Having a hard time deciding how to spend one day in Zion National Park? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of options and tons of great looking hikes? Did you have your heart set on hiking Angel’s Landing but didn’t get permits? Not sure if you’re up for trekking upriver through the Narrows? We are here to help! In this article, we’ve outlined three amazing ways to spend one day in Zion National Park and we’ll help you decide which is right for you based on your interests and when you are visiting.

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!


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views from the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park

Overview | 3 ways to spend one day in Zion

With just one day in Zion National Park, here are three possible ways that you could spend your time. In this article, we’ll go into more detail on each option to help you decide the best choice for you!

  • Option 1 | Angel’s Landing and West Rim Trail: Climb Zion’s famous Angel’s Landing, a steep, narrow ridge with stunning views looking down the canyon. To extend your hike, continue a few miles on the West Rim Trail.
  • Option 2 | Hike the Narrows: For a one of a kind adventure, spend your day in Zion hiking through the Virgin River in Utah’s most beautiful slot canyon!
  • Option 3 | East Rim Trail to Observation Point: Get the best views in Zion National Park and escape the crowds by hiking to Observation Point, currently accessible only by the East Rim Trail.

About Zion National Park

Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Mojave Desert, and the Great Basin, Zion National Park is one of the most unique and geologically-diverse places in the southwest. The 15-mile Zion Canyon with sandstone walls that reach nearly 3000 feet tall was formed by the North Fork of the Virgin River.

Zion National Park is the most popular of Utah’s “mighty five” national parks, receiving over 3.5 million visitors in 2020. Zion currently ranks as the fourth most visited park in the United States, which means many of the popular spots in the park are typically quite crowded. Despite the crowds, Zion National Park is beautiful.

Zion’s icons, like Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point, live up to the hype and are worth battling the crowds for!

Is one day in Zion enough time?

The short answer is no. In this article, we describe three amazing ways to spend one day in Zion National Park, and ideally you’d have three days to do them all! However, if you have only one day we will help you make the most of it by laying out the best ways to spend your time.

views from the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park

3 Amazing Ways to Spend One Day in Zion National Park

In the following section, we’ll give you all the details on three great ways to spend one day in Zion National Park!

Zion National Park Map

The map below displays the trailheads and landmarks for the hikes suggested in this article, as well as possible campground and lodging options.

  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.

Option 1 | Angel’s Landing and the West Rim Trail

The first option for spending one day in Zion National Park is to hike the iconic Angel’s Landing, with the option to continue the hike (and escape the crowds) along the West Rim Trail. If we had just one day in Zion National, this is probably how we’d want to spend our time, but keep reading to decide for yourself!

Angel’s Landing

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 4.4 miles
Elevation gain | 1600 feet
Total time | 2 – 3 hours
Epic-ness rating | 9
Difficulty | hard
Trailhead | the Grotto

Angel’s Landing is a steep, narrow ridge featuring stunning views straight down Zion Canyon. Angel’s Landing is (in)famous for the treacherous climb required to reach the viewpoint – a very narrow, steep path with a chain fence for hikers to cling onto for safety. If you have a fear of heights, you can still hike to Scout Lookout, the viewpoint located just below the final climb to Angel’s Landing, for awesome views of the canyon.

Final climb aside, the hike to Angel’s Landing is tough, gaining about 1600 feet of elevation in just over 2 miles. A series of never-ending switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles lead hikers sharply out of Zion Canyon.

How to get to the Angel’s Landing trailhead

For most of the year, you cannot drive directly to the trailhead for Angel’s Landing, so you will need to take a park shuttle from the Zion Visitor Center.

Angel’s Landing is a very popular hike and the trail is almost always crowded. As such, we’d recommend taking the first shuttle from the visitor center at 7:00am for the best shot at beating the crowds. The earlier you start, the better the experience will be as you’ll have to spend less time waiting in hiker traffic jams on the narrow ridge.

Hiking Angel's Landing, one of the best ways to spend one day in Zion National Park
Permits for Angel’s Landing

Starting on April 1st, 2022, a permit will now be required for hiking to Angel’s Landing in order to limit crowd sizes. You can apply for a permit during a seasonal lottery window that opens 2 – 5 months in advance of your hike, depending on when you are visiting. If you miss the seasonal lottery, you also have the option to enter a day before the lottery.

