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One Day in Zion National Park Itinerary

(Last Updated On: January 5, 2022)

There are few places more stunning than Zion National Park throughout the world! Nestled in the canyons of Southern Utah, this is a place that you don’t want to miss. Many people don’t know this, but it’s totally possible to see the highlights with just one day in Zion National Park!

So pack your car or RV with your favorite snacks and lots of water, hiking boots, and sunscreen for this one-of-a-kind experience. What you’ll see on your day trip to Zion National Park will be absolutely unforgettable!

This post is all about how to spend one day in Zion!

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entrance sign at zion national park

How to Get to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah, just north of the Arizona border, which is why it’s a popular destination for adventure seekers.

The easiest way to get there is to take I-15 South and follow the signs for Cedar City, UT. Once in Cedar City, you will take Highway 20 East and then Highway 14 East to the park’s entrance.

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park

While most people opt to spend their one day in Zion National Park in the summer, don’t do it! This is easily the busiest time in the park, which can make your day there not as enjoyable – trust me. In the summer, the daytime temperatures can reach the triple digits, and it can be swelteringly hot at night.

The spring is a great time to visit Zion National Park because of the beautiful blooming flowers and mild temperatures. This is when the park starts to become popular again as the weather gets warmer, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it is in the summer.

view of rocks and trees in zion

Fall usually has warm days with cool nights, making it a great time to visit Zion National Park. This is the peak time for leaf change and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in Utah.

If you’re not visiting during peak fall colors and want to take advantage of the cooler weather, then November and December are your best bets.

Tips for Spending One Day in Zion

With only 1 day in Zion National Park, you want to follow tips from someone who’s been there before to ensure that you’re able to make the most of your day. Below are some of the top tips for your trip!

Wear Comfortable Shoes

So many people make the mistake of visiting national parks without comfortable shoes, which is terrible! You will be doing lots of walking, so make sure whatever shoes you have on are ones that can last you the whole day. You don’t want to have to cut your day short just because your feet hurt!

Be sure also to pack a pair of hiking boots, especially if you’ll be hiking during your one day in Zion National Park. Outlet shops have great hiking shoes for a discounted price!

Start Your Day Early!

One of the most underrated tips is to get over your hatred of waking up before the sun! There are perks to waking up early no matter the time of year when visiting Zion in one day.

You’ll beat the crowds by waking up early as well as the traffic that starts to form on the Zion scenic drive. By beating the crowds, you’ll be able to see more during the day, which will make your trip even more enjoyable.

zion sharp rock edge

The parking lot at Zion’s visitor center also gets completely filled up. For reference, I visited in October, and the parking lot was filled by around 10 a.m., so you really have to get there early to snag a parking spot so that you can ride the shuttle around the park, which is required during most of the year.

If you’re visiting in the summer, waking up early allows you to beat the hot Utah heat that gets bad around mid-day. Lastly, you’ll also have the opportunity to catch the sunrise, something that’s an absolute must-do with just one day in Zion.

Visit Popular Places First

This goes hand in hand with waking up early, but take the time to visit the popular places in Zion first. This also allows you to beat all of the crowds and get better photography during your trip. Overall, it’s just a lot more enjoyable visiting places in nature without tons of other sites.

Get an America the Beautiful Pass

Take the time to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, especially if you plan on visiting other parks that make up Utah’s Mighty 5 like Bryce Canyon or Canyonlands. These usually cost about $80 and will cover your entire car for one year after purchase.

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The passes can be purchased online, at national parks, or a local outdoor shop like REI.

Pro tip: purchase your pass at the beginning of the month so you can get more out of it!

rock formations under a blue sky

Grab a Map

Zion can be a bit confusing, mainly because you have to ride the shuttle throughout the park, so be sure to grab a map or risk wasting time if you get lost! They usually hand these out right at the park entrance when you check in with the ranger, but if not, you can grab one at the visitor center.

