the view of the road and mountains in Zion National Park

11 Tips How to Avoid Crowds in Zion National Park

National parks are busier than ever and some parks, like Zion National Park, that are easy to visit from places like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, have only gotten more and more crowded in the last few years. Zion’s beauty is too pretty to miss so if you want to visit, you have to be strategic in your planning. Implementing just a few ways to avoid crowds in Zion National Park can make your visit a whole lot better.

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Avoid Crowds in Zion National Park

Let’s face it – visiting a national park with everyone and their brother isn’t much fun. My very first visit to Yellowstone National Park, one summer, affected how I felt about that park for years. It took me a long time before I even wanted to go back.

More recently I visited Yosemite National Park during August – which is high season and very busy. Yes, it was crowded but I had a completely different experience mainly because I used some of the suggestions here and planned for the crowds.

With an estimated yearly visitation around 5 million, Zion National Park actually receives more visitors than Yellowstone and Yosemite! And logistically speaking, it’s a much more compact area. You can see why making some simple adjustments are necessary for a good experience.

Why is Zion So Crowded?

Not only is Zion Utah’s first nation park, it’s also Utah’s busiest park. One of the reasons for that is its convenient location. Located only about an hour off of Interstate 15 in southern Utah – a main route between California and Utah – and easy to get to from Las Vegas, it couldn’t be any more simple to reach.

Zion is also part of Utah’s “Mighty 5” – five national parks in southern Nevada that include Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. These parks are the perfect line-up across the state for a national park road trip.

Additionally, Zion Canyon, or the main section of the park where everyone wants to go, is only 15 miles long as opposed to the Grand Canyon that’s 277 miles long. Add in that Zion has two of the most popular hikes in all of the park system. The Narrows and Angel’s Landing, both of which now require permits, are very famous hikes accessed via Zion Canyon.

Lastly, the fact that the Zion Canyon can only be accessed by mandatory shuttle most of the year and you see why it doesn’t take long to feel the squeeze of the crowds. What can you do?

Tips to Avoid Crowds in Zion National Park

Equipping yourself with a few techniques to avoid Zion National Park crowds can greatly improve your park experience. With these tricks up your sleeve, your time spent in the park will be more enjoyable and stress free.

1. Use the Free Springdale Shuttle

Since Zion National Park is small, parking is at a premium. Even parking at the visitor center to get on the park shuttle into the canyon is very limited. To ease the burden of too many vehicles in the park, the park service and the park-adjacent town of Springdale came up with a practical solution – a shuttle from town to the park.

(This shuttle is not to be confused with the shuttle inside the park that takes you into Zion Canyon and the scenic drive. More on that next)

This free service carries visitors from the town of Springdale directly to the park entrance where the shuttle that goes into the canyon can be accessed. I highly recommend using this service since most parking lots fill up by 9am. I’ve been right there, driving around and around trying to find a spot and it’s frustrating.

For guests staying at hotels in town, you can simply leave your car at your hotel and walk to one of the 9 shuttle stops located in town and catch the bus. Even if you are only visiting Zion on a day trip, you can utilize public parking and ride the shuttle to the park.

The shuttle starts running early in the morning. For more info about the and schedules and parking maps of the lots in Springdale, visit the website here.

2. Skip Zion Canyon

Once you’ve made it inside the park, the mandatory shuttle to access Zion Canyon and the scenic drive is the next step to seeing some of the most popular features in the park. Places like Angel’s Landing, Riverside Walk and Emerald Pools Trail can only be accessed by going into the canyon.

Shuttle season dates are determined by the park service each year, but typically, the shuttles run from March to December and some busy holidays in the winter. During this time, there are no personal vehicles allowed into the canyon. If you want to see the Zion Canyon and the scenic drive, you are required to ride the shuttle.

While I think everyone should go into Zion Canyon at least once, if you’ve already seen it and find yourself back in Zion, one of the best ways to avoid crowds is to skip the canyon and spend your time elsewhere in the park.

