10 Ways to Beat the Crowds in Zion National Park

In 1919, when Zion National Park became an official National Park, 1,814 visitors were reported that year. In 2017, 4.5 million visitors flocked to Zion.

You’ve seen the photos of crowds on Angels Landing and the long lines of cars waiting to enter the park. You’ve heard the stories. With these huge numbers of people visiting Zion National Park, finding a way to escape the crowds is becoming more and more difficult. Read on to see our 10 ways to beat the crowds in Zion National Park.

Zion Visitation
Zion National Park Visitation 1919-2018

1: A Different Season

Zion’s busiest months are over the summer, with late Spring and early Fall also being quite busy. Late Fall can still provide many great areas of Autumn colors in Zion Canyon and cool temperatures make the longer and steeper hikes much more pleasant. The hike to Observation Point for example, is 2500 vertical feet of elevation gain and can be scorching hot when the canyon is 100° F degrees in the summer. Early Spring can provide amazing weather with cool temperatures and beautiful sunny days. Snow usually melts from the lower elevations (if any) after late February and the melting snow causes many waterfalls and pools to form throughout the Park.

2: Weekdays

Bryce Canyon National Park, a short drive from Zion National Park

Zion National Park is relatively close to St. George, 5 hours away Salt Lake City and 3 hours from Las Vegas. A majority of visitors come on Friday – Sunday so simply choosing a weekday to visit will allow for a much less crowded experience. For those visiting other National Parks in Southern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is relatively close and many visitors will go to both National Parks. We’d suggest going to Zion on a weekday and go to Bryce Canyon on a weekend day.

3: Avoid Holidays

Holidays and free entrance days are extremely busy in Zion National Park, regardless of the month. We’ve seen Christmas and Thanksgiving days with insane amounts of people! The summer holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day) are particularly times to avoid. These days are so congested that you might not actually make it to the Park since all parking in Zion and Springdale also fills up. This probably isn’t the experience you’re seeking if you’re coming to Zion.

4: Angels Landing

Hikers in line at Angels Landing. Photo: NY Times

Zion’s premier trail, one that everyone wants to conquer and check off their bucket list. We understand, it’s a spectacular hike and an experience you won’t forget! That doesn’t mean you need to go first thing in the morning with everyone else, or with the major surge of people at 9 AM. The hike isn’t that long for most people and starting the hike much later in the day will allow plenty of time to complete the hike and catch the last shuttle bus. The beginning of the hike is all in the shade in the late afternoon and the warm temperatures during the summer are much more tolerable without direct sunlight. Once you’re up the trail a mile or so, turn around and look at the afternoon light in Zion Canyon. Of course there will be people on the summit of Angels Landing but it’ll likely not be crowded. Take your time and enjoy the view and evening light and head down before it starts getting dark. You’ll be down quickly and in plenty of time to catch the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. You’ll have a much better experience and you’ll still have it checked off your bucket list.

5: Sleep In

If you’re staying the night in Springdale, don’t get up early just to join the chaos of parking, shuttles, lines, people. Relax, enjoy some coffee and enjoy one of the best places in the world to watch a new day begin. Springdale has incredible views of the towering cliffs as they catch the morning sun. After a relaxing morning, catch the free bus from Springdale to Zion National Park where you won’t have to worry about parking. Once in Zion, stroll down the Pa’rus Trail towards the Zion Human History Museum. This trail is very peaceful as most people will be going directly to Zion Canyon.

6: Ride A Bike

Bikes are allowed in Zion Canyon while personal vehicles are not allowed. Read Zion’s biking rules before your go. Once in the canyon, you’ll be able to ride at your own pace and all stops have places to lock your bike. Once you’re done exploring Zion Canyon, it’s a great ride downhill all the way back to the Visitor Center. No lines, no crowds and a little exercise for your legs.

7: East Side

Morning light in Zion National Park

Explore Zion’s East Side on busier days and you’ll be sure to escape a majority of the people. You’ll want to arrive early as parking spaces are fairly limited on the East Side. Nearly every pull off has great hiking near by and no particular spot is better than the others. This option is for the more adventurous type of person since there are no trails and much of the hiking is on slickrock or in washes. You may even see some wildlife on your hike as Desert Bighorn Sheep are quite numerous. Some of our favorite areas to visit in Zion National Park are on the East Side of the Park, in all seasons.

8: Kolob Canyons

The Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park is a small area compared to the main area of the Park but it is no less spectacular. Simply driving the short, paved road leads you to one of the best vistas in Zion National Park. For those who enjoy hiking, there are some amazing hikes in this area with flowing water and towering cliffs. Afternoons and evenings are best for photography here as much of this area is West facing and is in deep shade during the mornings.

9: The Subway

The Subway is another one of Zion’s premier hikes but thankfully it is limited to those with a permit only. Yes, there will likely be people here but when compared to other premier destinations in the Park such as The Narrows or Angels Landing, this hike will feel much more relaxed. You can apply for a permit in advance or you can check with the Wilderness Desk inside the Visitor Center on the day before your trip to check on Walk-In permit availability. Much more information regarding permits is available on Zion’s website. Again, this is a popular hike for those with permits and most people will likely arrive early in the day. We’d suggest NOT doing that and to start your hike a little later (Spring-Fall) for one simple reason: the light. The Subway receives the best light later in the day and most of those who started early will be on their way out without ever seeing the best light! Going in a little later allows for fewer people, better light and better photos!

10: Early Dinner

A majority of people visiting Zion will follow the same patterns and dinner time is no exception. Springdale and the great restaurants in town will be quite busy in the evening (7PM) and this is also when the light in Zion can be amazing! We’d suggest eating dinner earlier in Springdale and enjoying the light show on the cliffs of Zion for dessert. Summer days are long in Zion Canyon which means sunrise will also be quite early. Having an early dinner, shooting sunset and getting a good night sleep will help you enjoy the sunrise the following day.

11: Photography Tour

A bonus tip for avoiding crowds! We likely won’t see other photographers on our “Beyond Zion” or “Light of Zion” Photo Tours. We hope you’ll join us as we explore what truly makes Zion National Park so special.

Sunrise view overlooking Zion National Park

About the Author Horizon Photo Tours

Photography Tours and workshops in Zion National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park with more locations to come. We hope you'll join us in Southern Utah!

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