Pack a Lunch to Save Money

Unlike many other national parks, there is actually a restaurant and cafe right in Zion! However, the prices can be a bit high (like, I paid $10 for a sandwich), so plan on packing a lunch to save yourself money. The lines can also be terrible at Zion’s restaurants!

How to Get Around Zion National Park

shuttle buses on the road in zion

The best way to get around Zion in one day is by using its shuttle system, which operates between Zion Canyon Visitor Center and Temple of Sinawava (shuttle stop 7). Remember that it’s required to ride the shuttle to access most of the hiking trailheads, depending on the time of year you visit.

The shuttle runs pretty frequently, usually every 5 to 10 minutes, so if you get off at the wrong stop, it’s totally okay. There will be another bus coming shortly!

Some of the shuttle drivers are awesome with providing information about the park while you ride too, and act almost like a tour guide. This makes riding in the shuttle even better!

Of course, if you’d rather not ride the shuttle, you can also consider renting a bike to get around Zion. With a bike, you can use the same road that the shuttle is only allowed to use, but you do have to move out of the way when a shuttle is coming on the road, so you don’t slow them down.

There is part of Zion that you can drive with the scenic ride, including the Mt Carmel Tunnel. I highly recommend driving where you can to witness the scenic drive but then take either the shuttle or a bicycle to get around the rest of the park.

Best Things to do in Zion National Park in One Day

Below are some ideas for what to do in Zion National Park in one day! Of course, you can pick and choose which things sound most interesting to you to build your itinerary. You can check out my suggested itinerary at the bottom of this post!

Emerald Pools Trail

water going down the rocks at emerald pools

First up is the Emerald Pools Trail! This is a 3-mile hike through the Kolob Canyons section and is one of the easy hikes in Zion. Emerald Pools Trail provides views of some of the most beautiful natural areas in Zion, with easy access to pools and waterfalls cascading down nine levels.

The trail offers visitors an incredible view of three spectacular pools in particular – Lower Pool, Middle Pool, and Upper Pool. The lower pool rests at the bottom of a steep granite slope with 400 feet of exposure. The pools are fed by the North Fork Virgin River and hold water year-round.

This is a moderate trail but is family-friendly, with about 600 feet of elevation gain! Once you reach the pool, you’ll definitely want to post a picture on social media with an outdoor caption.

Canyon Scenic Drive

With just a day in Zion National Park, one of the best ways to see as much as possible in a short time is to do the canyon scenic drive in your car. If you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t the best option for you as the vehicle has to go on some switchbacks to get down to the canyon floor, but the drive is well worth it.

The Zion National Park Scenic Drive is a 20-mile loop that provides stunning views of Zion Canyon and the Virgin River. One such view can be seen from the Mount Carmel Tunnel. This tunnel was built in 1930 and is only two miles long, but its 180-degree panoramic views of the river and canyon are stunning.

Sometimes you’ll have to wait in line to enter the Mount Carmel Tunnel. This line can sometimes go on for a mile or two depending on how busy it is when you visit, so prepare yourself! You may also be stuck waiting on a steep part of the mountain, so again, if you’re not a fan of heights, skip out on this.

light rock mountain on a sunny day

Zion Canyon Visitor Center

The Zion National Park Visitor Center is a great place to start your trip or at least stop during your visit.

The two-story visitor center offers easy access to the park and provides trail maps, information on camping and lodging, and advice on what you’ll need for your hike. There is also a theater that screens educational films about the area’s natural history, as well as a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs.

The visitor center gets super busy as the day goes on, but it’s still better to visit it later in the day if you were able to get a parking spot there so you can hit the viewpoints with fewer people first.

Canyon Overlook Trail

view of zion canyon from the canyon overlook viewpoint

One of the most popular Zion hikes is the Canyon Overlook Trail. The trail will take hikers 1 mile to the Canyon Overlook viewpoint, which has an elevation change of 500ft. Along the way, hikers will pass through lush forest and see several wildlife species up close!

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For visitors looking for an up-close, personal view of Zion Canyon, the Canyon Overlook Trail is a must-do. The hike is short and flat with no elevation gain, but it does require some scrambling over rocks.

