite low.
Have you been to the Grand Canyon during the winter? The South Rim is 6,800 feet above sea level, which is a significant difference when compared with Zion.
In the winter, you’re more likely to see snow in the Grand Canyon. You’re incredibly fortunate if you witness a light dusting of snow covering those famous orange sandstone canyon walls in Zion.
What to Avoid When Visiting Zion NP in the Winter
Certain steep trails in Zion National Park tend to get a bit slippery during the winter months, like the Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools.
So, to avoid slipping accidents, it is recommended to visit these trails only when the sun is out and the weather is dry; otherwise, it is better to avoid them. You can, however, hike the the Pa’Rus Trail and Riverside Walk.
What Should I Wear to Zion in the Winter?
As mentioned earlier, the winters are not very harsh in Southern Utah; however, just to be on the safe side, pack extra warm clothes, coats, towels, gloves, hats, and hiking boots with traction.
Also, I recommend keeping a thermos of hot beverages in your car to warm up after a long hike.
- YakTrax (if it’s icy)
- First Aid Kit
- Bags to pack out trash
- A walking stick or trekking poles
- Hydration Pack/Camelbak
- Sturdy Shoes/Hiking Boots
- Multi-Tool Knife
- Warm clothes, such as a fleece jacket or insulated jacket
- Socks that breathe and prevent blisters (Darn Tough socks are recommended)
General Tips For Hiking Zion in December
Hiking is any national park is quite enjoyable, but hiking in Zion National Park in December is downright incredible! I mean, you can drive right to the trailheads and start your hike. And if you’re lucky, you might even have the entire trail to yourselves!
Be aware even if roads are cleared during the winter, some hiking routes may be inaccessible due to snow or ice. Check the current conditions for up-to-date information.
In Zion, be prepared for early mornings that are chilly; start out with several layers, including hats and gloves. Even though it’s cold outside, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Hiking Permits in the Winter
When it comes to hiking permits, visiting Zion National Park during the winter is a good bet.
The lower number of visitors means less demand and a greater likelihood of obtaining a permit. Click here to learn what hikes you need to have a permit for when visiting the park.
Is It Safe To Hike Angels Landing In The Winter?
Important Note – Angels landing is now operating off of a lottery system. You can not arrive to the park and hike Angels landing without having a permit. Learn more about the permit system here.
On a good day, the hike is already dangerous. Winters are especially harsh in terms of temperature and weather conditions, making the hike even more dangerous than they already are on a normal day.
In the winter, ice is a strong possibility if there’s been rain or snow.
You don’t want to attempt Angels Landing if there’s a chance of ice on the route. It’s difficult enough without having to worry about icy conditions.
However, if the weather is good during the winter, Angels Landing is one of the best hikes in Zion. Because it is off season, Angels Landing is already a safer hike since the lack of people makes it considerably quieter = safer.
Hiking The Narrows in The Winter
It’s safe to say that the Narrows Hike is a lot more enjoyable in the summer months if you don’t like the cold! While the Narrows can be done throughout the winter, you’ll need to rent winter gear like dry suits since the water is too chilly to swim through.
Springdale’s outdoor shops can rent you the necessary gear you need to hike the Narrows in winter.
If adventurous winter vacations are your thing I highly suggest you look into the the Narrows Or Angels landing during your Zion vacation.
Best Things To Do in Zion in December and Other Winter Months
If you’re looking for a enjoyable trip without all the hubbub and commotion, visit Zion National Park in December and enjoy the following activities:
Hiking In Zion: Best Winter Hikes Zion
If you’re considering winter hiking, be aware that Angels Landing in winter can be particularly challenging due to potential icy conditions. Similarly, the Zion Narrows in winter requires special gear due to the cold water.
1. Hike to Observation Point
Important Note (updated 2023): Observation Point is closed via the East Rim trail from Weeping Rock due to large rockfall.
Alternate Route to Observation Point: The East Rim Trail leads to Observation Point. To do so, start at the Zion National Park East Entrance on Route 9.
This is a 20-mile round trip, so this is a big day hike that should only be attempted if you’re a fast and efficient hiker.
