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Is Zion Too Crowded? What Every Traveler Needs to Know

mom and daughter at Zion canyon overlook

Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, known for its towering Zion Canyon and famous hiking trails. However, with its growing popularity comes an increasingly crowded experience for visitors.

It has many people wondering: Is Zion National Park too crowded?

For us, Zion is not too crowded. We have visited Zion nearly every year for over 20 years, and although it receives more visitors than ever before, we still enjoy our visits to the main canyon, thanks to the shuttle. We have also found other places in the park where few people go.

If this is a concern of yours, keep on reading because I’ll break down Zion’s “overcrowding” situation for you.

What every Zion Visitor Needs to Know About Crowds

Zion’s Increase in Visitors

In recent years, Zion National Park has seen a significant increase in visitor numbers. In 2021, the park received over 5 million visitors, up from just 2.6 million visitors a decade earlier, making it the second most visited national park that year.

people walking in stream in zion narrows

Impact of the Pandemic on Visitor Numbers

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on visitor numbers to Zion National Park. At first, it reduced visitors because the park shut down.

But when it opened up again, tourists flocked to the park, along with our other national parks.

Challenges of Managing Crowds at the Park

Chart showing numbers of visitors and employees in Zion National Park
via NPS

At the same time, there has actually been a reduction in park staff! This increase in visitors has put a strain on the park’s infrastructure and resources.

Managing crowds at Zion National Park is a significant challenge for park officials. Some of the challenges that come with managing crowds at the park include:

  1. Limited parking. The park’s parking lots fill up quickly, making it challenging for visitors to find a spot to park.
  2. Hiking trails. Popular hiking trails like Angels Landing and The Narrows can become overcrowded, leading to safety concerns and damage to the trails and surrounding environment.
  3. Environmental impact. The high number of visitors to the park can lead to damage to the environment, wildlife, and natural resources.
  4. Vandalism. With fewer rangers to monitor visitors, Zion has seen an increase in people vandalizing the park, such as spray painting graffiti on the red rock.
  5. Tunnel wait times. The Zion Tunnel increasingly takes longer to get through due to an increase in RVs navigating the tunnel. The tunnel must be shut down to allow RVs through because they have to drive in the middle of the road to get through it.
Zion road with cars backed up

Coordination with Springdale, Utah

Zion National Park could not manage the crowds without the help of its neighboring town, Springdale, Utah. Every summer, this charming and sleepy town gets overrun by tourists.

Zion National Park and Springdale, Utah have a close working relationship to manage the large volume of visitors to the park. Springdale is the gateway community to Zion and serves as the main point of entry for most visitors. The town provides various services, including lodging, restaurants, and shops, making it a crucial partner for the park in managing visitors.

Zion shuttles with mountain behind

The Shuttle System: A Double-Edged Sword

To help manage the flow of visitors, the park and Springdale have implemented several measures. One of the most significant steps taken was the creation of a shuttle system in 2000, which transports visitors from the town to the park and throughout the park’s main canyon. The shuttle system has significantly reduced traffic congestion within the park and helped to improve the visitor experience.

At the same time, the shuttle most likely led to a dramatic increase in visitors. Without the shuttle, the park experience would have been either impossible or so unpleasant that tourists would have naturally stayed away. Or, the park would have implemented a vehicle reservation system similar to Arches or Glacier National Parks.

But since the shuttle can transport so many visitors, they just keep on coming.

Reasons for Zion’s Popularity

So what makes this park so popular?

Because It’s Awesome

waterfall in Zion

One of the primary reasons for Zion’s popularity is it’s incredibly awesome! It’s the most beautiful place that I’ve ever seen.

The park is home to vivid red rock formations, towering cliffs, deep canyons, and a variety of plant and animal life (rarely discussed, but it’s quite enjoyable to see turkeys, condors, and bighorn sheep throughout the park).

The park’s main attractions, including Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Emerald Pools, offer breathtaking views and incredible hiking experiences that draw people from all over the world.

Proximity to Airports and Roads

View of the strip in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is only 2.5 hours away

Zion is easily accessed from two international airports: Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

Las Vegas is easy and cheap to fly into, and the park is located within a few hours’ drive of Las Vegas, which makes it a common day trip for the many people who visit or live in Las Vegas.

Some people fly into Salt Lake City and drive 4 hours to get to Zion.