Many people argue that the view from the Canyon Overlook trail is even better than the one from Angel’s Landing because it’s even higher up.

Checkerboard Mesa

checkerboard mesa rock formation

If you enter the park closer to Mount Carmel Tunnel, one of the first points of interest that you’ll pass is Checkerboard Mesa! This is one of the more unique landmarks in the park as it’s a big part of a rocky mountain that’s just covered with lines, making it look like a checkerboard.

Stargaze in the Park

starry night in zion national park

One of the most popular attractions in Zion National Park is the night sky! Locals and tourists alike come to Zion for various reasons, but one of the top draws is undoubtedly gazing at stars. The park offers many stargazing opportunities for people of all ages and skill levels, from casual viewing to advanced astrophotography.

Plus, Zion National Park offers several events where visitors can learn about astronomy and stargazing techniques from park rangers, which is an incredibly unique experience.

With over 3,000 stars observable on average every night, Zion is one of the best places to stargaze in the USA. Come out at dusk and gaze up at the sky with your friends and family; it’ll be an experience that’s sure to create some lasting memories!

The Narrows

people hiking in the narrows

One of the most popular hikes in all of Zion is the Narrows. Travelers come from far and wide to hike this trail, which is mostly just hiking along a river through a canyon. The hike is about 9 miles round trip, but the view is kind of the same the entire way.

With just one day in Zion National Park, you can opt to hike just a small portion of the Narrows to witness the beauty yourself or hike the entire thing. If you do the whole hike, it may be one of the only things you can do during your day there, so keep that in mind!

Be sure to rent water pants and shoes, as well as poles if you feel like you need them for your hike. There are many places near the park where you can rent these.

Angels Landing

There are many great hikes in the Utah desert, but one of the most famous is Angels Landing. Even though the view is spectacular, many people say that Angel’s Landing is one of the scariest hikes they’ve ever done!

view from angels landing

Angels Landing is about a 5-mile hike round trip. The trail starts on relatively flat terrain but soon becomes very steep, with some areas that require climbing over boulders. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with incredible views of Zion Canyon and Mount Carmel!

This strenuous hike to the peak overlooking Zion Canyon is not for everyone, and hikers should be prepared. The views from the mountain are breathtaking and well worth it.

If you’re not a fan of heights, don’t do this hike, or you’ll regret it. There are parts of the hike where you’re on a thin chunk of rock, and you can only hold onto a chain to keep yourself steady. This is a hike recommended for seasoned hikers!

Riverside Walk

Are you more in the mood to do a shorter hike during your one day in Zion National Park? Consider doing the Riverside Walk, which is much more of a walk than a hike.

If you are looking to get a change from the busy, crowded streets of Zion National Park, head to the Riverside Walk. The walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava and winds through picturesque canyons and along beautiful streams.

Along the way, you can stop and smell the roses or take a break for lunch at one of many picnic areas. Keep an eye out for wildlife while you walk and enjoy some fresh air and nature away from your car.

This is easily one of the more underrated hikes in Zion, so don’t miss it!

Catch the Sunrise

The best way to experience the beauty and wonder of Zion National Park is to make your way up to the mountain peaks and see the sunrise! There’s a reason why this natural wonder has been voted one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Be sure to look up at those cliffs as you’re driving because those canyons create some of the most breathtaking sunrises you’ll ever see.

The best places to watch the sunrise in Zion include Canyon Overlook, Watchmen Trail, and any spot right near the Visitor Center. Anywhere you can get a great view of the canyon is the perfect spot to catch the sunrise in the park!