Be sure to check out the Zion NPS website for more details on Angel’s Landing permits well in advance of your trip to ensure that you don’t miss the lottery windows.

views from Angel's Landing in Zion National Park
view from Angel’s Landing

Continue on the West Rim Trail

Nearly everybody who visits Zion hikes to Angel’s Landing, but significantly fewer continue on to experience one of our absolute favorite sections of the park: the West Rim! And while Angel’s Landing is popular for good reason, if you end your hike here you are missing out. After reaching Angel’s Landing, you can continue along the West Rim Trail and the crowds will almost immediately disappear.

Just past Angel’s Landing, the West Rim Trail leads to some crazy views with none of the crowds! If you are up for more of a challenge, we highly recommend completing the full West Rim – Telephone Canyon loop, which adds 11 miles round trip.

The West Rim Trail also makes for an amazing backpacking trip, which you can read more about here:

views from the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park
views from the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park

Option 2: Hike the Zion Narrows

Hiking the Narrows is another classic adventure and a great way to spend one day in Zion National Park. What makes the Narrows so unique is that the trail leads up the Virgin River through a massive slot canyon, meaning you’ll be hiking in ankle to waist, or even chest, deep water for much of the hike.

Although the hike is only about 9 miles round trip, wading through water is exhausting, so you can expect hiking the Narrows to be a full day affair!

The Zion Narrows

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 9 miles
Elevation gain | 700 feet
Total time | 4 – 6 hours
Epic-ness rating | 9
Difficulty | hard
Trailhead | Riverside Walk

Hiking the Narrows is undoubtedly a bucket list experience! You will hike upriver through the teal waters of the Virgin River into one of Utah’s most beautiful slot canyons.

The classic Narrows day hike starts from the Riverside Walk Trailhead, for a 9-mile roundtrip hike. The tallest and most stunning section of the Narrows slot canyon is known as “Wall Street”, and is probably the spot you’ve seen countless photos from. For an approximately 7-mile roundtrip hike, you could turn back after reaching the Wall Street area.

How difficult is hiking the Narrows

Keep in mind that you will be walking through a river for the majority of the hike, meaning you should expect to hike more slowly than you would normally, even though there isn’t a ton of elevation gain.

Water levels in the Virgin River vary a great deal by season. In the spring, the water tends to be higher due to runoff from snowmelt. When we hiked in early April, the water levels eventually reached up to chest-deep (I am 5’4″ for reference) and forced us to turn around. During the fall and summer, you can typically count on lower water levels, but always check the NPS website or talk to a park ranger for current conditions.

As with any slot canyon, hiking the Narrows can be very dangerous if the river flow rate is too high or there is a possibility for rain, which can cause flash flooding. The park will close the trailhead if the flow rate rises above 150 cubic feet per second or if there is a flash flood warning. You can check recent flow rates here.

Where to rent gear for the Narrows

Hiking the Narrows requires some advanced planning as you will need to rent some waterproof gear. No matter what time of year you visit, you will likely want to rent waterproof shoes and a hiking stick. During early spring or late fall, cold water temperatures and/or higher water levels will require the use of chest-high waders to stay dry and warm as you meander through the chilly river.

There are a handful of outfitters in Springdale that rent out all the gear you need. We rented waterproof shoes, waders, hiking sticks, and a waterproof pack from Zion Outfitters, just outside the park entrance.

hiking through the Virgin River in the Zion National Park Narrows
hiking through the Virgin River in the Zion Narrows

Option 3 | East Rim Trail to Observation Point

One of Zion’s most classic viewpoints, Observation Point offers unimpeded views down Zion Canyon. Observation Point sits at an elevation level about 700 feet higher than Angel’s Landing, which means the views here are actually better! From Observation Point, you can even see Angel’s Landing below.

How to get to Observation Point

Traditionally, the most popular route to Observation Point was via the Weeping Rock trailhead located in Zion Canyon. However, this trail is closed for the foreseeable future due to a major rockfall, which unfortunately may not be cleared for several years.

Luckily, there are still two other routes you can take to get to Observation Point, which both depart from trailheads located on the East side of the park. The two routes come with tradeoffs, which we will detail below.

Observation Point via East Rim Trail

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 9 miles
Elevation gain | 2200 feet
Total time | 5 – 6 hours
Epic-ness rating | 8
Difficulty | hard
Trailhead | Stave Spring (East Zion)

One option for hiking to Observation Point is via the East Rim Trail, starting from Stave Spring. We like this option because it also allows you to explore part of the East Rim Trail before dropping into Echo Canyon. Although not quite as impressive as the West Rim Trail, the East Rim Trail and Echo Canyon offer some pretty incredible views!

