Zion National Park is no longer just a summer destination. The Winter Off-Season in Zion is becoming a quite popular time to visit the park. Last year over 4.5 million people visited Zion National Park, primarily in the summer months. The park slows down after Thanksgiving thru mid-March for the winter months. With the push to visit the “Mighty 5” national parks Zion has seen about a 70% jump in yearly attendance and can be quite crowded in the summer months.

Photo by N4rwhals

Visiting Zion in the winter months has many advantages. The foremost reason is you avoid having to wait in line at the entrance stations. The lines at the entrance stations can be very long in the summer. To avoid the long lines in the summer you want to enter the park no later then 7:00 am. In the off-season you can enter anytime of the day with little to no wait in line.  In the off-season you also won’t have any problem finding close parking, you can easily find great hotel options and you won’t typically have to jockey with so many others on the trails. Some trails you may not see anyone else on the trail during your hike in the off-season. The summer vs winter months at Zion National Park are like night and day.

In the winter you will find peace and quiet in Zion canyon. No wait at the tunnel and be able to see deer grazing almost everywhere in the park. The streets of Springdale are almost void of other cars. You can really experience the solitude and beauty of Zion National Park.

There are so many other reasons to consider planning your holiday in the off-season months too.

Mother Nature often gives us warm days in the winter months

Photo by James Udall

A big part of getting around in the winter at Zion is that you can  driving your own car on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Turn up the heater, open up the windows and sunroof and enjoy the majestic views. But this is a wintertime experience only. The weather in the winter is often quite the surprise for visitors. Southern Utah has much warmer winter days than people think. The average daytime temperature often climbs into the 50’s, 60’s or even up to the 70’s. But nighttime temperatures can get down into the high 20’s or low 30’s making for chilly night and outstanding days. Since the lower area of Zion National Park are roughly at 3,900 feet it is highly unlikely that you will see snow on the ground. The tops of the mountains and rock peaks are often blanketed in a beautiful white snow in the winter months. Winter may bring cooler weather but remember there are less crowds and the temperatures are not up in the 100’s in the winter months. You get the best of both worlds in Zion during the winter months. 

Accommodations cost a lot less and are easier to find.

With Springdale being less crowed in the off-season then finding the best in accommodations is also a lot easier. The boutique hotels that are booked a full year in advance for the summer often have more then enough vacancy in the winter months. You may even be able to arrive and get a room with no reservation. We do suggest still making a reservation ahead of time. This may not apply during the holidays so still make sure to plan ahead.

If you have always wanted to stay inside the park at the Zion Lodge then the winter months is the time to do it. It is usually very easy to get a room at the lodge during fall, winter and early spring at a much lower rate per night. The same hotel that may cost you several hundred dollars per night in the summer may now be almost half that amount. During the winter months in Zion you can also almost always pull up to Watchmen campground and get a camping spot. But remember it does it colder at night then during the day so if you are tent camping you will want to plan on bundling up a bit. In the summer months you have to have a reservation to camp inside the park but not in the winter. 

Less people mean less crowed trails

Photo by David Baldacci

With the shuttle bus not running in the off-season you will be able to drive into the park. You will be able to stop and  park at all your favorite trail heads. The trails are also less crowed and you may be hiking the ever-popular Riverside Walk and only see another person or two. The trails are very uncrowded in the off-season leaving more for you to roam. In the summer you may experience waits to get onto some trails but in the off-season typically you park and hike with no waits at all. Even getting up to and hiking Angels Landing and Observation Point will be a breeze with less crowds of people.

There are some good winter hikes where you will typically encounter snow, you may even need snowshoes. Check at the visitor’s center for these trails. Since the park is less crowed in the off-season please make sure to always check in with the visitor’s center and let them know where you are heading.

Winter Wildlife viewing in Zion National Park

Due to less people, traffic, noise and the cooler temperatures the wildlife comes down to visit. The winter or off-season at Zion National Park means more fantastic wildlife viewing. It is not unusual to see deer, elk, big horn sheep or wild turkeys on the side of the road or in the Zion Village. You will probably be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of bald or golden eagles as the soar by. Ask any park ranger where is a great place to view the winter wildlife and they will be more then happy to tell you. Just remember the animals are wild and do not approach them. Also, don’t think you are doing them a favor by feeding them. Enjoy from a distance and take all the photos you want. 

Summer crowds equal summer traffic but not in the off-season

During the off-season traffic in the park is almost non-existent. In the summer months you may end up waiting over an hour to enter the park.  Then another 30 – 45 minutes just to drive through the Zion Tunnel. In the winter months there is usually at most a 5 to 10-minute wait. This gives you more time to really experience the park. You can drive through the 6.5 miles of canyon at your own pace and stop at whatever trail heads or pull outs you choose.

In the summer you must ride the shuttle bus and get off at predesignated stops. In the off-season but you can just take your time and wander around a bit more. You will be able to enjoy the amazing sites such as Big Bend, the Great White Throne, East and West Temple and the three Patriarchs directly from your car if you choose. Don’t forget to take in the fantastic view of Checkerboard Mesa as well.

Less Crowds means easy parking in Zion National Park and Springdale.

Photo by Tinycaravan

In the summer season you may not be able to find parking anywhere in town and if you do it is going to cost you dearly to park. In the off-season you will more then likely find ample parking off the roadside inside the park or at any of the many pull out areas. You can often pull right up to the beginning of a trail head and park there in the winter months. No waiting for shuttle buses or waiting in line to get on a shuttle bus.

