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I’m not the most outdoorsy, but I firmly believe that the U.S. National Parks are our greatest natural treasure. I’ve been lucky to visit a lot of the parks during my travels, including a recent visit to Zion National Park with my blogger friend Marissa from Postcards to Seattle. We didn’t have a long trip, and only got to spend one full day in Zion National Park. Admittedly this isn’t as long asI could have spent… but we made the most of it!

Related: The Complete (Bucket List) of National Parks in the Western U.S.

Based on our experience, I’m pulling it all together to help you make the most if you only have one day in Zion as I did. Read on for tips on planning your trip, where to stay, how to spend just one day in Zion National Park and see as much as possible, and the best hikes for your Zion National Park day trip.


Planning Your Visit to Zion National Park

1 Day in Zion National Park - Entrance

Before we dive into the ‘what to see and do section’ there are a couple important logistics you’ll need to know to plan your trip.

Driving & Parking in Zion National Park 

1 Day in Zion National Park - Shuttles

I’m starting with the whole issue of driving and parking in Zion for two reasons: 1. I didn’t realize it was going to be an issue until I saw the page about the shuttle, and 2. I realized it was a really complicated issue that required extra planning.

The important thing to know is that you can’t drive your private vehicle into Zion National Park during the peak months between March and September. You’ll have to take the free Zion park shuttle from the Visitor Center. However, the Visitor Center doesn’t have enough parking, so you may need to park elsewhere in the nearby town of Springdale and take a different shuttle to the Visitor Center to transfer to the canyon shuttle.

You still with me? 

The best way to make this easier is to arrive early. The first shuttle departs at 6am; if you plan to catch a shuttle later than 8am, you’re not going to get parking at the Visitor Center and will need to park in Springdale and deal with the multi-shuttle situation.

Zion National Park Entrance Fees 

1 Day in Zion National Park - Entrance

As part of the National Park system, Zion operates under the same rules as other parks. You’ll either need to pay an entrance fee or use a National Parks Pass to enter.

Here are you options:

  • The private vehicle entrance fee, good for 7 days, is $35. This makes sense if you’re parking at the Visitor Center.
  • You can walk into the park for $20 per person, good for 7 days. This is what you’ll pay if you park in Springdale and walk in.
  • An annual America the Beautiful Pass is $80. This gets you into every national park and all fee-collecting federal lands. I finally got an America the Beautiful Pass this year and it’s such a money-saver! You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI.

You can read more about the fees – and check that the above is accurate – on the Zion NPS website.

Hotels Near Zion National Park

The only other important detail you need to figure out as you plan your trip is where to stay. Here are my tips:

As you can tell, accommodation is more expensive the closer you are to the park. However, there are plenty of options to fit any budget.

What to Do in Zion National Park (When You Only Have One Day!)

1 Day in Zion National Park

If you have only one day in Zion, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Start with sunrise at Canyon Overlook
  2. Park at the Visitor Center and ride the shuttle into the Zion Canyon an early morning hike
  3. Have a late lunch in the nearby town of Springdale
  4. Drive up to the Kolob Canyon for an afternoon hike
  5. Watch the sunset before stargazing

Here are more details on each of those activities and how to do them.

Watch Sunrise Light the Mountains Up

1 Day in Zion National Park - Sunrise on Towers of the Virgin

With only one day in Zion, you need to make the most of it. Yes, that means getting up before sunrise and staying up past sundown!

There are some great spots to watch the sunrise in and near the park, including Canyon Overlook Trail (off the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway) and at the Zion Human History Center, where you can watch the sunrise on the Towers of the Virgin. I mention both of these in greater detail below.

The most important part of the experience is looking to watch the peaks turn a fiery red as the first rays of light hit them. It’s a breathtaking sight. 

Ride the Bus into Zion Canyon

1 Day in Zion National Park - Road

Assuming you’re visiting during peak months, you’ll need to take the official National Park System bus shuttle into the valley if you don’t want to walk the 8.6 miles in to the end of the road.

The shuttle makes nine stops in between the Visitor Center and the Temple of Sinawava at the far end of the canyon. You can hop off at any of the stops for some of the hikes (I mention which shuttle stop each is at below), to see the rock formations, or to walk parts of the road 

Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway

When I was in Zion, the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel was closed for road repairs, so I haven’t actually seen that side of the park. That said, it was high on my list when I researched where to go in the park, and I absolutely recommend it.

You can pass by or stop at sights like Canyon Overlook Trail and Checkerboard Mesa (also a great stargazing destination) – and drive on to Bryce Canyon via this route, if that’s also on your list.

Visit the Zion Human History Museum

1 Day in Zion National Park - Human History Museum

The Zion Human History Museum helps shed light on the history of the area, from the indigenous Paiute who lived there to white ‘discoverers’ and modern uses of the park. The museum is quite small – a few displays and a theater, as well as an outdoor patio for naturalist/ranger talks – and there’s a small gift shop too.