There’s nothing that says you have to go into the canyon. You can find plenty of things to see and do outside the canyon and that leads us to our next tip.

The shuttle in Zion National Park

3. Hike Trails Outside Zion Canyon

While most people do end up inside Zion Canyon for hiking, if you really want to avoid the crowds in Zion National Park then hike one of the many trails outside of Zion Canyon.

The Watchman Trail and Archeology Trail, that begin right at the visitor center are two good ones to start with. You can park in town, ride the Springdale shuttle to the park, hike and be back at your car in a couple of hours.

Other alternative hikes outside the canyon are like the Many Pools trail and the Canyon Overlook trail or the East Rim trail near the east entrance station.

My friend Claire from The Detour Effect has put together a nice article about the alternatives to famous hikes such as Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Check out her take on Zion and read her article for more info.

Avoid the crowds in Zion National Park by hiking outside Zion Canyon

4. Visit in Late Fall or Winter

Zion’s peak season is March through November so visiting in the off-peak months is a good way to avoid crowds in Zion National Park. January and February (excluding holidays) are especially good because there’s no shuttle service into the canyon and that means you can drive your own vehicle in

The downside is that you might have to contend with winter weather. At 4000 feet above sea level, it can snow and get icy in the park. Always check the weather and road conditions before you go and have a back-up plan.

5. Go Mid-week to Avoid Crowds in Zion National Park

Due to Zion’s close proximity to some big cites, it’s a great weekend destination. It’s only logical that that Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday will be busier than other days. Especially during peak travel seasons of spring and summer.

To avoid crowds in Zion National Park, visit mid-week. You’re more likely to find convenient parking spaces and encounter less people on the hiking trails. You can check the park’s website in advance to confirm any specific mid-week restrictions or guidelines since policies and weather can change things.

6. Get There Early

If you aren’t already using this strategy when visiting national parks then you are doing it wrong. Arriving early to the park puts you at an advantage because most visitors (and tour buses) tend to arrive later in the day.

You’ll have a chance to enjoy these popular spots without the distractions and have an uninterrupted connection with the natural wonders of the park. Aim to arrive by 8am at least. The first Zion shuttle leaves the visitor center at 6am and the Springdale Shuttle leaves the Majestic View Lodge at 7am.

Another bonus for arriving early is that many of Zion National Park’s iconic landmarks, such as Angels Landing or The Narrows, are even more awe-inspiring early in the morning with the sunlight illuminating the cliffs, playing with the light and shadows.

the entrance station with cars in line at Zion National Park

7. Arrive Late

Just like arriving early means less crowds, arriving late and staying late can also provide a similar advantage. Many visitors tend to leave the park before sunset, meaning you can explore popular areas with fewer people around. One of my last visits was during the full moon and the moon rising over the pink and red of Zion was incredible.

Visiting in the evening creates a peaceful and intimate experience, allowing you to fully appreciate the beauty of the park’s trails and viewpoints without feeling rushed or overcrowded. Staying late also increases your chances of spotting wildlife, such as owls, bats or even the elusive mountain lion. We can skip that one as far as I’m concerned.

8. Enter the Park From the East Side

The majority of visitors to Zion National Park will enter the park through Springdale, on the western side of the park, closest to the interstate. This just makes sense logistically if you are road tripping from California or Las Vegas.

It’s also where the visitor center is located, so most people want to start there. However, if you’ve visited Zion before or just want to skip the visitor center, and get a different perspective, then consider entering the park on the east side.

There are a multitude of fun hikes on that side and some of the best views of the park are driving in from that side. Not to mention this route includes driving the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel.

Skipping Zion Canyon is a great way to avoid crowds in Zion National Park

9. Ride a Bike or E-Bike Into the Canyon

Way back in 2014 when I first went to Zion, bikes in Zion Canyon weren’t really a thing. Now you’ll see them all over Zion. My hope is that doesn’t get out of hand, but in theory it’s a wonderful idea and it looks so fun. It’s actually the perfect way to explore the canyon without ever getting on the shuttle.