The parking situation in Springdale can be a bit over whelming in the summer months. In the off-season you will find parking everywhere. To park for the day it is still going to cost you, yes even for street parking, but you can usually find ample parking almost anywhere in the off-season.

Top 10 things you can’t miss during your winter trip to Zion National Park

Be it off-season or in the peak season there are 10 things you should not miss out on when you visit Zion National Park.

  1. Emerald Pool trail
  2. The Riverside Walk
  3. Weeping Rock trail
  4. The Mt. Carmel Highway Tunnel
  5. The Canyon Overlook Trail
  6. Seeing the Checkboard Mesa
  7. Court of the Patriarchs rock formations
  8. The Narrows, the water might be a bit cold in the winter months.
  9. Angels or Scouts Landing
  10.  Wildlife Viewing

Don’t forget to check out Springdale and surrounding areas

The cooler weather of the off-season is a great time to rent a bicycle to ride the 6.5 miles of the stunning canyon. Stop by Zion Adventure Company in downtown Springdale to check out all the bicycle rentals they have. Make sure to stop by the Springdale Visitors center to find out about all there is to do outside of Zion National Park. There are wonderful hiking trails just outside of Springdale. Or you can take a ride up to Gooseberry mesa for some great mountain biking or hiking or you can even visit Grafton which is a real ghost town. Or you can just take your time and stroll through the various unique shops and eateries in Springdale. Don’t forget to head on down the mountain to take advantage of less crowed ATV/UTV tours with ATV & Jeep Adventure Tours.

In the spring of 2015, Southern Utah introduced one of Utah’s first interactive desert gardens. The garden was built in an effort to teach a healthier way to landscape in the dry desert. But another main function of the garden is so parents can teach their children about the beauty of the desert. Since the garden is high up on the parkway over looking the city, the views from the garden itself are breathtaking. You can see the entire Saint George valley area and even further on the many clear (non-polluted) days we have. The Red Hills Desert Garden is a project by the Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD), the City of St. George and the Virgin River Program. Not only will you see a lot of native plants but the have replicated a slot canyon where you can walk through and see the area’s endangered fish species. Along the paths you might also spy some 200 million-year-old dinosaur tracks, keep your eyes open!

Getting Here

Nestled on a sandstone bluff, this nature spot overlooks all of St. George City. The views of the historic heart of downtown, old airport hill, and surrounding mountains in the distance are sure to please. Aptly named, it’s location is on Red Hills Parkway. Easily accessed from exit 8 off of I-15 and a 1.3-mile drive northwest. Likewise, a simple navigation in Google Maps will bring you to this hidden gem in Southern Utah too. Once you arrive you will find there are bathrooms, drinking fountains and a gazebo area with shade and seating. Throughout the entirety of the space, there are signs directing you around to the different sections. As well as, covered benches and swinging seats scattered in the garden.

Flora

Over 250 different types of plants contribute to the flora of the year round garden. The indigenous plants include succulents, cacti, and many other desert species. The Beavertail Prickly Pear cactus makes an appearance throughout the design space. In Spring and Summer you will see the incredible magenta blooms of the Beavertail Prickly Pear Cactus.  The Jumping Cholla is a plant you are sure to see adventuring with ATV & Jeep Adventure Tours. Blooming red in the Fall, it’s sharp spines will “jump” on you at the slightest brush. Hence the name “Jumping.” Not the prickly cactus type? Look for the soft Coral Rain Lily. A very drought-tolerant pink colored flower that blooms in the spring. The over 250 varieties of plants at the garden are all indigenous to our local area. See if you can find all 250 different plants at the garden!

Fauna

As a result of the man-made stream that runs through the garden, the Virgin River Program was able to bring in some rare and endangered fish. The rare and beautiful Virgin River Chub is among five other fish that make up part of the fauna of this particular area. At the end of the slot canyon, the stream flows through a few viewing spaces where you can try to spot the different variety’s of fish. Typically you will see many types of lizards, squirrels, rabbits and maybe even the Mojave Desert Tortoise . The Mojave Desert Tortoise is among the species of turtles or tortoises protected and preserved in Southern Utah. Only a few feet from the Red Hills Desert Garden you will find a special conservation area for the tortoise.

Events at the Garden

The Red Hills Desert Garden involves the community with events and workshops held year-round. Xeriscaping is the highlight of the garden, known as landscaping in a “style that requires little to no irrigation.” There are special events held on the property through out the year. Mid-October, they decorate for the Scarecrow walk and Haunted Canyon. Scarecrow’s of all fashion line the sandstone walkways of the garden. Just a few days after Thanksgiving The Red Hills Desert Garden becomes a holiday wonderland. Thousands of colorful, twinkling lights glisten alongside the garden. Thousands of bright, cheery lights wrap around the 5 acres. Don’t forget to check with the City of St. George to see when events are happening at the Desert Garden.

The garden not only raises awareness of conservative water use in the desert but does a spectacular job showcasing Southern Utah’s unique flora and fauna. Hop off the plane, step out of the car, its the perfect place to go and stretch your legs with views like no other! After you’ve done that, head on over to your Full-Day Adventure with ATV & Jeep Adventure Tours and keep an eye out for these indigenous plants.

Written By: Kathryn Bowler