Want to know how to sample the stunning canyons and plateaus, desert-scapes and woodland of Zion National Park in one day? Maybe even a day trip from Las Vegas? Follow me…
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Getting to Zion National Park
The closest airport access to Zion National Park is McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Compare flight prices to Las Vegas using Skyscanner.
From there you will need to rent a car and drive the 263km (163mi), 2.5hr to the Zion’s southern entrance near Springdale, Utah. If you’re just visiting Zion, you won’t need any special vehicle though if you are visiting in winter, consider winter tyres and all-wheel-drive, especially if you are inexperienced at driving in the snow. For those visiting more than one National Park—maybe a Utah National Parks road trip—then you may need a high clearance, four-wheel-drive.
Where to stay at Zion National Park
The closest town to Zion, located right outside the Park entrance, is Springdale. There are plenty of accommodation options, restaurants and tourist services there. Having experienced long traffic jams entering National Parks, especially during warmer, busier months, we always prefer to stay either in the Park itself or as close as possible to the entrance. Traffic (and parking) is a real problem for Zion because it’s a one-road in and out situation.
We chose Flanigan’s Inn which provided us with a very comfortable stay near the Zion National Park entry. Though it was closed for a private event while we were there, the hotel also has a well-regarded restaurant in the Spotted Dog. They allowed us to leave our car in their parking lot for the day (even after checkout) so we could make use of the Springdale Shuttle to move in and out of the Park.
How to spend one day in Zion National Park
Whether you’re dodging the heat or the crowds, its best to begin first thing. Fuel up with breakfast and pick yourself up a packed lunch, so you don’t have to leave the Park during your precious one day to spend there.
We killed two birds with one stone at Café Soleil, close to Zion’s southern entry. There we picked up a fresh breakfast, decent coffee (we are Aussie Coffee Snobs after all) and sandwiches wrapped appropriately for hiking (they charge a few extra cents for this service).
If you aren’t using the Springdale Shuttle, find a parking spot at the Zion Visitor’s Center. If you didn’t get a current Park map, conditions and alerts on your way into the Park, pick one up at the Visitor’s Center and check that your planned hikes are all open and accessible before jumping on the Zion Canyon Shuttle.
One day hiking Zion National Park
We’re going to begin with one moderate to strenuous hike of your choice. We chose to take on the iconic Angel’s Landing Trail, but this is not suited to everyone. It’s a fabulous hike if you’re mildly fit and not sensitive to heights. It’s a great trail to feel like you’re seeing a lot of the Park because you experience panoramic, top-down views for much of the hike. Whichever hike you choose to begin with, take the shuttle bus straight to trailhead so you can get started ahead of other visitors.
Once you’ve completed your big hike for the day, hop back on the shuttle bus and take a cruise around the Park. If you see somewhere good for a picnic, stop for lunch.
Follow up your strenuous morning hike, with an easy tread down Riverside Walk and visit to the Temple of Sinawava. It’s a simple but highly trafficked trail with almost no elevation gain. The narrower canyon will provide shade and therefore a cooler place to hang out during the heat of the afternoon.
Finish up your day with the moderately-rated Canyon Overlook Trail. The viewpoint of Pine Creek and Lower Zion Canyons is a great place to finish your one day in Zion National Park. You’ll want to get there earlier than a typical sunset-watching spot, because the best light is right before the sun drops below the Canyon walls which cast shadows. That last light is the gorgeous warm glow that ignites the red rock cliffs. Check the shuttle timetable to make sure you don’t miss the last bus for the evening. You can drive up to the Canyon Overlook trailhead, however parking can be an issue, so use the shuttle where possible.
Treasure your one day in Zion National Park, it is a special place. If you have any comments or questions, please holler at us in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,