A breathtaking landscape of Zion National Park, Utah, featuring the Virgin River winding through the towering red rock formations.

One Day in Zion National Park [Full Guide with Itinerary]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.

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Discover the best itinerary for spending one day in Zion National Park. Plan your trip to see all the top hikes, vistas, and must-see attractions.

One day in Zion National Park — sounds crazy, right?

But with planning, it’s more than enough for breathtaking (in more ways than one) hikes. And who can forget those classic Utah canyon views? From The Watchman’s panoramic vistas to the calming Riverside Walk or the adrenaline rush of Angels Landing – this Zion National Park itinerary proves you can see the park’s highlights in just one day.

Whether visiting national parks near Las Vegas for a day trip or a full national park road trip, this guide is for you.

Get ready to see Zion with this one full-day itinerary – let’s dive in!

What to know before you visit Zion National Park

Best time to visit Zion National Park

Zion National Park is open year-round, so when is the best time to visit? That depends on what you want to get out of your trip. Whether you prefer fewer crowds, better weather, or anything in between, it all falls on when you time your visit to the park.

A beautiful view of Zion Canyon taken from Angels landing

Here’s a breakdown to help plan your visit to Zion:

  • Spring and fall have mild weather, ideal for hiking and exploring.
  • Summer brings the heat and larger crowds. And when I say there are large crowds, I mean it. Zion is one of the top three most-visited national parks in the United States. And everyone crowds into Zion Canyon and the shuttle to enjoy a day among the cliffs.
  • Winter is a quieter experience with the chance of snow. And after visiting during the spring/summer, I may prefer winter because of the few crowds there are. If you’re lucky, a beautiful layer of snow will be on the canyon cliffs.

Zion National Park entrance fees and passes

Zion National Park has a $35 entrance fee, and this pass provides access for an entire week. Perfect if you have plenty of time to explore.

But if you only have one day in Zion National Park, here are a few ways to plan your visit:

  • The America, the Beautiful pass: This annual pass ($80) includes access to all national parks, monuments, and forests! If you are planning to visit many national parks within a year, it’s worth the investment.
  • Free entry days: Check if you can schedule your visit for free entry days. Several occur throughout the year. It’s a great way to save and experience all of Zion!

The free entry days are:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 15, 2024)
  • First Day of National Park Week (April 20, 2024)
  • Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19, 2024)
  • The Great American Outdoors Act (August 4, 2024)
  • National Public Lands Day (September 29, 2024)
  • Veterans Day (November 11, 2024)

Whichever way you choose, it’s always money well spent (or not spent) when you’re visiting Zion!

Getting around Zion National Park: The shuttle system

Zion’s shuttle system is your best friend at Zion National Park.

Well, it’s more like being the president’s child with the Secret Service.

They’re your friends and there to help, but you don’t have a choice. From 2000 onward, Zion has made the shuttle service mandatory. That means parking outside the park and catching the shuttle into Zion Canyon. This helps with traffic congestion and protects the fragile environment, so plan ahead!

Here are the primary shuttle stops along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive:

  1. Zion Canyon Visitor Center
  2. Zion Human History Museum
  3. Canyon Junction
  4. Court of the Patriarchs
  5. Zion Lodge
  6. The Grotto
  7. Weeping Rock (note: This stop is closed at the time of writing)
  8. Big Bend
  9. Temple of Sinawava

Want to avoid the shuttle? Then go in the off-season. The shuttle service stops from the end of December until March, and you can drive to Zion.

And after experiencing it myself, I think it’s one of the best times to visit Zion.

Trails and hiking

A day in Zion National Park means taking advantage of those incredible trails! No matter your experience level, preparing to make the most of your day hike is important.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Hydration is key: In hotter months, carry ample water (refill stations are available!).
  • Proper footwear: Zion has varying terrain. So hiking boots or trail shoes are best.
  • Sun protection: Sunscreen and a hat help avoid discomfort.
  • Snacks: Keeping your energy up is critical for tackling those stunning hikes in Zion.

Before you hit the trails, stop by and chat with the rangers. They are great people with the best knowledge of the trails and current conditions. And that information is valuable. So stop by and ask for recommendations or any advisories in the park.

