Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip: a large mountain in Zion

So You Want to do a Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip

Zion is one of the most popular National Parks. It’s definitely worth visiting, whether you have a day or a week. Exploring the slot canyons, Checkerboard Mesa, and Angels Landing are just some of the highlights of the park. Zion is one of my favorite parks – my husband and I love it so much, we got married there! Zion has so much to see and do, and some logistical hurdles, that a three-day visit makes the most sense. But if you only have one day, work with what you got! Here’s my personal insight on the best Las Vegas to Zion National Park day trip – go for the Narrows or for Kolob Canyon.

Zion Basics

Zion is the third most visited park of the 63 National Parks, netting over 4.6 million visitors in 2023, topped only by Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon. Here’s the thing: both Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon are much bigger than Zion. Smoky Mountains is 4 times the size of Zion, and Grand Canyon is 8 times as big! This means there are a LOT of people in a small area, so expect crowded conditions. 

Zion is a hiking paradise. Popular trails include:

  • Pa’rus, the only trail that allows bikes and dogs
  • Upper Emerald Pools
  • West Rim Trail
  • Angel’s Landing
  • Weeping Rock (currently closed)
  • Canyon Overlook Trail
The road leading in to Zion is a nice part of a Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip

The town of Springdale has a symbiotic relationship with the park. Shuttles connect the town to the park entrance, making entry for overnight guests easy. For day trippers, Springdale is the best place to gear up for the Narrows. Neither of the REIs in Las Vegas offer rental gear anymore, so Springdale is really your only gear source.  

Zion Canyon is in the desert, which means you should be ready for hot, dry conditions. Bring extra water – 1.5 to 2x what you usually carry. Wear sunscreen and lip balm, even in winter. It’s also at higher elevations – the lowest point in Zion is around 3,600 feet. If you’re coming from the coast, you may hike just a teensy bit slower. You’re not at risk for altitude sickness, though. 

Wild animals roam free in Zion. You can often see bighorn sheep on or near roadways at dawn and dusk, so be careful when driving into and out of the park. Wild turkeys also inhabit the park, but they stay closer to the river. You may see them near The Grotto.

Areas of the Park

Zion has three main areas:

  • The Scenic Drive/Zion Canyon
  • East Rim
  • Kolob Canyons

The majority of visitors focus on the Scenic Drive. Park highlights here include Scout’s Lookout/Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and the Narrows. To manage the amount of visitors in a very narrow space, the park closes the drive to private vehicles from March through November. They provide a free shuttle service instead. However, even with a lot of shuttles, be ready for long lines. You may still end up waiting for an hour just to board the bus. That really eats into your time on a one-day trip. Bikes are allowed on the Scenic Drive at all times, which makes that a very attractive solution. Both traditional and ebikes are available for rent  in Springdale.

The fall is a great time for a Las Vegas to Zion Road Trip

When to Visit

The most popular months for visitation are May through August. The least-visited months are January and February, where weather can be less predictable and schools are in full session. Visitation during peak season is 4 times low season, so timing can have a major impact on your visit. 

Timing isn’t just important for how crowded the park is. Weather also plays a massive role. Snow can close some trails in the Kolob Canyon area, and the Narrows is often closed in the spring when water flow rates are high due to melting snow. Heat in the summer won’t close trails, but it can severely impact your visit. Hiking in the heat means you’ll be going slower, with a greater risk for dehydration and heat-related illnesses.

With these issues together, the best time of year to go for a day trip to the Narrows is in the fall. October starts to see a dropoff in visitation, but snow hasn’t started yet, and flow rates in the Narrows should be slow, but the water temperature should be warm enough to go in standard gear. 

Going in December or January may allow you to drive your personal vehicle in the Scenic Drive, but you’ll want specialized gear for the cold water.

How to Get to Zion National Park From Las Vegas

Your Zion National Park road trip from the Las Vegas Strip or directly from Harry Reid International Airport is actually very straightforward. Get on the I-15 heading north and keep on it to St. George, UT. You’ll take exit 16 and follow Route 9 to Springdale, UT. That’s it! The drive takes about 2.5 hours and goes through the stunning Virgin River Gorge. You lose an hour entering Arizona, so calculate 3 hours. 

Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip Options

If you leave at 8 AM and have no traffic issues, you should arrive in Springdale around 11 AM. Hope for good luck in finding a parking spot at the visitor center. If that doesn’t work, you may have to park in Springdale and take the town shuttle to the visitor center. Here, you’ve got a bunch of options. Please respect any signage posted by the businesses.

Relaxed Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip Ideas

The easiest option is to visit the Human History Museum and watch the short film about the park and its history. This is great for folks with mobility issues.

