Last updated on June 20th, 2022
Zion National Park is a must-visit oasis on any road trip in the American southwest. With a one-day visit to the park, visitors can experience Zion Canyon’s top highlights and even embark on a hike or two. In this one day in Zion National Park itinerary, we’ll explore how to maximize your short visit.
Marvel at Zion’s star attraction from magnificent vistas on the canyon floor and above. Its reddish sandstone walls tower beyond 2,500 feet above the Virgin River, eroded to perfection by nature’s finest artists.
Zion is relatively compact compared to other national parks. It also offers many opportunities for every visitor type to enjoy the incredible natural beauty.
From the famous Zion Narrows to breathtaking Angel’s Landing, Zion offers plenty of ways to explore its beauty on foot, with easy trails on the canyon floor and challenging hikes to its rim.
Check out the Zion National Park travel guide collection for additional information, including multiple Zion itineraries, the best hikes, and top things to do. Then, leverage additional Southern Utah guides to create a memorable road trip in one of America’s prettiest corners.
Even if your visit is a day trip to Zion National Park, you’ll still need to spend the night nearby. Here are some of the most convenient options.
Inside the park: the Zion Lodge is the only accommodation inside Zion Canyon. Guests of the lodge can enter the canyon with a car, even when the free park shuttles are running.
Outside the park: the town of Springdale is on the doorstep of the national park. You’ll find here many options, but demand outpaces supply during busy months. Though prices are slightly higher than in other towns, the park’s free shuttle eliminates the need to pay for parking. Beyond Springdale, the best options are at La Verkin and Hurricane. Both towns are only about 30 minutes away from Zion Canyon.
Camping: the Watchman and South Campgrounds are Zion Canyon’s campsites. A third campsite is at distant Lava Point, less relevant on a one-day visit to Zion.
Find all of the places mentioned in this Zion itinerary on this companion map. Simply click on the image to open it in Google Maps.
Since you only have one day in Zion National Park, we’ll focus our sightseeing efforts on Zion Canyon, the park’s prime attraction.
We’ll spend the morning on our one day in Zion National Park, keeping busy while we wait for the sun to fully rise and paint the canyon walls, later beginning our journey from the last shuttle stop back to the visitor center.
Even during the hot summer months, mornings in Zion Canyon can be very chilly. Dress in layers and check the weather forecast before heading out.
If you’re an early riser, consider experiencing the sunrise in Zion Canyon. The most scenic option is the viewpoint at the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail, along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Inside the canyon, head to the Court of the Patriarchs if shuttle times allow.
You can still hike to Angel’s Landing even if you spend one day in Zion National Park. If you’re relatively fit, allot five hours for completing this challenging hike, and spend the rest of the day jumping from one scenic lookout to another using the shuttle. A detailed description of the Angel’s Landing hike and essential planning tips are available in the guide to the best hikes in Zion.
Get off the last shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinawava and look for the interesting rock formation that rises like a needle. This is the starting point for the Riverside Walk, an easy 2-mile (return) paved trail that follows the narrowing North Fork Virgin River.
This trail is still enjoyable despite walking in the shade, and you might even see deer hanging around the sandy riverbank. The path allows for a close-up view of the sandstone cliffs, and the water flowing to your left is a soothing sound to begin the day. You can ditch the trail and head to the river if you fancy.
When you reach the trail’s end, look to the sky and see the Mountain of Mystery in the background. Hikers dressed in special gear continue from this point to hike the Narrows, one of the park’s most popular trails.
From the end of the Riverside Walk, enter the ice-cold water of the Virgin River and hike upstream through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. With Angel’s Landing, hiking the Narrows is one of Zion’s top things to do. At times, thousand-foot walls are separated by just twenty feet, leaving hikers feeling like ants as they make slow progress in the water. You can hike for about an hour and turn around.
Special hiking gear is required to hike the narrows, including a wooden pole, protective clothing, and boots. Rent these items in one of the rental outfits at the park’s entrance. Consider if hiking the Narrows is worth it since you only have one day in Zion National Park, and you’ll need to carry the gear with you for the rest of the day.