However, Observation Point via the East Rim Trail is a tough hike, with two challenging climbs – the first out of Echo Canyon up to Observation Point, and the second on the return hike back out of Echo Canyon to the East Rim.

Parking and getting to the trailhead

Reaching the Stave Spring trailhead requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle, as the road becomes increasingly rough. If you don’t have 4WD (or just to be safe and avoid getting stuck), there are a handful of pullouts along the road that leads to the trailhead, adding an extra mile or so to the hike. Parking is extremely limited so you may have trouble finding a spot.

Hike to Observation Point, one of the best ways to spend one day in Zion National Park

Observation Point via East Mesa Trail

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 7 miles
Elevation gain | 750 feet
Total time | 4 – 5 hours
Epic-ness rating | 8
Difficulty | moderate
Trailhead | Zion Ponderosa Ranch

Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail is a significantly easier hike compared to hiking from Stave Spring, at just 7 miles roundtrip and 750 feet of elevation gain. Because the trail starts from the East Mesa, you don’t have to drop into Echo Canyon and climb back up to the rim, making for an easier hike. That being said, you do miss out on the constant views offered by the East Rim Trail from Stave Spring.

Parking and getting to the trailhead

The road conditions to reach the East Mesa Trailhead are even worse than Stave Spring. Parking is extremely limited and it’s not uncommon to get stuck, even with a 4WD high clearance vehicle.

However, East Zion Adventures offers a shuttle to the East Rim trailhead from the Zion Ponderosa Ranch for $5 per person, which is likely easier than driving to either the Stave Spring or East Mesa trailheads.

Hike to Observation Point, one of the best ways to spend one day in Zion National Park

Which option should I choose?

Having trouble deciding between these 3 awesome ways to spend one day in Zion National Park? With so many great choices, you really can’t go wrong! But let us break down a few pros and cons of each option to help you decide:

Option 1 | Angel’s Landing

PROS: Tackle one of America’s most iconic hikes, with stunning views down Zion Canyon. Option to continue on the West Rim Trail provides the chance to escape the crowds.
CONS: Crowds, crowds, crowds! If you don’t like crowds, or have a fear of heights, Angel’s Landing is probably not a great choice for you. Shuttle required to reach trailhead.

Option 2 | The Narrows

PROS: A unique experience hiking through a river inside one of the most beautiful slot canyons in the country!
CONS: Requires gear rental. Hiking through the river can be very cold during the spring or fall. Shuttle required to reach trailhead.

Option 3 | Observation Point

PROS: perhaps the most beautiful viewpoint in Zion National Park looking down Zion Canyon. Fewer crowds due to closure of the main trail from Zion Canyon.
CONS: Weeping Rock trailhead is closed, so Observation Point can only be accessed via trailhead in East Zion. Although it’s possible to drive to the trailhead, parking is limited and 4WD, high clearance is needed.

Other considerations for choosing how to spend one day in Zion

In addition to the pros and cons listed above, below are a few other factors to consider in deciding how to spend one day in Zion National Park:

  • Were you able to get a permit for Angel’s Landing? If not, you can try one last time in the day before lottery.
  • Are you traveling on a budget? If so, gear rental for the Narrows can be expensive (around $30 per person during the summer or $55 per person during spring, fall, and winter).
  • Do you have a fear of heights? If so, Angel’s Landing may not be a great idea.

Extending your trip to Zion

If you are able to extend your trip and spend an extra day in Zion, pick your top two favorite options from this list! Another great option is to spend one night backpacking the West Rim Trail, including a detour to Angel’s Landing.

If possible, we’d highly recommend continuing your road trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon and spending a day hiking among the hoodoos.

sunset in Zion National Park

Logistics | One Day in Zion National Park

In the section below, we’ll help you plan when to visit, where to stay and what to pack for your Zion to Bryce Canyon road trip!

Packing List for One Day in Zion National Park

Below are a few essentials we’d recommend adding to your packing list for visiting Zion National Park