Also, keep this in mind while visiting to help make the most of the Zion experience for everyone:

  • Yield to uphill hikers: It’s courteous and safer, and they’re having a harder time.
  • Keep noise levels down: Limit noise to talking and keep it down to not disrupt other people and animals.
  • Share the viewpoints: You’re not the only person who wants the epic picture from the top of Angels Landing. Snap a picture, and move on to let others enjoy it, too.

Leave No Trace

Zion National Park is a stunning example of nature’s beauty.

Visitors must do their part to ensure Zion stays the same for future generations. Here’s how you can respect Zion National Park with the Leave No Trace principles:

  • Stay on the trails: This protects the park’s fragile plant and animal life.
  • Pack it In, pack it out: Disposing trash is key, even if it’s small. If you brought it into Zion, be sure to take it out.
  • Leave nature be: Buy your Zion souvenirs in the gift shop. Leave rocks, plants, etc., exactly where you find them.
  • Respect the wildlife: Observe animals from a distance. They may seem friendly but don’t approach or feed them for your safety.

How to get to Zion National Park

This will vary depending on where you’re coming from. But if you want the easiest way to get to Zion National Park, there are two ways:

  • Flying: The closest major airport is Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s about a 3-hour drive from the airport to Zion National Park. A smaller regional airport exists in St. George, Utah (SGU) but has fewer flight options.
  • Driving: Zion is easy to reach from several major cities, making it a great road trip destination. Interstate 15 runs near the park, so it’s an easy trip from California, Nevada, or north. Las Vegas is one of the main cities people fly into, and it’s a 3-hour drive.

One day in Zion National Park itinerary

Early morning: Beat the crowds and make a big decision on Angels Landing

There’s no better way to start your trip to Zion National Park, in my opinion.

Your first glimpse is those colossal canyon walls glowing in the early light. It’s why you came to Zion! I recommend a stop at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center first. You can stop by the shop, get a map from the rangers, and ask any questions.

Then, jump on the Zion shuttle and beeline for The Grotto (Stop 6). There’s a water filling station and bathroom here, so use them before the hike. Then, cross the road and bridge to start your hike. It’s about 1.8 miles to the top, and you get sweeping views of Zion Canyon. You also climb the famous Walter’s Wiggles, so take plenty of pictures.

A group of hikers walk up Walters Wiggles in Zion National Park

Once you reach the top, things get interesting.

Scout Lookout is the start of Angels Landing. So, if you want to do one of the most dangerous hikes in the USA, now is your time to shine. UT, you must get a permit beforehand — which has seasonal and day-before lotteries. Check the NPS Angels Landing permits page for more details.

I recommend getting a permit if you don’t have a severe fear of heights.

The Angels Landing trail (a must for one day in Zion National Park) climbs left and the landscape of Zion sits on the right.

I would’ve kicked myself if I didn’t try. It has one of the best views in the park, it’s iconic, and I’m always signing up for dumb ideas. This one fits the bill for me. With that said, I was nervous the entire way, and I don’t have a big fear of heights. So keep that in mind.

If you’re not interested, no worries! You don’t have to do Angels Landing to enjoy the park. Take in the views at Scout Lookout, and hike back the way you came up.

Mid-morning: Explore the Emerald Pools

After that early morning kickstart, it’s time for a hike on the Emerald Pools Trail, around a 2-mile hike.

At the time of writing, the bridge at Zion Lodge (Stop 5) is closed. So your best way to get to the trail is from the stop you’re at — The Grotto (Stop 6).

Instead of going right to Scout Lookout, you make the left to head toward the Pools. An out-and-back is easier since the bridge at Zion Lodge is closed — which normally makes this a loop route.

I recommend visiting the Lower Emerald Pool first, the trail on the left when you come to a split around a mile in.

It’s less impressive than the upper pool, so getting this out of the way first is better. Afterward, return the way you came and take the right trail to the Upper Emerald Pool. This one is a bit of a climb, so take breaks as needed along the way. And be sure to turn around and check out the view behind you — it’s one of my favorite views in the park.

The Upper Emerald Pool waterfall drains water into the pool

Once at the top, enjoy the view of the massive 360-foot waterfall. Take as much time as you need here, not to mention it’s not a bad place for some lunch or snacks.

