Visiting Zion National Park During The Winter Months
Zion National Park is one of the United States' most popular parks. Visiting during the winter is one way to avoid the crowds and the heat. Even better, we found that it is an absolutely gorgeous time of year to explore this spectacular National Park. The trails are quiet, allowing you to connect with nature. Plus, the scenery is magnificent! Red rocks with a dusting of white snow is a beautiful sight indeed.
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What to Expect - A Winter Visit to Zion
There are many reasons to visit Zion National Park during the winter. Nonetheless, it is crucial that you come prepared for the realities of the seasonal weather. Every winter is different, with varying amounts of snow and ice. Be open to a change of plans due to trail closures and weather delays. Also, please use your best judgment and stay safe while driving and hiking. Monitor the weather and condition of the trails before heading out. The rocks are very slick when wet, not to mention covered in ice. Don't put yourself in a dangerous (or potentially deadly) situation. It is better to be able to come back and try again later.
Keep in mind that the shuttle does not run December through February. Parking within the park is minimal. While there are not as many people visiting the park during the winter, you may find full parking lots for some of the more popular trails. We found plenty of parking early in the morning, but the lots did tend to fill up during the afternoon hours.
How to Pack for Winter Hiking at Zion
If there is one thing I wish I had brought during this trip, it would be a pair of shoe spikes. The grips on our hiking boots were nearly obsolete on the ice. We ended up scooting and crawling around on the slickest and steepest sections of trail. I would have bought a pair of spikes on the spot if I could.
Otherwise, dress warmly with layers. While hiking, we would warm up in the sun and then freeze in the valley's shadows. I was glad I brought my hat and gloves. The sun is still intense in the winter, so sunscreen and sunglasses are a good idea as well. It always surprises me when I come across others hiking in flip flops or their business loafers. I prefer not to risk an ankle injury and wear proper hiking boots.
Hiking Angels Landing During The Winter
This trail is a bucket list item for so many people and for a good reason. If you are not familiar with this trail, then you need to do an image search, or even better - watch some videos. It is intense! We had our hearts set on hiking Angels Landing Trail. I didn't sleep for weeks before our trip. Remember when I said that you need to be prepared for a change of plans? This is why.
From the Grotto parking lot, we headed out on the West Rim Trail for Angel's Landing. The trail was in good condition up until the stretch just before the Walters Wiggles where it started to ice over in spots. We met a hiker coming back down and asked him what the conditions were like. He said that he did not recommend that we went any further since the Wiggles were covered in ice. We thanked him and continued anyway. Despite our best judgment, we crawled our way up the Wiggles.
We made it to the top of the Wiggles and headed out on Angel's Landing Trail. Once we arrived, we were excited to see people out hiking the iconic spine. That was until we saw them slipping around on the icy slopes and hanging on to the chain like their lives depended on it. We decided right then and there that we were not going to continue any further. This hike is dangerous, and people do die. Be safe and don't risk it.
To get back we had to slide down the entire length of the Walters Wiggles. I will admit this was so much fun! But also a little dangerous... and our butts were frozen by the time we reached the bottom.
The Narrows - A Popular Zion Trail
The other most popular hike in Zion is The Narrows. This trail takes you through the narrow canyon and involves walking or wading your way upstream. You don't have to worry about high waters or flooding during the winter but the trail may close due to water speeds and can be more slippery. We considered this hike, but we only had one day to explore the park and didn't want to go back to town to rent the gear required. However, we saw quite a few people suited up for the hike.
Best Ways to Enjoy Zion During the Winter
You may worry that with the trail closures and the cold temps that Zion National Park will not be very enjoyable during the winter. We did not feel this way at all! The park is stunning even from the roadways. We enjoyed the easily accessible Riverside Walk Trail and walked along the stream there as well. Find a large rock in the sun and have a picnic! You can't beat the view.
Zion's Best Winter Hike: The Emerald Pools
Any disappointment felt from not being able to hike Angels Landing quickly melted away during our journey to the Emerald Pools. The trail doesn't involve much elevation change making it a pleasant and casual hike. After crossing the footbridge outside of the Zion Lodge, the trail takes you alongside the river and through a forested section. It doesn't take long before you reach the bowl of the Lower Emerald Pool where you can walk underneath the waterfall.
We could have really used some traction devices here as it was incredibly slippery the entire way. The pool is uniquely beautiful in the wintertime. The ice coats everything, creating a fascinating landscape. Due to fallen rocks, the trail to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools was closed.
Zion-Mount Carmel Scenic Highway
We ended our day at Zion National Park with a scenic drive. Not far from the entrance to the park you have the option to take the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway that leads to both Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park. This stretch of road offers incredible views of the park below as you climb up the side of the mountain.
We noticed what looked like little windows in the mountain only to find out that this road leads to a long tunnel through the mountain. From inside the tunnel, you can look out these windows as you drive by. You are not allowed to stop your car inside the tunnel, and there are no bikes or pedestrians allowed.
Where to Stay In Springdale - Best Lodging Near Zion
Nothing beats a hot tub during the winter, especially after a chilly day of hiking. We were so glad that our lodging had a jacuzzi with an incredible view! We stayed at Flanigan's Inn in Springdale. The grounds were quiet, and we had the pool area to ourselves. The room was very nice too! During what little time we had to spend there we enjoyed the spacious room with its big beds and balcony. They are located on the main highway, and there are restaurants within walking distance as well as their restaurant on-site.
Best Restaurants In Springdale - Winter Season
After a full day of hiking, we found the warm, comfort food we desired and honestly needed at Bit & Spur. We thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere here and loaded up on delicious southwestern food and margaritas! The menu is vegetarian-friendly, too. The polenta stack and sweet potato tamales were so good! You will find that Springdale is very quiet during the winter months. Call ahead as some restaurants close for the season or limit their hours.
Before we said good-bye to Springdale and Zion National Park, we stopped for breakfast at The Park House Cafe. This place is super cute and has a fun, local vibe. It was the perfect spot to grab some coffee and a healthy breakfast before hitting the road.
Inspiration - Zion National Park, Utah
While hiking Zion National Park, I was inspired by the contrast of warm colors and the cool temps. I loved how the white snow highlighted the rugged red rocks of the canyon. For my inspirational piece, I created a simple watercolor using some of the canyon colors in an attempt to warm myself up. I am glad we had the chance to experience Zion during the winter, now we need to plan a summer trip for comparison…
Cheers! To canyon ice skating!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during January of 2018. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.