You’ve seen photos of the imposing red rocks and slot canyons of Zion National Park. But it’s cold now! Here’s everything you need to know for a Zion National Park winter visit.
Each year, in addition to spring break, our kids get a week off of school in February that’s colloquially dubbed “ski week.” Not being skiers ourselves, we haven’t taken advantage of the time off to hit the slopes. But we do like to do something fun, whether it’s a staycation or an adventure further afield.
This last year, we found smoking deals on flights to Las Vegas. While we’re not exactly the gambling types, Vegas has the advantage of being only a few hours from the amazing National Parks of Southern Utah. We decided we’d spend the weeks exploring the parks and connecting with nature, despite the cold. A Zion National Park winter visit was first on the agenda.
Keep reading for what was still accessible and doable in winter in Zion National Park, as well as some of the best Zion hikes with kids!
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ZION NATIONAL PARK WINTER VISIT
Why Visit Zion National Park in Winter
Fewer Crowds in Zion in Winter
Like many other places, a Zion National Park winter visit gives you much more freedom and time to yourself. While I really believe Zion is magical any time of year, there’s something to connecting with stunning natural landscapes without being surrounded by thousands of others vying to do the same.
Planning a visit to Zion National Park in winter means that you’ll experience uncrowded trails, plenty of restaurant and hotel availability, and you won’t need to wait for eons in line at the entrance station or to get through the tunnel.
Along with fewer crowds come lower prices. Hotel prices are steep in high season in Zion National Park (not to mention hard to reserve). In winter, there’s plenty of availability coupled with significantly lower rates.
Drive Yourself Through Zion National Park in Winter
Because of the crowds, Zion National Park has implemented a shuttle system during much of the year. It’s convenient and takes you to most of the highlights in Zion Canyon. But it does stop and start for passengers to get on and off, and makes lots of stops along the way. So it takes quite a bit more time than driving yourself.
In the winter, however, personal cars are allowed into the valley. That means you can come and go when you want without waiting for the shuttle. It also means you don’t have to stop at every sight along the way, and can pick what is most appealing to you. If you’re visiting Zion National Park with kids, or even if you just like to pack your own gear and lunch, it’s a lot easier to throw it in your car than haul everything along all day long.
Stunning Beauty and Fun During Winter in Zion National Park
Perhaps the best reason to plan a Zion National Park winter visit is that it’s just plain stunning. When we visited in February, we happened to get hit with a snow system through a couple of the days. There are few things more beautiful than fresh, white powder contrasting with red rock cliffs.
Our kids loved tromping through the snow and hiking through it. They also loved pulling icicles off of rocks and sucking on them. In fact, when we visited again in the summertime, every single one of our kids said they preferred it in winter because it was just so dang fun.
Should I Make a Winter Trip to Zion National Park?
While there are lots of advantages to taking a Zion National Park winter trip, there are some downsides, and it’s not for everyone. Firstly, while it doesn’t always, it can get very cold. Tons of snow doesn’t happen every year, but it did during our February visit. We didn’t mind it, but if you’re snow-averse (either for being in it or driving in it), then definitely proceed with caution. You’ll need to pack appropriate clothing (this Iceland winter packing list with kids might be helpful, or here is our more general kids packing list).
Also, if you’re interested in doing a lot of really technical climbing or big hikes, it’s trickier to access those during the winter. Angel’s Landing, for instance, is technically open during the winter, but can be treacherous if there’s ice and/or snow. Similarly, Observation Point can be closed due to weather conditions, rockfall, etc.
Still, especially if you’re visiting with kids or aren’t interested in very difficult/technical hikes, winter can be wonderful for a visit. Most of the shorter/less strenuous hikes won’t have any issues, and you may enjoy them significantly more when visiting Zion National Park in winter.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park in Winter
The town of Springdale is just outside Zion National Park. It has the advantage of proximity, decent food, and beautiful surroundings from the red rock extending beyond the gates of the park. We really love the Marriott Springhill Suites in Springdale. It’s super close to the park (a mere 5 minutes from the entrance) and has spacious and modern rooms. It also has a great hot breakfast each morning that’s perfect for getting going bright and early (and has a spectacular breakfast view to boot!). It’s really a perfect hotel for families in Zion National Park.
We also really loved staying right inside the park at the Zion Lodge Cabins. This is where we stayed when visiting during a snowstorm in February and it was so cozy and dreamy! The cabins are located only a few minutes’ walk from the Lodge and parking right out front, so they were very convenient. Plus, it was magical being surrounded by the beauty of Zion covered in snow.