From the Big Bend shuttle stop, check out the Organ, the Great White Throne, and Angel’s Landing in a single frame. This is a beautiful section of Zion Canyon where the river makes a semi-circle bend, though best appreciated from high above at Scout Lookout or Angel’s Landing. Be on the lookout for condors, often spotted patrolling the skies.
The next shuttle stop is at Weeping Rock if the trail is open. You can also walk along the bending river from the Big Bend stop and make the short hike to this unique spot, a moist depression in the soft canyon wall. A more impressive “sister” is on the Emerald Pools trail.
The Grotto is one of the busiest shuttle stops as it’s the starting point for several trails, including the Angel’s Landing hike, and it’s home to a large picnic area with facilities. Instead of continuing with the shuttle to the next stop, get off at the Grotto and walk on the Grotto Trail to Zion Lodge. This easy walk runs parallel to the main road, and it only takes about twenty minutes to complete.
You don’t have to be a guest of the Zion Lodge to enjoy this scenic spot. Together with the Grotto, the Zion Lodge shuttle stop is a popular spot for a picnic lunch. You can have a sit-down lunch at the Red Rock Grill or buy something at the cafeteria, though the queues can be long. Of course, you can also just find a spot on the grassy lawn and enjoy any food you bring.
We’ll spend the afternoon continuing our journey in Zion Canyon with a few hiking options and a very scenic detour to one of the finest vistas in the park.
Pick up the trail to the Emerald Pools from the Zion Lodge and discover Zion Canyon’s desert oasis. The moderate hike leads to three different pools, rewarding hikers on the way with close-up views of the reddish sandstone canyon walls.
The Lower Emerald Pool is a true oasis, a picturesque waterfall cascading from the canyon wall to a small pool. During the dry months of the year, the waterfall slows to a trickle, but it still flows constantly and makes for a pretty scene.
The more strenuous part of the hike is the final leg to the upper pool, so you can head back after the lower pool if you want. The Upper Emerald Pool reflects its surroundings like a perfectly polished mirror.
Get off at the next shuttle stop and cross the road to the prettiest viewpoint on the Zion Canyon floor. Named for three towering figures from the Old Testament, sandstone cliffs called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hold court over Birch Creek Canyon. All three peaks rise to nearly 7,000 feet in height.
The final part of the day involves getting back to the car and heading east on the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. You’ll need to purchase a vehicle pass with your entry ticket, which allows entering the canyon with your car even during shuttle season (but only to drive on this road).
As you twist and turn above the canyon floor, pull over in designated spots to enjoy views of Zion Canyon and the Great Arch, still not entirely detached from its “mothership”. The highlight of this scenic drive is crossing the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, an engineering marvel constructed in the 1920s. The one-lane tunnel was blasted through the sandstone and usually requires a bit of waiting for your turn to enter. However, if you’re making good time, continue for six miles beyond the tunnel’s exit to see the peculiar-looking Checkerboard Mesa.
The real reason for driving here is to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail, an action-packed mile-long trail (roundtrip). Starting from the eastern entrance to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, the trail weaves its way above a creek rich in pine and juniper trees. The eroded sandstone created many exciting highlights, such as arches, caves, and jagged pinnacles.
The trail ends 1,000 feet above the Zion Canyon floor at Canyon Overlook, with views of the scenic highway and some of Zion’s iconic peaks, such as the West Temple and the Sentinel.
If you want to make a quick exit, pick up the Watchman Trail next to the visitor center instead. This is a longer and more challenging option (and less rewarding, in my opinion). The trail quickly ascends via switchbacks, ending in a pretty lookout above the canyon floor.
If you’re staying outside the park in La Verkin or Hurricane, head to Lonny Boy’s Barbecue or the Stage Coach Grille for an authentic southwest dinner. The Stage Coach Grille also has a Springdale location.
Though some “tough” choices must be made, we covered most of the must-see highlights on this one day in Zion National Park itinerary. Check out the Zion National Park travel guide collection for more information about Zion, including longer Zion itineraries, essential planning tips, and descriptions of the best hikes. If you’re visiting other parks in Utah, more resources are available.
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