Hiking to Observation Point on the East Mesa Trail is a second and more suitable alternative. This is a shorter trip with a total distance of 7 miles. The hike begins at the East Mesa Trailhead, which is located outside of Zion National Park.
Distance: 6.7 Miles out and back, 2131 ft elevation gain
Time: 4-6 Hours
While there are many things to do at Zion National Park, hiking all the way to Observation Point should be at the top of your list!
With the crowds gone, you get to enjoy a marvelous hike, and once you reach Observation Point, you get to experience the magnificent and heavenly view of Utah from the very top!
The hike is more strenuous than Angel’s Landing, but it is less crowded and my favorite.
There are several switchbacks on this hike, and at the top of the switchbacks, you’ll reach a steep slot canyon providing relief from the sun.
Once you exit the slot canyon, your hike continues to climb around the backside of Zion Canyon and provide sweeping views.
The entire trail is wide and solid rock. Just past the point where the trail levels off, it takes you to Observation Point.
Here you have a view of Angel’s Landing and both rims of East and West Canyon.
2. Hike The Canyon Overlook Trail
For an easy way to see Zion Canyon, consider the Canyon Overlook Trail. It’s a straightforward one-mile roundtrip, but don’t let its short distance fool you.
The trail is among the top attractions in Zion NP because of its scenic views and easy path. At the end, you’ll reach the Pipe Creek Canyon overlook, giving you a clear view of Zion Canyon and the Great Arch.
The trail begins near the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and heads west, making it one of the few developed hikes in the eastern part of the park.
💡Good To Know about Zion Canyon Overlook trail parking-Honestly, the toughest part of attempting the Overlook trail hike during spring or summer is the battle for parking. Only a few small lots are available near the trailhead, and some extra spots along the road, but they fill up quickly.
3. Hiking Angels Landing And The Narrows
I covered some of the specifics about these hikes a bit earlier, but it’s worth noting that while Angels Landing offers breathtaking panoramic views from its summit, The Narrows provides a unique experience of wading through the Virgin River amidst towering canyon walls.
Be sure to fuel up for the best winter hikes in Zion with some of our favorite hiking lunch ideas.
Things To Do In Zion National Park Besides Hiking
If you’re not into hiking not to worry there are still plenty of other things to do in Zion.
1. Take A Scenic Drive In Zion National Park Through The Canyon
The main attraction at Zion National Park is the cream, pink, and red cliffs of the Zion Canyon. Usually, shuttle buses take the visitors through the canyon and stop at the main sites.
The downside of this is that you have to wait in lines, and the service is only operational during specific hours.
In December, however, you get the opportunity to drive through the canyon on your own. This means you can choose a convenient time, stop and explore whenever you want, and capture memorable pictures without people getting in the way!
2. Wildlife Viewing in Their Natural Habitat During Winter
But, during the peak season, you won’t see much of them as they hide away from the crowds. This is why December is the ideal time to visit the park and view the wildlife in complete solitude.
You’ll see deer, bighorn sheep, elks, golden eagles, and wild turkeys roaming around the park, which is rare in other months.
3. Meander Along the Riverside Trail
You’ll reach the Temple of Sinawava after driving 15 miles on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Riverside Trail begins at the base of high sandstone cliffs and follows the Virgin River along an easy paved route.
The accessible 1-mile route leads to the well known Narrows slot canyon.
4. Rock Climbing
Another thing that adds to the fun of visiting Zion National Park in December is rock climbing. For one, the lower temperature helps you keep a good grip, and the cool weather keeps you hydrated for long.
However, the only thing you need to watch out for is rain. If it rains, wait for a couple of days for the park to dry out before attempting rock climbing, as the sandstone can get slippery when wet.
5. See Waterfalls In Zion National Park
Experiencing waterfalls in Zion National Park during winter offers a distinct perspective. The drop in temperatures can lead to the falls partially freezing, resulting in captivating ice formations.
In addition, the winter season showcases snow-capped red rocks and an increased number of waterfalls due to melting snow. These sights, particularly the contrast of snow on red rock and the frozen cascades, are special to the colder months at the park.