Outside the Zion Human History Museum, you can see some of the most famous mountains and rock formations in this part of the park. These include the monumental Towers of the Virgin and Watchman in the other direction.

Go Hiking

Hiking is the #1 thing to do in Zion National Park, and I’ve got a whole section about the best day hikes in Zion down below. Even for me, a non-hiker, the trails in Zion are exceptionally alluring. Scenic vistas, massive rock formations, the peace and quiet of one of America’s treasured national parks… even if you don’t have full mobility or love hiking either, I recommend planning at least a short walk or hike when you visit.

Visit Kolob Canyon

1 Day in Zion National Park - Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon is the lesser-visited part of Zion National Park, and it was personally my favorite area for that reason.

First, you can drive your car into this part of the park rather than needing to take a bus. Second, because there are few crowds, it’s easier to find parking and the trails will be more enjoyable without having to pass loads of people. 

Kolob Canyon is a great spot to watch sunset too. There’s a short hike, Timber Creek Overlook, at Kolob View Point where you can see almost 360-degrees – including as far as the north rim of the Grand Canyon and to the nearby rock formations as they light up during the golden hour.

Go Stargazing

1 Day in Zion National Park - Stargazing

The real reason I wanted to visit Zion National Park will surprise nobody: it’s one of the most popular national parks in the U.S. for stargazing! 

Without digging to deep into the details (here’s my Zion stargazing guide), here are a couple quick tips:

  • Some of the best stargazing spots aren’t in the main canyon.  Checkerboard Mesa, Kolob View Point, even the Human History Museum – all of these are on the edge of our outside Zion Canyon. 
  • It’s not ideal to stargaze in Zion Canyon. The bus stops running after sunset, so you’ll need to stay in the park or be willing to hike out. Also, canyons aren’t ideal for stargazing because you have limited views of the sky.
  • Other parts of the park, like Kolob Canyon, are better. As you can drive into some parts of the park, it’s easier to get in and out with limited logistical issues. They also have fewer crowds, and less chance of light pollution from other people.

It’s pretty hard to go wrong if you’re visiting on a clear night near the new moon – juts get out and look up, and you’ll understand why this is a top stargazing national park.

Perfect Zion National Park Trails for a Day Hike

1 Day in Zion National Park - Emerald Pool Trails

If you’re curious which of Zion’s many hikes are best if you only have one day, here are a few. Almost all of these are easy hikes too, which makes them ideal if you (like me) are not a huge hiking buff! If you want more tips on hiking in Zion, Marissa put together a guide to hikes in Zion National Park and she’s way more outdoorsy than me!

Canyon Overlook Trail

  • Distance: 1.0 miles
  • Effort: Easy
  • Shuttle Stop: None, located on the east side of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel

Canyon Overlook, as its name suggests, is an easy one-mile hike that’s perfect for sunrise – or any time you want to get a really impressive vista. Right now this trail is technically open, but the only way to approach it is from the east (rather than through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which is currently closed).

Weeping Rock Trail

  • Distance: 0.4 miles
  • Effort: Easy
  • Shuttle Stop: Weeping Rock (Stop 7)

Weeping Rock is a super-easy, super-short trail that takes you to one of the famous geologic features in Zion: Weeping Rock. This sloping, curved rock wall seems to ‘weep’ as groundwater seeps out through the porous parts of the rock. There are other parts in the park where you can see this effect, but Weeping Rock is the biggest and most impressive.

Emerald Pools Trails

1 Day in Zion National Park - Emerald Pool Trails
  • Distance: 3.0 miles max
  • Effort: Easy to Moderate
  • Shuttle Stop: Zion Lodge (Stop 5)

If you hear someone recommend Emerald Pools, it’s important to note it is actually three trails: Lower Emerald Pool, Middle Emerald Pool, and Upper Emerald Pool. These three hikes vary in distance, elevation, and effort:

  • Lower Emerald Pool is an easy, flat 0.6-mile one-way out-and-back.
  • Middle Emerald Pool adds another 0.2 miles each way, and some elevation.
  • Upper Emerald Pool moves into moderate territory, with another 0.8 miles each way and few hundred feet of elevation.

As of writing, both Middle and Upper Emerald Pool Trails are closed due to trail washout and subsequent repairs. 

Watchman Trail

1 Day in Zion National Park - Three Patriarchs
  • Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Effort: Moderate
  • Shuttle Stop: Visitor Center (Stop 1)

Watchman is a good moderate trail for those who want to get away from the crowds, gain some elevation, and get up close and personal with the mountains. You’ll get an excellent view of Watchman Peak, as well as most of lower Zion Canyon, including the Visitor Center below.

Riverside Walk

  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Effort: Easy
  • Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava (Stop 9)

Formerly known as Gateway to the Narrows, Riverside Walk follows along the Virgin River back to the point where the more challenging Narrows hike begins. It’s an easy, flat out-and-back hike that’s mostly shaded – ideal for hot days in Southern Utah, for those with limited mobility, or families with small children.

