Planning a trip to Zion National Park? Want to avoid the crowds?
Zion National Park is one of my favorite places on earth – I've visited 40+ times – and it's well worth a visit. But if you haven't thought about crowds, you need to.
For most of the year, you cannot drive your own car into Zion Canyon, the most popular part of the park. You must ride the free shuttle, bike, or walk beyond the Canyon Junction shuttle stop, about two miles beyond the Visitor Center.
Zion Canyon has become so crowded that reservations may be required in the near future. Parking spaces are usually completely full by mid-morning at the latest. Shuttle lines can make you feel like you're at a theme park.
Zion Canyon just isn't very big, and it can only hold so many shuttles and people.
Hunting for a parking space and standing in long lines is no way to spend your vacation. Here are 8 strategies you can use to avoid crowds at Zion National Park.
You'll have a better experience at Zion any day of the year if you get a parking space at the Visitor Center by 9 AM. Arrive by 7 or 8 AM on weekends and holidays.
The Visitor Center has a large parking lot, but it fills quickly. There are a few more roadside spaces near the Canyon Junction shuttle stop, but no other public lots inside Zion Canyon.
If you fail to find a parking space inside the park, you'll need to turn around and find paid parking in Springdale. This can cost up to $40 per day and require you to use the free town shuttle to get back to the park entrance.
Crowds get lighter and parking spaces start to open up by 4 or 5 PM. During much of the year, you can still enjoy the park for hours after that.
Pay attention to the shuttle schedule if you arrive in the afternoon. If you miss the last shuttle back to the visitor center, it could be a long walk back to your car.
Visit on a Weekday
Zion National Park is popular with locals. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday will nearly always be less crowded than Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Plan your Zion Canyon day for a weekday to avoid the biggest crowds.
Visit in Winter
Zion's off-season gets shorter every year. In general, you can expect lighter crowds from November through early March, except for holidays.
The Zion Canyon shuttle schedule is a good indicator of when crowds are light. If there is no shuttle, you can drive your own car into Zion Canyon. Parking spaces may still fill up but the park should feel uncrowded. Arriving early is still a good idea if you want to avoid parking hassles.
We last visited Zion Canyon in February 2022. We arrived on Friday afternoon when the shuttle was not running and found a parking space at the Emerald Pools trailhead without much trouble. The weather is often sunny and mild in February – perfect for hiking with a jacket or hoodie.
Stay inside the park or in the town of Springdale if you don't want to worry about finding a parking space. It's easier to enjoy the less-crowded early morning or late afternoon hours when you are staying inside or close to the park.
You get a special parking pass when you stay at the Zion Lodge. It allows you to drive into Zion Canyon and park your car at the Lodge. The shuttle stops at the Lodge.
Campgrounds near Zion Canyon do not include a special parking pass because they are in the driveable zone between the Visitor Center and Canyon Junction. They are a short walk from the Visitor Center.
Springdale has a free town shuttle that will take you to the Zion National Park Visitor Center, where you can catch the park shuttle. Leave your car parked at your hotel.
Related: Where to Stay at Zion National Park
Zion Canyon is bicycle-friendly. The two-lane road between the Visitor Center and the end of the canyon is only about 8 miles long and fairly flat. Shuttles are the only other vehicles that use the road and they all have bicycle racks.
You can bring your own bicycles or rent them from a local outfitter.
Skip Zion Canyon
You can't miss Zion Canyon on your first trip to Zion National Park. However, if you are staying multiple days or have been there before, consider visiting parts of the park that are less crowded.
Enjoy great scenery with lighter crowds, shuttles, or parking hassles in Kolob Canyon or Kolob Terrace. Expect fewer services as well.
The Kolob Canyon entrance is just off of Interstate 15, north of Zion Canyon. There is a small visitor center, a scenic drive, and a few hiking trails.
The Kolob Terrace turnoff is in the town of Virgin, on your way to/from Zion Canyon. Look for signs that point you to Kolob Reservoir.
Or… Take your vacation to the next level with a helicopter tour over Zion National Park. Zion Helicopters treated us to a short tourand it was breathtaking.
I love visiting Zion Canyon, but I have avoided it more often than not in recent years because parking and shuttle lines are a hassle.
That's why it was SO NICE to visit Zion Canyon in the afternoon of a February weekday this year. We drove in and parked at a popular trailhead with no problem at all. The weather was beautiful and visiting Zion felt easy – just like when I was a kid.
Instead of frustration and hassle, combine two or more of these strategies to avoid crowds in Zion Canyon. I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great trip.
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