Our favorite waterfalls in Zion National Park are Upper and Lower Emerald Pools and Pine Creek
6. Take Pictures Without Photobombs
Here’s the most important part of your trip – Memorable photos! The higher side of Zion National Park has quite a mesmerizing winterscape view, with the red cliffs blanketed in snow that shimmers like pearls in the mild winter sun.
The lower side of the park, on the other hand, also looks quite mystical in winter with the high tide of the Virgin River and the waterfalls with magical mist swirling around.
And with the sparse crowd, you can capture some timeless moments in the park with the snow-capped peaks in the background.
7. Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway also known as highway 9 is a scenic drive that offers the best views of Zion Canyon.
The Highway runs between Zion’s main canyon and Mount Carmel and offers stunning views. You will take a portion of this highway if you plan on driving from Zion to Bryce Canyon.
This road winds and offers spectacular views of the swirling, otherworldly rock formations, mounds, towers, hoodoos, and hilltops.
The tunnel is more than 5,000 feet long and rather small, making it suitable only for small passenger cars in two-way traffic.
💡Good To Know: Larger RVs and trucks must have a special escort to keep single-direction flow and guide them through.
(The engineers of the 1920s were very clever, but they didn’t anticipate RVs over 12 feet tall on these routes.)
The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel has windows, which enable travelers to glimpse the outside world while passing through it — but there are no bicycles and no stopping permitted in the tunnel.
Please Note: Vehicles that are larger than the following dimensions (7 feet 10 inchesin width and/or 11 feet 4 inches in height or larger) will be required to pay tunnel permit fee of $15.
Your $15 tunnel permit is good for two trips through the tunnel for the same vehicle within seven days of purchase. You can learn more here.
Camping In Zion During Winter
Regardless, you should know that every campground is closed during the winter season with the exception of Watchman campground, which is open but requires reservations all year.
The Watchman Campground is the main campground in Zion, and it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the main visitor center. It’s also in a perfect location if you want to hike the Watchman Trail or The Pa’rus Trail, which are both shorter hikes.
The historic lodge is located deep within the park and offers a combination of cabins and hotel rooms. The lodge is popular, and reservations fill up quickly. e highly recommend staying here as its an incredible location
Is Zion National Park Open? A Bit About Zion Park Closures
Typically, park shuttle buses are only utilized during the peak season (summer) and the holidays, such as Christmas week and Presidents’ Day weekend.
Access to the upper part of the Kolob Terrace Road, including Lava Point closes during the winter. Access to Kolob Canyons closes in inclement weather. Driving conditions can be hazardous during a storm, but after the snowfall has ended, roads are typically cleared rapidly. South Campground and portions of Watchman Campground are closed.
The Human History Museum is closed, and the park film can be viewed at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, which is open all winter.
Get Out and Explore Zion National Park in December
The ideal time to visit Zion National Park and many other parks is in winter. You can easily find places to stay, spend time with the wildlife, and carry out other fun activities in peace. And, not to forget the off-season rates!
Also, if you pack all the winter essentials, you can enjoy the trip even if the weather gets unexpectedly colder.
Therefore, gear up and plan your trip to Zion National Park in December for a peaceful and serene experience!
Places To Stay In Zion (Springdale) During The Winter
Holiday Inn Express– Located 1.6 mi from Zion National Park amid the red rock cliffs, this Springdale hotel offers free WiFi and rooms that feature a refrigerator and a work desk.
Zion Park Motel-Featuring a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, Zion Park Motel is set in Springdale, 1.1 mi from Zion National Park and is 300 feet from the free shuttle to Zion National Park
Hampton Inn And Suites– Free Wi-Fi and a hot breakfast buffet are featured at this Springdale hotel, just 1 miles from the entrance to Zion National Park. The O.C. Tanner Amphitheater is a 5-minute drive away.
FAQ About Winter In Zion National Park
Best Time Of Year For Zion National Park
The best time of year to visit Zion depends on the activities you want to do. Spring is a grea time to go If you’re into hiking and exploring before the temps get too hot. Winter is great for those who like to hike without crowds and a bit of chill in the air.
What’s The Town Outside Zion National Park
The town outside of Zion National Park is Springdale with a population of 500.
Are There Waterfalls in Zion National Park
Yes, there are waterfalls in Zion, our favorite waterfalls are the Emerald Pools Area