Looking to visit Zion soon? Check out my tips below to make the most of your time.
1. Visit During the Off-Season
I'm not one of those tourist that complains about other tourist, BUT it is insane how many people visit this park, even in the off-season. As of December the park has seen 4.4 million visitors, that is like the entire city of Los Angeles visiting the park during the year. If you are unfamiliar with the park most of the trails are within Zion Canyon and during peak season you have to stay at Zion Lodge, ride a bicycle or ride the park's shuttle system to access these trails. I'm cheap, don't trust motorist on a narrow road and hate jam packed shuttles so I had to find another solution to accessing these trails. The alternative option is to visit the park after Thanksgiving but before the announced shuttle date in February, during this time you have the luxury of driving your own vehicle through the canyon. Now this sounds great and convenient but when I was visiting around Christmas I still had to get creative with parking. Some people DGAF and will basically park in the middle of the one lane street. I'm never one to promote towing a car, but I was fantasizing about some of these cars getting towed. Nevertheless it goes without saying the crowds will be less overwhelming during the off-season.
2. Don't be Afraid of the Dark
I will endure plenty of inconveniences to avoid the masses. If you are comfortable hiking in the dark I suggest starting before sunrise and/or finishing your hike after sunset. Angels Landing is one of the best hikes in the park and it's the one most people try to tackle. Nothing gets your nerves pumping like hanging on to a steel chain with steep drop offs on both sides of you. On the other hand it can be a nightmare when you are in a human traffic jam waiting on someone to move, pass you, or you're stuck watching someone have a panic attack because they realize they are basically a couple of feet away from their death. Avoid these headaches by starting this hike late in the afternoon or before sunrise. If you aren't comfortable with your abilities then make necessary adjustments. On my recent trip we stayed on the summit for a sunset and we were luckily the only ones up there, which was insane. That evening will be something I remember for the rest of my life. Hiking down kept us "clinched up" most of the way, but it was well worth having the place to ourselves. If the thought of this gets your knees weak and palms sweaty then plan on starting the hike an hour or so before sunrise, the first portion of the trail is fairly easy with a good headlamp. Reminder, this is all dictated by when you visit the park, if you have to rely on the shuttle system you aren't going to have these options.
3. Shoot for 3 Days
You can make a legit trip with 48-72 hours. I'd shoot for the following itinerary;
Day 1: Emerald Pools and Angels Landing
Day 2: Observation Point and Hidden Canyon
Day 3. The Narrows
This lets you see the best spots of the park and gives you time to soak up each spot. If you are hiking the narrows and you need equipment (you need a wet suit in the winter), call one of the outfitters in Springdale to make sure you have what you need. Most importantly, get the equipment the day before your hike so you can follow the previous tip.
4. Arrive early or Late
This is similar to hitting the trails early, but like Alli mentions in her recent post "this is my blog, so I'll do what I want!" There are two access points in the park and the line of cars can get absurd in the afternoon. Make plans to get to the park really early or really late to avoid waiting for an hour or two to get to where you want to go. We left the park at 3pm on our final day and the line of cars was at least 50 deep to get in the park. No thanks.
5. Let It Snow
I have a 4 year old daughter, can I get some love for the Frozen reference? People avoid the snow, so if the flurries come the crowds disappear. You will need a solid pair of ice cleats on most of the trails if things get slick, but the views are unbelievable when the canyon walls are dusted with snow. I'm still a novice photographer but my first trip to Zion was so beautiful because of the snow, I only wish I knew a sliver of what I know now to capture some of that scenery. Even if you aren't comfortable with the steep hikes there are still beautiful trails that are very easy if the snow starts falling, specifically the Sand Bench and Pa'rus trail.
6. Explore the Area
This area of the US is so underrated, well maybe not too underrated since 5 million people visit the park, but nevertheless there is so much to see outside of Zion. Other National Parks in the area such as Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches are all worth the visit, but you also have countless options within the Grand Staircase Escalante as well as local lesser known spots.
Zion is one of my favorite parks to visit, even with the hordes of people. If you have questions or are looking for tips on the park hit me up for more info!