Then, head down the trail you came in on to The Grotto.

Lunch time: Refuel amid the cliffs

If you’re anything like me, your stomach is now threatening you with mutiny after all that hiking.

And you have a few options for food in the park:

  • Zion Lodge: If a sit-down meal with amazing views sounds perfect, hit the Lodge’s dining options. Depending on the season, it can be very busy. But, if you can snag a meal, there’s arguably no better setting to enjoy lunch.
  • Pack a Picnic: I’m a big fan of packing my lunch and finding a nice spot to enjoy it. Especially if you can find a nice secluded spot with a view. Just be sure to pack out everything you pack in!
  • Fuel on the Go: If you’re trying to pack in as many activities as possible, I recommend having stuff to eat on the go. Energy bars, beef jerky, or even running gels are great to keep you going.

On my two visits to the park, I ate at Zion Lodge when it was more packed than a sardine can. And on my second, I ate at a picnic table at The Grotto stop with a few friends.

Out of the two, the second was much better.

Afternoon: Pick your Zion adventure

Zion is about making the experience your own!

If you want to go quickly, you can tackle the tougher trails and maximize the experience. But if you want things more relaxed, you can take it easy and enjoy being surrounded by Zion’s beauty. This afternoon, choose the way you want to explore this iconic landscape.

Just note: afternoon in Zion means afternoon heat, especially in summer. Bring sunscreen and plenty of water, and plan for it!

Here are the options:

Riverside Walk: One of Zion’s best hikes – it’s paved, flat, and follows the Virgin River (about 2 miles roundtrip). Great if you need a less intense outing or want to take your time soaking in the canyon beauty.

The Riverside Walk sidewalk extends into a canyon
A panoramic from the Zion Canyon overlook

Canyon Overlook Trail: This short hike (about 1 mile) is your key to one of the park’s most famous viewpoints. A good balance for those who want the vista but prefer an easier hike.

Zion Human History Museum: Learn about the lives of those who shaped this canyon. Starting with indigenous traditions and ending at pioneer settlements. A cool spot if the afternoon heat lingers.

The Zion Human History museum with beautiful cliffs behind it
A car drives on the road through Zion National Park past its gian red and orange rocks

Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway: Stunning even if you don’t hike, with a tunnel, beautiful views, and ending at the Canyon Overlook trailhead. This is best if you can use your car instead of the shuttle for this.

Places to visit near Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion and Bryce Canyon are two of the “Mighty 5,” as Utah’s five national parks are called.

Only a 1.5-2 hour drive from Zion National Park, this is the perfect national park to add to your road trip, far enough to look different but close enough for an easy drive.

Towering rock spires known as “hoodoos” create an amphitheater of color.

Hike the Navajo Loop or Queen’s Garden Trail for up-close views, and stay until sunset. If you’re short on time, Inspiration Point has sweeping panoramas, making Bryce an excellent detour.

Kanab, Utah

Kanab has accommodations, restaurants, and a true “Western” feel between Zion and other stunning parks. This makes it a convenient base if Zion campgrounds are full or you want a place to stay as you move along your road trip. Kanab is the center for outdoor adventures galore.

Hiking trails nearby, many national parks within a short drive, and a few state parks to add to it. I’d recommend staying here if you’re looking for a central base for your entire trip.

Grand Canyon National Park — North Rim

Zion and the Grand Canyon’s famous South Rim are a significant drive apart, and the North Rim is a less-crowded Grand Canyon experience.

Lush forests, cooler temperatures, and breathtaking viewpoints like Point Imperial make it worth it. The North Rim has a shorter season due to weather (approximately mid-May to mid-October). But its proximity to Zion makes it a tempting addition to any national park adventure.

Ready to make the most of Zion National Park in one day?

You’ve seen towering cliffs, hiked incredible trails, and conquered Zion National Park in a single day!

Don’t let anyone tell you you need a week to experience the beauty of our national parks. With the right planning and a bit (a lot) of coffee, you can see the best of our national parks in a short time. Want even more? Then check out my one day Death Valley itinerary and one day Joshua Tree itinerary.

So, what sights will you visit on your Zion National Park day trip? Let me know in the comments!

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.