It’s also common to fly into one of these airports, visit Utah’s five national parks, and fly home from the other airport.

It’s also not far off the I-15 freeway, the main freeway that runs north and south along the western side of the Rockies. We’ve seen many people purchase our Zion and Yellowstone guides because they figure they might as well take the one-day detour to Zion on their way up to Yellowstone.

Proximity to Other Tourist Destinations

Picture of hoodoos in Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon is only 2 hours away

There are endless things to see and do in the area surrounding Zion. Although Springdale is considered the “gateway town,” there are two more popular cities nearby.

St. George, Utah, is one of the best places in the world for a family getaway, with golfing, hiking, theater, ATVing, boating, and four nearby state parks to explore. Kanab, Utah, is central to Zion, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and Page, Arizona. Both of these cities are a Mecca for hikers and people who love exploring the outdoors.

Bryce Canyon is another stunning national park with unforgettable views. Many people rank it higher than Zion.

And don’t forget about Las Vegas, Page, and the Grand Canyon. It never ends!

Marketing and Social Media

woman hiking through capitol reef
Capitol Reef joins Zion as part of Utah’s “Mighty Five”

Another reason it’s taken off is the state of Utah’s “Mighty Five” campaign, aimed at getting tourists to the state by visiting all five of the state’s national parks: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

This has worked well…maybe too well. I believe recently they’ve decided to back off the advertising for a while.

Social media, in general, has made all tourism spike. We can now see places before we visit them and get that good old FOMO from seeing other visitors post their experiences online. We also get the benefit of having better access to helpful information than ever before.

The Young and the Old

Ladies hiking the Narrows in Zion
Some friends we met in the Narrows!

Zion is also experiencing growth because it attracts a large variety of visitors.

Thankfully, younger people, now more than ever, are into hiking and the outdoors. More than any other park we’ve visited, we see young people at Zion National Park.

But it’s not just for young people. Baby boomers, in my opinion, are contributing the most to the general increase in national park visitorship, and Zion is no exception. The boomers are the largest travel generation in the history of the world, and they are probably also the healthiest.

How to Deal with Crowds at Zion National Park

Don’t let all this talk of Zion’s popularity scare you off. Here are a few things you need to know to deal with the crowds at Zion.

Know How to Use the Shuttle Systems

The park has two shuttle systems: the Zion Canyon Shuttle and the Springdale Shuttle. The Springdale Shuttle system gets you TO the park, and the Zion Shuttle system gets you around IN the park.

From March to November, you must use the shuttle systems to visit Zion Canyon, the main canyon in the park.

people getting on Zion shuttle

Confused about How to Ride the Zion Shuttles?
Download our FREE pdf

Guide includes the Springville Shuttle, Zion Canyon Shuttle, What to Do at Each Stop, Handy Tips + Maps

You need a reservation to hike to Angels Landing

Get Necessary Reservations

Another way to avoid crowds at Zion National Park is to make necessary reservations in advance.

This includes making reservations for the park’s campgrounds, as well as any popular activities like the Angels Landing hike, or for you hardcore types, the Subway hike.

And if you’re in an RV, don’t forget about reservations for the Zion Tunnel.

Visit During Less Busy Times

red rock peak covered in snow
Zion is gorgeous in the winter!

Visiting Zion National Park during less busy times is another effective way to avoid crowds.

I’ll cover more about this below.

Explore Lesser-Known Areas of the Park

Finally, exploring lesser-known areas of the park can still be a great experience while avoiding crowds.

Some lesser-known areas of the park include the Kolob Canyons section and the East Zion area. These areas offer great views and hiking opportunities without the crowds that can be found in the main areas of the park. Our Zion Itinerary will get you to these places.

When to Visit Zion National Park

Zion red cliffs and stream
Zion in August

We actually love visiting any time of year, and we’ve visited at the most crowded and least crowded times. Here are a few times to consider visiting:

Spring (March to May)

Zion canyon with river

Spring is a great time to visit Zion National Park, with its mild temperatures. The park can still be busy during spring break, but crowds are generally smaller than during the summer months.

One drawback is that the cottonwood trees might not be in bloom yet, so it’s not as colorful as in the summer or fall. The colors are one of the things that make Zion so special: those green cottonwood trees contrasted with the red walls.