Springdale boasts plenty of outfitters offering bike rentals. You don’t have to commit to a full day. Rentals are available for half-day and even smaller increments. I browsed a few site and found prices from $50 (USD) for half day, to $80 for all day. Not too bad for something that gives you the freedom to see the canyon without the hassle of of the crowds. Zion Guru, Zion Outfitter and Zion Peddler all have great bike options.

10. Visit Kolob Canyons

Kolob Canyons is located in the northwestern section of Zion National Park. It’s a less-visited but incredibly beautiful area of the park. This section of Zion National Park is accessed from Interstate 15 and is approximately 40 miles north of the main Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

The main features of the canyons are easily accessible from the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint and Kolob Terrace Road. I’m not going to lie, for me, Kolob Canyons doesn’t have the wow factor of the main part of Zion but if your time is limited or you just don’t want to make the trek to the Springdale then it’s a nice alternative and is easy to see if you were traveling between Las Vegas to Salt Lake City.

If you plan to visiting, be sure to pack water, snacks, and appropriate hiking gear and don’t miss the park visitor center.

The Taylor Creek Trail is in the much quieter and cooler temperature Kolob Canyons area of northwestern Zion National Park.”

Claire from the detour effect

11. Consider a Guided Tour

A guided tour to some of the popular activities is another good way to avoid the crowds at Zion National Park or at least some of the hassle since someone else will be doing the driving and you won’t have to worry about parking. And as national parks and tours go, the prices are pretty affordable when you consider it’s less stress.

You can book specific tour or trails or a more general tour that includes food, snack and guides that specialize in all things Zion. It’s not only a chance to see the park with less crowds, it’s also very educational since the person giving the tour most likely does that every day and knows everything about the park.

Zion National Park FAQ

Do you need a reservation to enter Zion National Park?

No, you do not need a reservation to enter Zion National Park.

Do you need a reservation for the shuttle in Zion National Park?

No, you do not need a reservation for the shuttle in Zion National Park.

What is the busiest day at Zion National Park?

Weekend and holidays are some of the busiest days at Zion National Park. Week days are less crowded but not by much especially in summer.

When should i avoid zion national park?

Avoid Zion on busy holiday weekends in the summer and even holidays in the off-season.

How early should you arrive at Zion National Park?

The park shuttle starts at 6am so I advise getting there in time for one of those earliest shuttles and to find parking if you plan on parking at the visitor center.

Tips for Visiting Zion National Park

  • Always check before you visit a park. The park’s website will have park alerts and closures that could impact your trip. Pay attention to these and have a plan b.
  • Purchase an America the Beautiful park pass in anticipation of visiting. This annual card or pass, is accepted at over 2k interagency sites, is good for a year and costs only $80.
  • Check the weather. Since Zion is a canyon, it’s subject to flooding, mudslides and crazy weather. Especially during monsoon. Stay alert to quickly changing weather conditions.
  • Pick up a Zion National Park map and a park newspaper at the entrance station. These two items include helpful park and trail info. Also consider buying a Zion National Park plastic map that has a bit more detail about the surrounding area.
  • Remember to use Leave No Trace when visiting public lands (and really anywhere). You can learn more about all seven principles on their website.
  • James Kaiser is one of the best national park authors there is. His Zion guide book is a must have for anyone planning a visit to Zion National Park.

Final Thoughts About How to Avoid Crowds in Zion National Park

If you are a national park lover, then Zion National Park is definitely a must-see for your travel bucketlist. Planning strategically to avoid crowds in Zion National Park will improve the odds of having a stress- free and better great national park experience.

See you on the road!

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  1. Your site is great and I plan on exploring it even more in the future. It is well written, comprehensive in it’s suggestions, It was a great article, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for the kind words. Happy travels!

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