When staying at the Zion Lodge Cabins in winter with kids, we brought plenty of snacks. While the Lodge is close, it isn’t open 24/7 for meals. We also didn’t want a sit-down experience for every meal, so it was helpful to have some of our own provisions. As far as sleeping arrangements, we had two double beds for 4 of us. Then we made a small bed on the floor for a young kiddo, plus brought a pack n play for the baby. There was a little gas fireplace inside that (along with the heater) kept things plenty toasty. The whole experience was snug and quiet and perfect when you want to escape to nature (there’s basically no service there).
What to Do on a Zion National Park Winter Visit
Zion National Park Visitor Center
Be sure to start of any visit to Zion National Park with a stop at the visitor center. There are some good exhibits, and the rangers are always helpful with giving recommendations for hikes and other activities. If you are visiting Zion National Park with kids, don’t forget to grab Junior Ranger booklets. The Zion one is particularly good at getting kids out and adventuring and learning during their stay.
Canyon Overlook Trail in Winter
This is, in my opinion, the best Zion National Park hike with kids, or for anyone who wants major bang-for-your-buck without a lot of time or tons of effort. It’s amazing how such a short hike has such a major reward!
The entire trail is only about a mile out and back. The last time we were there, we hiked it in about 45 minutes round trip – and that was with at least a 15 minute stop at the end to check out the views and take photos. It only has very modest elevation gain, but is NOT stroller-friendly or accessible. So definitely either have kiddos walk or go in a carrier. Despite how short it is, it does have some dangerous dropoffs, so be sure to keep a very close eye/hand on little ones.
Depending on weather conditions, the Canyon Overlook Train in winter is definitely still doable. The first time we hiked it, it was the day after a snowstorm. We weren’t sure what it would be like, but it turns out since it wasn’t actively snowing, we felt fine. We went in the middle of the day so it was a bit more slushy; I’d avoid times when it gets cold and dark and the slush starts to ice over. Definitely wear some sort of snow boot if going in the winter, as there are some patches where you’ll be trekking through the snow.
At the end, you’ll be rewarded with views not dissimilar to Angel’s Landing but without nearly as much worry about plunging off the edge. The entire trail is filled with variety of flora and fauna and rock formations. It’s just a really interesting hike, especially for being so short. Can you tell I really love this Zion National Park hike with kids? If you can only choose one, especially when short on time, this is the one I’d pick.
Riverside Walk in Winter
This is another trail that’s great and easy to do when visiting Zion National Park in winter. It’s almost entirely flat, and leads to the mouth of the Narrows. I would definitely NOT recommend entering the Narrows in the winter. The water is usually frigid and water levels can be high. (Always be sure to check in with rangers on conditions before entering, regardless of time of year.)
Still, even with not entering the Narrows, it’s really fun to go up to the opening and peek into the gorgeous, water-filled canyon. The scenery is breathtaking throughout the hike and well worth the 2-mile out-and-back walk. When not snow-covered, much of the trail is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
Pa’rus Trail in Winter
This is another mostly-flat trail that will give you some of the highlights of Zion Canyon. It’s a great hike for Zion in winter because it’s close to the visitor center and very easy to do. That way, you can go as far as you like to see some beautiful scenery, then turn back if you get cold/wet/tired.
Emerald Pools in Winter
The Emerald Pools trail is a little more subject to weather in Zion National Park in winter. It does occasionally close due to ice/safety reasons, so be sure to check in advance. If it’s open, though, it’s a wonderful and short trail to hike in Zion National Park in winter. Pretty views, relatively easy walking, and fun nooks and crannies for kids!
Checkerboard Mesa in Winter
Over on the east side, Checkerboard Mesa is a much less visited part of Zion National Park in winter (or otherwise). All of the times we’ve visited, that side of the park has been quiet, especially compared to Zion Canyon. This area is great if you don’t want to do a full hike, but just want to explore. There are a few fun trails, but there are also plenty of big rocks and places to explore and wander. It’s an excellent area for hopping out for a bit, and having the option to return quickly if you get too cold and wet!
Day Trip to Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter
While there’s plenty to occupy any amount of time in Zion National Park, it’s also really fun to get out of ZIon for a day to visit Bryce National Park. Beware that Bryce is usually DARN COLD in the winter. The high was hovering around 20F the day we were there, and the lows dipped well below 0F. Still, the snow-covered hoodoos are just stunning. The contrast of red rock and white powder is ethereal. If you can convince yourself out into the chill, it makes for some great exploring. Be sure to dress very warmly, have food and water, know your exits/where it’s safe to walk and drive, and do NOT go too far.
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