The next option is to hike the Pa’rus Trail. This 3.5 mile trail is fully paved and open to wheelchairs, pets, strollers, and cyclists. The trail starts at the Visitor Center, so you completely avoid the shuttle system with this hike.

​Enjoy the Scenic Drive itself, either as a passenger on the shuttle bus, or by cycling the drive. This is also a fantastic option for anyone with mobility issues. The views from the bus are very good, and the views at each stop have their own charms as well.

Have a picnic on the lawn of the Zion Lodge, with its historic building and iconic tree. 

Hike Emerald Pools. There are three greenish pools nestled into the red sandstone cliffs on the west side of the Virgin River: Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools. To get to any of the pools, plan for a mile hike out at a moderate skill level. It’s a short hike from each pool to the next, and a mile back to the trailhead.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip to the Narrows

Many visitors have a specific image in mind when looking to visit Zion. And that image is of the Narrows, the stunning slot canyon that defines the park. The Narrows is a hike IN a river. Not along it, not next to it, but in it. The river has cut the sandstone on its sides into a deep canyon. This provides some breathtaking views, but it also means that the hiking is strenuous, since you’re walking in the water and against the current to boot. The great thing about the Narrows is that you can turn around at any point. There’s even a cap of how far you can go upstream – Big Spring, which is less than 5 miles in. 

From the visitor center, hop on a shuttle or grab your bike. Take it to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. That takes about 45 minutes, so you’re at the trailhead around noon. 

The Riverside Walk, the paved trail that gets you access to the Narrows, is about 2.2 miles long, so at a pace of 20 minutes per mile, that’s 45 minutes to get to the Virgin River. 

Then you’ve got 5 hours to enjoy the Narrows. You have to get back to the bus stop before 7:15 PM, when the last bus leaves. I’d plan for 2 hours out, 3 hours back, as you’ll get tired hiking through the rushing water.

These times are based on a fall or winter trip. Doing this in the spring or summer will shorten your time in the river significantly. Since there’s no end point you have to reach to say you’ve hiked the Narrows, even a short 1-hour hike can scratch that itch. Just don’t expect the most dramatic photos. The spot where the Riverside Walk meets the Virgin River is wide, so you’ll have to be really good with a camera to get the scale of the place.

Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip to Angel’s Landing

The other most popular hike in Zion is Angel’s Landing. This dramatic 5+ mile hike climbs almost 1,500 feet to a spot that overlooks the canyon floor. The hike goes through a few phases – a mostly flat section next to the river, the famous Walter’s Wiggles, built as a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s, and “the chains,” 90% of the hike is accessible to all without any kind of permit. That portion of the hike is called Scout Lookout, and it is already impressive. 

After Scout Lookout, the trail is very narrow and rocky, with steep dropoffs on either side. Chains were installed during the CCC project to aid hikers in accessing the flat section that is now called Angel’s Landing. That last section is now accessed by permit only, with a limited number of permits given each day. Permits fall into two timeframes: before 9 AM and after 9 AM. If you have a permit for before 9 AM, it’s best to overnight in Springdale to ensure that you hit your permit window. Even for post-9 AM permits, I’d still recommend staying overnight before your permit date to ensure that you have the best chance of completing your hike.  

5 miles doesn’t sound like that long of a hike. And often, it does go pretty quickly. The Wiggles take forever, but coming back down goes really fast. However, this is arguably the busiest trail in the entire park. With the number of hikers on the trail, you won’t be going at your preferred pace. While you can probably still get it done in the afternoon and before dark, I still don’t recommend doing Angel’s Landing or Scout’s Lookout as a Zion day trip.

The view from Angel's Landing is stunning, but not the best choice for a Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip

If you absolutely must do Angel’s Landing as a day trip, leave Las Vegas as early as possible. 5 AM isn’t too early, getting you to the park around 8, and getting you to the trailhead around 8:30. Note that these times are for a fall or winter visit. Attempting to do Angels Landing/Scout Lookout in the spring and summer will NOT work as a day trip. Lines for everything increase substantially, from parking in town to boarding a shuttle to the line of folks hiking. 

Enjoy Your Las Vegas to Zion National Park Day Trip

The key to enjoying your day trip is to set your expectations correctly. Expect delays, lots of people, and waits. Keep in mind that you will not see everything. If you focus on getting an overview of the park, you’ll have a great time at Zion.

If you’ve realized that a day trip to Zion isn’t right for you, there are a ton of alternatives! Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park are great day trips from the Strip, with a maximum hour drive time. If you still want to see a National Park in a day, then check out our Las Vegas to Death Valley day trip plan! 

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