Fall (September to November)

View of people enjoying Zion in October
Zion in October

Fall is another great time to visit Zion National Park with cooler temperatures and awesome autumn foliage. Crowds also tend to be smaller during the fall, as many visitors have returned to work and school.

This is when the trees are turning yellow, which is better than in the spring when they haven’t bloomed yet. But they still aren’t as nice as during the summer, when they are green.

Winter (December to February)

Snow on trees and mountains in Zion

Winter is a quieter time to visit Zion National Park with fewer visitors and the opportunity to see the park covered in snow. However, some areas of the park may be closed or inaccessible due to snow and ice.

The shuttles do not operate during most of the winter, so you can drive your vehicle into the park. Note that parking lots in Zion Canyon will fill up.

Winter is a gorgeous time to visit, with white snow lying on the red rock walls. But I still think the summer is prettier.

Avoid Spring, Fall, or Christmas Breaks

Unlike a lot of Western national parks, Zion’s visitation patterns are directly affected by families with school-age children.

Most of Utah’s population lives in the north, around Salt Lake City. And Utah is known for having large families that do more affordable trips, such as road trips.

Since the weather in Southern Utah is warmer, Utahns flock south during the spring and fall school breaks. Search the internet for when these are, and try to avoid visiting during those times.

NOTE: As locals who have kids, we often visit during these times, and we still love it.

Weekdays

If possible, consider visiting Zion National Park on a weekday rather than on a weekend. The park can be much busier on weekends, especially during the peak season.

Early Morning or Late Afternoon

People looking at the views in Zion in the afternoon sun
Zion in the afternoon

We have found, in general, national parks are busiest between 9 am and 4 pm.

Zion, however, tends to be busier earlier than most parks – some people will arrive at 6 am to get a parking spot at the visitor center (although this is unnecessary, and something I cover in my Zion Itinerary).

But don’t forget about the afternoons. Usually, the park starts to clear out around 3 or 4 pm. The biggest drawback with visiting Zion around this time is that in the summer, it’s really hot.

How Early Does Zion Fill Up?

people in line for Zion shuttle

Zion National Park has one main parking lot near the main entrance to the park. It usually fills up between 7:00 and 8:30 am. However, there is a lot of parking available in Springdale. Some of the parking is within walking distance of the park, and for the rest, you can take the free Springdale Shuttle.

Is Zion Still Worth It Without Doing Angels Landing?

Because Zion has become so popular, the park has implemented a reservation system to do the Angels Landing hike. It’s possible that you won’t be able to obtain a reservation for this hike. If you can’t do Angels Landing, is Zion still worth it?

Absolutely! While Angels Landing is a popular and iconic hike at Zion National Park, there are still plenty of other amazing sights to see in the park. We rarely hike Angels Landing when we visit, and yet we visit every year.

Is Bryce Canyon as Busy as Zion?

No, not even close! With half the visitors of Zion, it’s not nearly as crowded.

Many people visit nearby Bryce Canyon in conjunction with Zion, something we highly recommend.

Bryce Canyon does have a shuttle service, and it ranks 15th in visitorship among the national parks, but it is an entirely different visitor experience from Zion.

Is Zion National Park Too Crowded?

man and woman standing in zion

No, it isn’t. The popularity of Zion has not decreased our love or enjoyment of this special place. The shuttle makes it an enjoyable experience, and it’s fun to see other tourists excited about the park. Besides, it’s very easy to get away from the crowds just by leaving the main canyon and enjoying other beautiful areas the park has to offer.

Our Guide Will Show You How

Zion National Park is crowded with visitors! Planning and navigating a trip to Zion National Park can be frustrating because of its popularity. The crowds and shuttle system can be confusing to navigate.

Lucky for you, we have you covered. Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still, avoid crowds (as much as possible). We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving with over 2-hours of stories about the park!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO
ZION

ZION TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Zion National Park, check out our  Zion Homepage

THINGS TO DO: Don’t miss all that Zion has to offer including Emerald Pools, Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and Kolob Canyons

WHERE TO EAT: Check out the best places to eat in and near Zion National Park

GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Learn where to stay or camp when visiting Zion and explore some amazing cities nearby including St. George, Kanab, and Cedar City

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out if you need a reservation and how to use the shuttle system as well as if you can drive in Zion, which entrance to use, and how to avoid crowds

WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Zion National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Zion YouTube Playlist

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