Zion National Park is a destination bursting with natural beauty – and we’re not the only ones who think so. Located in Utah, Zion National Park is the second-most visited U.S. National Park, only after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 2021 alone, Zion National Park welcomed over 5 million people! While a few days in Zion National would be ideal, we get it. Sometimes a day trip is all you have time for. Maybe you’re taking a day trip from a nearby town, or perhaps you’re on a longer Utah road trip. Either way, we’ve included as many of Zion’s most beloved attractions as possible in this jam-packed itinerary for one day in Zion National Park.
As always, this itinerary is just a structured suggestion of what you can do during one day in Zion National Park. Feel free to adjust this guide to fit your preferences, whether that means taking activities out, putting some in, or switching up the order.
*Pro Tip: Like all national parks in the United States, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to visit Zion National Park. If you plan on visiting a few different national parks during your trip, you may want to consider buying the America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass instead.
Catch the Sunrise from the Canyon Overlook Trail
If you only have one day in Zion National Park, you’ll want to get an early start to squeeze in as much fun as possible. Wake up before the sun to catch the sunrise from the Canyon Overlook Trail. Luckily, this trail is just 1.6 kilometres roundtrip, so it’s a short, yet sweet way to get your blood-pumping. And when you reach the overlook, you’ll get to see the Zion Canyon in its glorious, fiery red beauty.
After you’ve got your fill of the red rocks, you can hike back and head to your next destination. Where that will be, however, is up to you. As you may already know, Zion National Park is known for its hikes – and shockingly, its lengthy, strenuous ones are the most popular. So if you’re an adventurous hiker skip the next stop on this itinerary, and instead jump to the third one titled, “Go on a Hike.” But if you’d like to leave day hikes off your list, continue on to stop two below.
Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway
If you want to see a big chunk of Zion National Park without expending a whole lot of energy, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Drive is perfect for you. This approximately 42-kilometre drive takes you past towering red rocks, around flourishing wildflowers, beside bighorn sheep, and even through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. (*Note: Depending on the size of your vehicle – say if you have an RV or campervan – you may need a permit to drive through this tunnel.)
Like most scenic drives, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is filled with beautiful stops. The eye-catching Checkerboard Mesa, the picture-perfect Canyon Junction Bridge, the interesting Zion Human History Museum, and the informative Zion National Park Visitor Center all deserve a quick visit. But these are definitely not the only spots that are worth your time. If a pullout or sign catches your eye, drive on in and see what fun awaits!
Go on a Hike
Like we mentioned earlier, hiking is by far the most popular thing to do in Zion National Park. It’s not really a question of if you’ll hike during your visit to the park, but rather just how far you’ll go. Luckily, the trails in Zion National Park have a range of difficulty levels for you to choose from – from blood-pumping day hikes to kid-friendly strolls. We have a full guide to the best hikes in Zion, but here’s a quick overview of some great options:
If you chose to skip the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway drive in favour of a more adventurous hike, you’ve got a couple of different options to choose from.
First up, there’s The Narrows. This unique trail will take you along – and occasionally, through – the Virgin River, which flows through this famous slot canyon. There are two ways to do this hike – from the bottom-up or the top-down.
The bottom-up option is the most popular option of the two. At 16 kilometres long, it gives you plenty of time to admire the flowing river and the towering canyon walls – including the famous section known as Wall Street. Then, there’s the 25.7 kilometre top-down experience, which is quite a bit longer and requires a permit. Regardless of which route you choose to take, The Narrows is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular hikes in Zion National Park.
If The Narrows doesn’t sound like it’s for you but you’d still like to tackle a longer, more difficult hike, check out Angel’s Landing. Nearly as popular as The Narrows, Angel’s Landing is a 8.7-kilometre hike (roundtrip) with a whopping 457 metres of elevation gain – so even with its moderate length, this trail is definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for the challenge (and you’ve got your necessary permit), you’ll get rewarded with a stunning red rock landscape from the peak.
Easy to Moderate Hikes
If you are just looking for an easy to moderate hike to fill your afternoon, there are a few options that you can choose from during your one day in Zion National Park.
The Watchman, also known as The Watchman Overlook Trail, is just 4.3 kilometres roundtrip, and it’s packed with things to see. Following the Virgin River, this trail is known for its incredible mountain views, including of the Bridge Mountain and The Watchman.
Then, there’s the Pa’rus Trail, which is surprisingly accessible. At 5.6 kilometres roundtrip, this paved path is perfect for everyone, including wheelchair users, bikers, families with small children, and more. This path also follows the Virgin River and features beautiful views of mountains like Bridge Mountain, The Watchman, and the West Temple.
If you still have time and energy at the end of your one day in Zion National Park, you can enjoy some epic stargazing opportunities. While Zion Canyon typically has a bit too much light pollution, Kolob Canyon – the lesser-known part of Zion National Park – is where it’s at! All you have to do is drive up to one of the many pull outs, turn off your car’s lights, and gaze up at the hundreds of stars dotting the night sky.
And there you have it! Your guide to spending one day in Zion National Park. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments! We hope you use this guide to customise your own epic one day Zion National Park itinerary. Enjoy!