5 Things to Do in Zion National Park in Winter

Updated: November 18, 2020 | Contains affiliate links

Thumbnail of Ragged cliffs at Zion National ParkMillions of tourists visit Zion National Park every year. Just like other famous parks in Utah, Zion is very busy during the summer.  However, thousands also find their way to Zion National Park in winter. While visiting Zion in winter has its unique challenge, having very few visitors also means that  you can enjoy some of the most popular spots without the pressure of the crowds.

Visiting Zion National Park in winter brings many challenges, not just in the form of cold, but also ice and snow on the trails. The park posts warning signs on trails that might have ice. That helps, but even if there’s no explicit sign, it pays to be on guard and hike expecting ice on the path. Reasonable precaution is the way to go as you enjoy the wonders of Zion National Park in winter. Here are some of the best things to do in Zion National Park during the winter.

1. Explore The Emerald Pools Trail

Panorama of the Middle Emerald Pools
Panorama of the Middle Emerald Pools
See my photos from Zion National Park

Emerald Pools Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Zion. The trail is open year-round and the fewer crowds can make it more fun in the winters. Considering it’s a three-mile round trip, the trail is manageable for most people. But then there are three parts to the adventure here.
Walking the lower trail is well-suited for pretty much everyone, including children and people in wheelchairs. Though some assistance may be needed, the trail is not particularly strenuous.
It gets a bit more challenging on the mid pools, and the upper pools can be relatively tough. In winter, you’ll also have to be on the lookout for patches of ice. Again, it’s not very problematic, but something to consider anyway.
Rather than taking the full round trip on the Emerald Pools Trail, consider returning on the Kayenta trail. Kayenta is accessible via all three points on the Emerald Pool Trail and provides great views of the Lower Emerald Pools, Zion Canyon, Virgin River, Grotto Picnic Area and Angels Landing.

2. Set Up Camp At Prime Spots And Winter-Specific Gear

Visiting Zion National Park in winter helps you enjoy dramatic landscapes without the crowds
Visiting Zion National Park in winter helps you enjoy dramatic landscapes without the crowds

One benefit of having only a few visitors at the national park is that you get more freedom at the campgrounds to set up your tent. Bonus points if you’re backcountry camping/backpacking through the park. The possibility of waking up to the serene views of Zion, rather than the chatter and noise of the campground is its own reward.
Camping at Zion National Park in winter requires paying special attention to your gear. Temperatures often drop below freezing at night and the ground can get wet and icy. It’s worth remembering that Zion gets most of its precipitation in winter. So expect rain and snow on your winter camping trip.
It’s useful to have a quality cold weather tent for camping. This tent isn’t just about keeping warmth in, it should also be waterproof and capable of handling some snow. Places with lower elevations in the park see the snow melt away in a few hours and that means you’ll have to contend with muddy and wet ground.
Zion National Park recommends using traction devices for your boots when you’re negotiating trails in winter.

3. Rethink The Narrows, But Take The Canyon Overlook Trail

Virgin River flowing through Zion Canyon during the winter
Virgin River flowing through Zion Canyon during the winter

Generally speaking, the Narrows and River Walk trail are excellent attractions for the Zion National Park. The trail is mostly open year-round – it’s an easy and fun trail that’s suitable for families and children. But winters bring fresh precipitation to the national park, and the River Walk Trail and Narrows can feel overly chilly.
Plus, portions of the trail may be closed due to falling ice. If you do choose to brave the trail in the winters, make sure you’re in proper winter gear, including a dry suit and suitable traction boots. There is currently a toxic cyanobacteria bloom warning in the Virgin River which means that you have to avoid coming in contact with river water, especially with your eyes.
Skipping the River Walk trail isn’t the same as skipping the fun. The Canyon Overlook Trail is gorgeous in the winter. The half-mile trail needs a bit of effort, but the views it commands are well worth the work you put in. Expect snow and ice on the trail, but skip it if the weather is overcast or it begins to snow or rain while on your hike.

4. Enjoy Scenic Drives

Scenic drive near Zion National Park
Old barn and ranch on a scenic drive near Zion National Park
See my photos from Zion National Park

Well, yeah, Zion is scenic all year-round, but winters have their own charm. One of the main reasons to visit Zion National Park in winter is that Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to cars while during the summers only the Zion shuttle can access the road. During the winter, you don’t need the park’s shuttle to enjoy the scenic drive or to reach trailheads. Instead, all of that becomes accessible from the comfort of your vehicle. Take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and get an up, close, and personal look at the park’s rock formations and canyon. The road runs along the Virgin River and presents stunning views at every bend.

Another beautiful drive is the 54-mile scenic byway that covers Highway 9 from I-15 to Mt. Carmel Junction. The highway goes through the park and provides stunning views and touches several prominent locations in the area. These include the Zion Canyon, the park’s mile-long tunnel, and the Checkerboard Mesa area.

5. Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, And Wildlife Viewing

Squirrel resting on a rock near Upper Emerald Pools
Squirrel resting on a rock near Upper Emerald Pools
See my photos from Zion National Park

Zion National Park offers plenty of winter-specific fun activities including skiing and snowshoeing. There are plenty of ski resorts and skiing locations inside Zion National Park. Snowshoeing is popular too and you can enjoy these classic winter sports with ease and fun at several locations in Zion.
Another great thing about visiting Zion in winters is wildlife viewing. While several smaller mammals won’t be in view, others will show off in full splendor. These include elk, deer, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, golden eagles, and bald eagles. Since the animals don’t have to contend with the summer crowds, they appear more at ease and the sightings seem more natural and fun.

Is is Worth Visiting Zion National Park in Winter?

If you like fewer crowds and snow and you don’t mind the cold, visiting Zion in winter can be an amazing experience. Zion National Park has some of the most dramatic landscapes and beautiful trails that give you easy access to exploring the back country.

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