The Best Time to Hike Zion
Zion National Park may come at the end of an alphabetical list of national parks, but it is at the top of bucket lists for hikers. Whether it is navigating all 21 of Walter’s Wiggles and grasping an iron chain while ascending the trail to Angel’s Landing, discovering Hidden Canyon or sloshing through the Virgin River in the Zion Narrows, the granddaddy of all Utah national parks is a hiker’s paradise.
This wonderland of varietal sandstone canyons, massive mesas and endless rock towers was not even accessible by vehicle until 1917. Today Zion’s single access road is so busy (three million visitors a year visit to the park) that only shuttle buses are permitted from spring until mid-November. Even when the best weather slips away, however, the crowds at Zion are far from gone.
Choosing an ideal time to hike Zion Canyon will thus not depend on crowds, since the park is always open and always on somebody’s target list. If you are really crowd averse, winter is the obvious choice. However, at high elevations, some of the most popular trails (Angel’s Landing, Observation Point) can be closed due to snow and ice. On the other hand, they may also be dry and easily navigable. That’s the way it goes with winter.
While late spring and early summer may be the choice for hikers looking to sidestep the desert heat, the iconic Narrows hike may be off-limits at this time due to high flows in the Virgin River from snowmelt run-off. The National Park Service (NPS) bans all hiking in the Narrows when water flow exceeds 150 cubic feet per second. The Virgin River never gets above knee level in July and August but those months are also “monsoon season” in southwestern Utah – when a fast-moving and often unexpected rainstorm can trigger flash floods in slot canyons like Zion.
That leaves late summer and early autumn as the sweet spot for hiking both the canyons and the mountains in Zion National Park. The water is warm enough to hike the Virgin River in shorts, and the cottonwoods are transforming to golden yellow. All trails should be open. You will surely be sharing the footsteps at this time of year – but that has been the case with one of the true crown jewels of the NPS since that first road was paved through Zion one hundred years ago.
Want to learn even more about the best time to hike Zion? Connect with Four Season Guides – a licensed and permitted outfitter, who guides adventures through the outback and wildlands. Travel beyond the standard tourist traps and really get into the spaces that only the pros can take you to. The best part about using an outfitter like Four Season Guides for hiking Zion? You can put the details to rest, because they are 100% taken care of. Everything from food, to camping, to gear, trails, maps, history/knowledge and more – it’s all in the hands of someone else. This way, you can take in every moment, enjoy family, friends or the new individuals you have met in your guided group. Take in the fresh air, focus on each step, every amazing view and eventually… cross ‘hiking Zion’ off that bucket list!