zion national park in december

Zion National Park in December (Helpful Things To Do And Know)

Zion National Park in December

The cozy town of Springdale is home to just 500 people! And yet it bustles with thousands of visitors every year.  Why? Because of its main attraction, Zion National Park!

Throughout the year, especially in spring and summer, Springdale, situated in Southwest Utah, is packed with visitors from all around the globe to experience the beauty of Zion National Park.

Winter is one of the best seasons to visit Zion National Park, with fewer visitors 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 four key factors to consider when planning a trip to Zion at any time of year are crowds, weather, roads, and lodging.

However, while visiting the park when it is full of life is one thing, exploring the red cliffs of the canyon and witnessing the wildlife in complete solitude is incomparable!

Looking For Other Great Things to Do in Utah?

Zion Regional Map: Where is Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is located in Southern Utah and is accessible only by car. It lies East of Interstate 15.

The park has 3 entrances:
– Northwest Entrance to Zion National Park 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.

Zion National Park Map

Advantages of Visiting Zion in December

The most significant advantage of visiting Zion in December is the lack of visitors. You can appreciate the scale of the 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.Finally, in December, the scenery is simply breathtaking.

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.

Traction shoes, YakTrax or spikes are recommended for trails at higher elevations, as well as those with shaded sections where snow and ice are less likely to melt.

When to Visit Zion National Park

While the crowd at the park is quite less in December, you might see a spike in numbers just 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.

What Months Can You Drive Your Own Car Through Zion?

zion national park
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 will be by free shuttle bus only. Please check for the shuttle schedule here.

Weather In Zion National Park in December

The month of December is typically chilly and wet in Zion. Between December and March, almost half of the yearly rainfall in Zion Canyon falls.

Temperatures: 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.

Rain: The winter rains in Zion are heavier than the summer rains, and it rains on average 6 or 7 days throughout the winter months.

Snow: 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..

 Ice: 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 hike or rock climb, 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. Therefore, plan your daily activities according to the weather conditions to avoid getting into any kind of inconvenience. 

Winter Temperatures in Zion

Does It Snow at Zion During the Winter?

Very little, if any, snow accumulates on the canyon ground in Zion National Park. If it does snow the sun will quickly melt the snow within hours unless it remains below freezing temps.

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.

Except perhaps on the top of the tallest peaks, there is considerably less risk of snow at lower elevations in Zion National Park.

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 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, keep a thermos of hot beverages in your car to warm up after a long hike. 

Hiking Zion in December

zion national park

Hiking is quite an enjoyable affair, 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 Angels Landing Safe to Hike in Winter?

zion national park

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.

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.

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

Best Things To Do in Zion in December and Other Winter Months

If you’re looking for a tranquil trip without all the hubbub and commotion, visit Zion National Park in December and enjoy the following activities:

Drive Through The Canyon

zion national park

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!

Wildlife Viewing in Their Natural Habitat During Winter

Did you know that Zion National Park is home t over 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 37 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish

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. 

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.

Hike The Canyon Overlook Trail

If you want a view of Zion Canyon without having to climb too much, the Canyon Overlook Trail is the ideal route for you.

The hike starts near the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and takes you west to an overlook of Zion Canyon. It’s one of the few developed hikes in the eastern part of the park.

Hike to Observation Point

Important Note (updated 2022): 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
Difficulty: Strenuous

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.

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. 

Take Pictures Without Photobombs

zion national park

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.

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. 

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 inches (2.4 meters) in width and/or 11 feet 4 inches (3.4 meters) 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.

zion national park

Camping In Zion During Winter

Do you have an RV, van or travel trailer? Or are you brave enough to sleep in a tent in Zion during the 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.

Zion Lodge

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

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 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.

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