Suggested Zion National Park 1 Day Itinerary

  • Start the day by catching the sunset from the Canyon Overlook. Wake up early to do the trail and get to the viewpoint in time!
  • Do the Emerald Pools Trail and check out the three different pools along the way. If you don’t want to do that trail, do part of another trail listed, like the Riverside Walk or a small section of the Narrows.
  • Either grab lunch along the trail or head to Zion’s restaurant and cafe to grab some food about halfway through the day.
  • Take the time to head to the visitor center and do a little bit of shopping and grab some souvenirs.
  • Hop in your car and do the scenic drive through the park. Enjoy the views from the Mount Carmel Tunnel, and be sure to stop by Checkerboard Mesa.
  • Head into Springdale to grab dinner. Relax a little bit before you go back into the park!
  • About 30 to 45 minutes before the sun starts to go down, head back to Zion. Most people should be leaving the park around now. Head to a spot to stargaze or join in on one of the ranger-led programs. If you plan on taking photos, don’t forget to set your camera to the right night sky settings!
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Where to Stay Near Zion

If you’re looking for a place to stay with easy access to Zion National Park, then stay in the town of Springdale just outside of the park. There are numerous hotels with amenities, including restaurants, parking, and close proximity.

If you’re up for it, you can also explore lodging options just outside of Springdale, further away from the park, where there are fewer crowds and prices are lower than in town.

Below are some of the best places to stay near Zion for every budget!

Zion Park Motel – $

Just one mile from Zion National Park is the Zion Park Motel. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly place to stay during your trip, this is a great option. There’s a pool, air conditioning, and free wifi, so you’ll be comfortable during your stay.

Click here to check out current availability and rates!

Flanigan’s Inn Springdale- $$

For a mid-range hotel, check out Flanigan’s Inn Springdale, not far from Zion. It’s only about fifteen minutes from the visitor center on foot! There are various room options here, including suites, so you really have your choice of accommodation type here.

Click here to check out current availability and rates!

Cliffrose Springdale – $$$

If you’re looking to splurge a bit more money on your accommodation, consider staying at the Cliffrose Springdale. It’s located right along the river and also has its own stop on the shuttle that goes through Springdale, but it’s also only a ten-minute walk from Zion’s visitor center.

Click here to check out current availability and rates!

If you’d rather stay in a cabin while visiting Zion, check out the best Utah cabins!

Where to Eat Near Zion National Park

There are some great restaurants near Zion National Park! For the best Mexican food, go to Whiptail Grill in Springdale. If you want Italian cuisine, order from Dulivia Ristorante Italiano. For an excellent American meal, go to Blondie’s Diner!

There are also many different breakfast cafes near Zion if you’re a breakfast fan. Some of the best breakfast restaurants and cafes include The Park House, MeMe’s Cafe, and Deep Creek Coffee Company.

FAQs About Zion National Park

There’s a certain part of Zion National Park that you can drive through; this includes part of the scenic drive and the Mount Carmel Tunnel. In the off-season (December through February), you can also drive through the park. If you visit between March and November, a lot of the roads will be closed because of the shuttles.

If you’re visiting with a limited amount of time, yes! I actually only spent one day in Zion during my trip there. Just make sure you take the time to plan ahead.

So… yes, technically? But you’d barely get to do anything in each of these parks. You’d have to spend the day just seeing the viewpoints in each park and you may feel rushed throughout the day, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

This is more personal preference. By staying right in the park, you can walk to the trailheads right in the early morning before the shuttle to beat the crowds. However, you can often find more affordable places to stay in Springdale.

It’s technically possible, but again that would be a very long day. You’d have to plan ahead if you want to hike both of them, and just know that hiking these two trails may be all you can do during one day in Zion.

Zion National Park offers visitors an unforgettable experience. Hiking trails, gorgeous red rock formations, and vast desert scenery are just a few of the activities that await you with just one day in Zion National Park.

Explore everything this park has to offer by spending the day hiking one of the many trails or exploring the canyon floor. You can also spend your day relaxing by taking in some of the breathtaking views, whether it’s from the Observation Point Lookout or atop Angel’s Landing!

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8 Comments

  1. Zion NP looks seriously like such an epic place to visit in Utah! Especially Angels Landing and the Emerald Pools Trail have caught my eye 🙂

  2. Great post. I only visited Zion for a day on a quick weekend trip, but I hiked the Emerald Pools trail and it was beautiful! Great in the summer too since you could cool off in the water.

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