Longer, More Advanced Hikes

1 Day in Zion National Park - Slot Canyon

If you really love hiking, you already know Zion’s best hikes are longer – they will take up most or all of a full day in the park. Here are the big three:

  • The Narrows – This slot canyon is picturesque and interesting to hike. It’s a long 9.4 miles out-and-back, and takes around 8 hours.
  • Angels Landing – Everyone on Instagram knows Angels Landing, which is a massive elevation gain hike (1488 feet) over the course of 5.4 miles. It’s super picturesque, but expect queues at the peak to get that Insta-worthy shot.
  • Observation Point – Set out from Weeping Rock for this 8-mile hike to the most stunning view at the highest point you can reach on a formal trail. This is definitely an all-day hike, and you’re going to feel it the next day!

Pro-tip: Trail conditions for these advanced hikes change frequently. Check the NPS website for all alerts when you plan your trip.

Doing any of these trails will take most of the day, so they’re ideal for someone whose main goal for visiting Zion is to do a more advanced hike and not much else. These aren’t the kinds of trails I love, and I wouldn’t spend my day on them if I only had one day in Zion National Park – but there are some great hiking resources out there if any of these hikes call out to you!

Now that you know how to visit the park, what to do, and which hike(s) you’ll make, you’re all set for a perfect day in Zion National Park. If you have other questions about visiting Zion National Park, let me know in the comments!


Thanks to Greater Zion for hosting me during my stay, as well as the Staybridge Inn & Suites for arranging my hotel. This post was produced as part of a partnership agreement, but all of the companies and experiences I endorsed were included at my own discretion.

16 comments

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I love the idea of stargazing at the grand canyon, especially because it’s a top stargazing national park. I love the night sky and I’ve been interested in it since I was a kid. I’ve never been able to properly stargaze though. Maybe I’ll have to go to the grand canyon and try it.

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Sorry I missed your comment, Randy! Grand Canyon is great for stargazing – but so is Zion, which is what this post is all about!

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WE would like 1 to 2 day itinerary. Lower elevations Would like a private guide . We are seniors no hikes longer than 3-4 hours. We are staying at the Springdale Holiday inn. June 21 -22
Ed couch

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Ed, thanks so much for reading and commenting! I don’t provide this service as I’m not a travel agent or adviser. Have a lovely trip though!!

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We just went to Zions. 4 of the shuttle stops were closed because of covid19. We were disappointed because we couldn’t see and do everything we wanted. Kolob Canyon was also closed. Sigh

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Sorry to hear it, Jessica! We recently visited several national parks too, and lots of them had closures and other limited access due to the pandemic. Hopefully you can make a return trip someday!

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Hi Jessica, when did you visit Zion? My friend and I will be there next weekend. Just wondering if anything will be open? – Adeline

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Thanks for reading, Adeline. The National Park Service websites for Zion will be the best resource for knowing what’s open or closed right now!

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Going to zion for the first time…due to the pandemic will it be open first week of September also can one just drive thru to get to Bryce. Canyon

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Silvia, I recommend checking the official websites for these national parks to ensure they’re open and what you want to do is open too – they are the final source for all info.

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Hello! This was wonderful! And very helpful in helping me plan our trip for next year! Is there a drop off point for the narrows? Do you know is it even worth doing possibly half of that hike? How far is the water from starting point, etc.? We are planning a two day trip..just trying to narrow down trails that we can do. Thanks for your help!

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Thanks for reading, Shari! The drop-off point for the Narrows is the furthest one into the canyon (Temple of Sinawava). As I haven’t done it, I’m not sure how far you have to go to see if it’s “worth it,” but I do know the conditions vary a lot each year and throughout the year (sometimes the water is too high/fast to hike, or if there’s a bacterial issue in the water, like there is right now – the trail is closed). You’ll have to wait and check conditions with the NPS once you are closer to your trip dates.

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My friends and I are planning to go canyoneering at the Zion National Park, which is why we’re currently looking for a guide service. Thank you for this because at least now we’re aware that our vehicle will not be allowed inside the park. We’ll also keep in mind to start booking a room at the lodge that you’ve mentioned.

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Sounds like fun – have a great trip, Rachel!

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Your itinerary sounds great but I’m a bit confused by how to do both the sunrise hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail and also get into the park on the 6AM shuttle. I thought the Canyon Overlook Trail was outside the park. You make the sunrise hike sound spectacular but we’d also like to get into the park early enough not to have to park in Springdale. We’re planning on bringing bikes into the park to pedal the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive too. Can you try to be more specific with the logistics or what am I missing?

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Thanks for asking, Laurie. Doing both definitely depends on the sunrise; when I went, we *would* have had time to drive to the Canyon Overlook Trail (which is a short 1-mile out-and-back) and get back before the main lot was full, because the sunrise was really early. If you’re visiting in the winter though, you might not be able to do both – then again, the park isn’t as busy in the winter so there will be parking available later! Sorry I can’t be more specific, but if you double check on Google Maps and with the sunrise times, that will help you know if you can make both happen.

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