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.
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.
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
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:
- Limited parking. The park’s parking lots fill up quickly, making it challenging for visitors to find a spot to park.
- 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.
- Environmental impact. The high number of visitors to the park can lead to damage to the environment, wildlife, and natural resources.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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
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 that 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
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!
- Check out 9 Things We Love To Do NEAR Zion National Park.
- Don’t miss Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Only about 30 minutes from the east entrance to Zion.
Marketing and Social Media
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
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.
- Learn more about how to use the shuttle system and what to expect at each shuttle stop.
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.
- Find out Do I need a reservation to visit Zion?
- Don’t miss Zion National Park – Where To Camp, Glamp, Or Boondock.
Visit During Less Busy Times
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
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)
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)
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)
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.
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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.
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
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?
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?
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!
- Zion National Park Itinerary
- Zion National Park Trip Planner Page
- Is Kanab, Utah Worth Visiting?
- How To Hike Angels Landing In Zion
- Kolob Canyons In Zion National Park
- How To Use The Zion Shuttle System
- What To Expect At Each Shuttle Stop In Zion Canyon
- Do I Need A Reservation To Visit Zion?
- 9 Things We Love To Do NEAR Zion National Park
- How To Do The Confusing Emerald Pools Hike In Zion National Park
- Riverside Walk & The Narrows In Zion National Park
- Zion National Park – Where To Camp, Glamp, Or Boondock
- Can You Drive In Zion? (What You Need To Know)
- Is Coral Pink Sand Dunes Worth Visiting? (Things To Do)
- Zion National Park Website
- Zion Shuttle System Website
- Bryce Canyon National Park Website