  • National Parks Pass | if you plan to visit multiple national parks (more than 3 in a year), we highly recommend purchasing an annual pass.
  • Hiking poles (Hers: Black Diamond Distance Z poles, His: Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles ) | If you decide to hike Angel’s Landing or Observation Point, poles are very helpful for the steep trails. If you hike the Narrows, you can rent a thick walking stick with your gear (which is better for hiking in the rocky river than traditional hiking poles)
  • Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | Specifically for hiking Angel’s Landing, you’ll need boots with good traction to stay safe.
  • Hiking socks (Darn Tough)
  • Hiking pants (Hers: Athleta Headlands pants, His: PrAna Stretch Zion Pants)
  • Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L) | perfect for carrying snacks, extra layers, and enough water for hiking in the desert. If you decide to do the narrows, you can also rent a waterproof bag (a good idea if you plan to carry anything of value, like a camera).
  • Sun protection | sunscreen, chapstick and sunglasses (Goodr)
  • Camera (Nikon Z6) with Peak Design Camera Clip and Matador Camera Bag | the Peak Design camera clip is a game-changer for hiking with a camera! The Matador camera bag provides a lightweight protection for your camera that’s easy to take on and off, and includes a water resistant layer (not 100% waterproof, ie. you wouldn’t want to fall in the Virgin River with it, but it protects against splashes and light-moderate rain showers).
  • Towel (PackTowl Lightweight Towel) | lightweight and easy to pack for drying off after hiking in the Narrows.

If visiting during the spring or fall, you may want to pack the following (always check weather conditions before your trip!):

Getting to and around Zion National Park

Below we’ll cover all things travel logistics – how to get to, between, and around in Zion National Park.

How to get to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah, about 1 hour 30 minutes from Bryce Canyon, 4 hours from the Grand Canyon, 3 hours from Capitol Reef and 5 hours from Arches and Capitol Reef. If traveling by plane, the closest airport is in Las Vegas, Nevada, a 2 hour 45-minute drive from Zion. Alternatively, Salt Lake City, Utah is about a 4 hour 30-minute drive to Zion.

Getting around Zion via park shuttle

The majority of Zion National Park is closed to personal vehicles during peak season (March – November) and high traffic periods in the winter, so you will need to a take a shuttle to get around. The shuttle is free and at this time, advance tickets are not required.

The Zion shuttle may be picked up from the Visitor Center. However, parking is limited so arrive early to secure a spot. You can find more details on the Zion shuttle here.

Zion National Park entrance fees

7-Day Pass (per car) | $35
Annual Pass | $80

Zion National Park charges a $35 per vehicle entrance fee which is valid for 7 days. Alternatively, you can purchase an America the Beautiful Pass for $80, giving you unlimited access to all national parks across the country. It makes sense to purchase an annual pass if you plan to visit three or more parks over the next year.

When is the best time to visit Zion?

The best time of year to visit depends on how you plan to spend your one day in Zion National Park.

  • If you want to hike the Narrows, visiting during the summer or early fall is your best bet for warmer water temperatures and lower water levels.
  • If you plan to hike Angel’s Landing, we’d recommend visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring or fall) for the best odds at winning lottery tickets and (slightly) fewer crowds.
  • Spring or fall is also a great time to hike to Observation Point for milder temperatures, as the summer heat in Zion can be extreme.
hiking through the Virgin River in the Zion Narrows
sunrise in Zion National Park

Where to stay in Zion National Park

The Zion Lodge is the only hotel located inside Zion National Park. The main entrance to Zion is located near Springdale, Utah, which offers plenty of hotel, Airbnb, and campground options. Alternatively, hotels and Airbnb’s are available in the nearby towns of Rockville, Virgin, Hurricane and St. George, and may be less expensive than staying in Springdale.

Campgrounds in Zion National Park

There are three campgrounds located inside Zion National Park:

  • The Watchman Campground: tent and RV sites centrally located near the Zion Visitor Center. Open year round and reservable 6 months in advance
  • South Campground: tent only sites centrally located near Zion Visitor Center. Closed during winter (open March 15 through October 31), reservable 14 days in advance
  • Lava Point Campground: primitive tent campground located about an hour from the main entrance to the park. Open roughly May through September (exact dates vary by year due to weather), not reservable in advance.

The campsites typically fill up, especially during the summer so be sure to make your reservations as soon as they are released. You can read more about the campgrounds in Zion here.

Free camping near Zion National Park

If you aren’t able to secure one of the limited campsites inside Zion National Park, free dispersed camping nearby is also an option.

One of our favorite camping spots near Zion is the Hurricane Cliffs Recreation Area located a few minutes outside of Springdale on BLM land. Arrive early to get a spot, as campsites are limited. Another dispersed camping option in the area is Leeds Canyon, located in Dixie National Forest.

Hike to Observation Point, one of the best ways to spend one day in Zion National Park

Other useful resources

Planning a trip to the southwest? We think you may enjoy the following articles to help you plan your trip:

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

Have you visited Zion National Park? Questions about planning your one day in Zion? Let us know in comments below!

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