Zion National Park, one of America’s oldest and most visited National Parks, is one of the most spectacular places in the USA. The park boasts soaring red and cream cliffs, a maze of narrow slot canyons, and a picturesque gorge cut by the raging Virgin River.
This is a massive park so it can be difficult planning a trip to Zion National Park. It can also be overwhelming to pinpoint exactly which highlights to focus on. Ideally, you’d spend several days exploring this park, but if you only have one day in Zion, this is the guide for you!
If you only have one day in Zion National Park, I will tell you exactly how I’d fill every minute. A day trip to Zion National Park might not seem like much time, but with this itinerary, you’ll get to check off the highlights and see exactly why this park gets around 5 million visitors annually.
One Day in Zion National Park
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Tips for One Day in Zion National Park
- The best time to visit Zion National Park is spring and fall. If you want to hike the Narrows, I’d visit in the fall.
- Vehicles aren’t allowed in the Zion Canyon between March and November. The free shuttle buses are in operation during these months, so you must utilize them to do many of the things on this itinerary.
- The best place to stay the night in the park for this itinerary is Watchman Campground. You can also stay at a hotel in Springdale, which is conveniently located right outside the park entrance.
- Pack in your food so that you can maximize your time spent in the park. If you decide to leave, there are plenty of food options in Springdale.
- Bring your park pass to avoid paying the $35/vehicle fee at the entrance station.
→ Read Next: 7 Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park
One Day in Zion National Park Itinerary
For one day in Zion, ideally, you’d need to stay two nights in or near the park so you can spend a full day exploring. If you don’t have the time for that, you can adjust the itinerary by shaving the beginning and/or ending off of the travel plan.
An ideal one day in Zion National Park would be to watch the sunrise from the Canyon Overlook Trail. Then take one of the first shuttles of the day to the last stop – Temple of Sinawava – to hike the Narrows. Spend the morning going as far into the canyon as you want to go. Take the shuttle again and get dropped off at The Grotto stop. Enjoy a picnic to prep for your hike up to Angel’s Landing and/or part of the West Rim Trail. Turn around and take the shuttle back to the visitor center. Hike the Watchman Trail at sunset and camp at Watchman Campground.
Sunrise at Canyon Overlook
Just 6 miles from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is the Canyon Overlook Trail. This hike is 1 mile total (out & back), so try to arrive at the viewpoint by sunrise for a spectacular view of the Zion Canyon.
Access the trailhead via the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. You can drive your vehicle directly to the trailhead; the shuttle doesn’t operate on this side of the park. Arrive as early as possible; the small parking lot fills up quickly!
🔦 Make sure to read my night hiking guide before attempting to hike in the dark!
Hike the Narrows
After your spectacular sunrise view from Canyon Overlook, drive to the visitor center and board the shuttle. Take the shuttle to the last stop on the Zion Scenic Drive, the Temple of Sinawava. This is where you’ll enter the Narrows!
Shuttle times vary by month so check current times here. Also, you do not need advanced tickets to board the shuttle; you’ll just have to wait in line to board the next available shuttle.
The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with towering rock walls stretching a thousand feet into the blue sky. The beauty of this trail is that you can hike as deep into the canyon as you want (up to Big Springs) or as shallow as you want. But whatever distance you hike in, you must hike back out the same way! There’s no emergency exit to bail.
The hike begins with an easy, scenic 1-mile riverside walk. Once the paved portion ends, you’ll enter the canyon and begin your trek through the river! The narrowest portion is Wall Street, which is, in my opinion, the most scenic part of the Narrows. Getting to this point requires a 3-mile trek (one-way).
→ READ NEXT: Complete Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows
Picnic at Grotto Picnic Area
Take the shuttle bus to the 6th Zion Canyon stop, The Grotto. Fuel up on nutritious food by enjoying a picnic lunch. You’ll need nourishment before attempting the next hike!
NOTE: Attempting the Narrows and Angel’s Landing in one day is not for the physically unfit. Both are grueling hikes that require lots of physical energy and exertion. Make sure you are in good shape and are prepared for the challenge before attempting both in one day. It’s okay to just pick one (or none) if you don’t think your body can handle the feat.
Hike Angel’s Landing and/or West Rim Trail
If you only have one day in Zion, you absolutely must attempt this classic hike, Angel’s Landing. This dangerously-narrow chained peak features some of the best views in Zion National Park.
⚠️ IMPORTANT: Everyone who accesses Angel Landing must have a permit. Visit recreation.gov to enter the lottery and apply for a permit in advance. Lottery applications cost $6, and you aren’t guaranteed to win a permit.
If the chains scare you or if you can’t snag an Angel’s Landing permit, I’d recommend just hiking a portion of the West Rim Trail instead. You’ll start at the same trailhead as the Angel’s Landing hikers, but when you reach Scout’s Landing, instead of ascending the chains off to the right, you’ll head left and continue on the West Rim Trail. You can take this trail as far as you feel comfortable – the entire trail is 14.5 miles point-to-point. You won’t have time for the entire trail on your one-day Zion itinerary.
FUN FACT: You’ll be able to look down on Angel’s Landing as you ascend the West Rim Trail!
→ READ NEXT: Alternatives to Hiking Angel’s Landing
Hike the Watchman Trail at Sunset
The 3.1-mile lollipop Watchman trail is a great way to cap off your day in Zion. It’s not a very busy trail (compared to the others on this itinerary) and it doesn’t require a ride on the shuttle bus!
The trail itself is super scenic – I felt so tiny amongst the towering mountains – but if you make it to the last viewpoint at sunset, you will be in awe. You’ll be treated to panoramic views of Springdale and imposing views of Watchman Spire. Don’t forget your headlamp since you’ll likely be heading back down in the dark!
If you’re staying at Watchman Campground, ending your day in Zion on the Watchman Trail couldn’t be more convenient. The trail and campground are neighbors!
→ READ NEXT: Complete Guide to Exploring Zion National Park
Camp at Watchman Campground
Watchman Campground is located next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Tent and electric campsites are available year-round and group campsites are available from March through November.
All campsites in Watchman Campground require reservations year-round. Reservations may be made six months in advance. Book your campsite here.
If you’d prefer to stay in Springdale, here are some of my recommendations:
→ READ NEXT: Zion Vs. Bryce Canyon: Which Is Better?
Other Great Things to Do at Zion
If you find yourself with extra pockets of time, or if one or two of these items on this itinerary don’t sound particularly good to you, here are some of my other favorite things to do in Zion:
- Hike the Emerald Pools Trail – A 3-mile loop that leads to three pools and waterfalls. You can shorten this hike by cutting out a pool or two.
- Hike or bike the Pa’Rus Trail – This is one of the best easy hikes in Zion National Park! You can also rent bikes from one of the many nearby outfitters. No shuttle bus ride is required to hike or bike this trail.
- Bike the Zion Canyon – Since vehicles are prohibited from driving into the Zion Canyon most of the year, shuttle buses are the only way to get around. However, you can bike into the canyon year-round! This would be a great way to explore the Zion Canyon at your leisure.
See where Zion ranks in my Utah National Parks Ranked Best to Worst blog post!
One Day in Zion National Park FAQs
Is One Day in Zion National Park Enough?
You can see the highlights of Zion National Park in one day. If you have more time, I’d recommend staying at least three days to be able to see the lesser-known attractions, hike the longer trails and backcountry routes, and explore the other side of the park – Kolob Canyons.
Can I Drive into the Zion Canyon?
Vehicles are prohibited from entering the Zion Canyon from March through November. The shuttle buses are in operation during these months.
As an alternative, you can bike into the Zion Canyon any time of year.
Can I See Zion and Bryce Canyon in One Day?
Seeing both parks thoroughly in one day isn’t realistic.
But if you wanted to skim through the parks, you could technically make this happen. You could enter Zion before sunrise, hike a trail or two, and then drive two hours to Bryce Canyon, where you would have time to drive the scenic road or hike part of the Rim Trail.
Are Dogs Allowed at Zion National Park?
Leashed pets are welcome on public roads, parking areas, developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on the grounds of the Zion Lodge.
Leashed pets are also allowed on the Pa’rus Trail.
Do not bring your dog on any hiking trail (besides Pa’rus), in any wilderness area, on the shuttle buses, or in public buildings.
→ READ NEXT: 13 Most Dog-Friendly National Parks in the USA
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Kayaking to Antelope Canyon
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