While both located within Utah, Salt Lake City and Zion National Park are on opposite ends of the state.
They are just over 300 miles apart, which on a good day equals out to about 4.5 hours of driving… one way. All except for about 20 miles of the trip between the two will be on Interstate 15, which runs North and South in the middle of the state.
4.5 hours one way, or 9 hours for a round trip, makes SLC to Zion a difficult day trip, but not impossible.
While Salt Lake City is the largest city in Utah, it’s obviously not the only place someone could be looking to make a day trip to Zion National Park from. We recently created a one-day itinerary for Zion, which has you coming from Las Vegas, but honestly, the day we put together for you really would work for anyone looking to spend most of their one day in Zion.
Zion is one of my favorite places in the world, so if you have the opportunity, you absolutely should spend more than one day exploring everything Zion has to offer.
Quick Things to See & Do in Zion
If you are making a quick day trip to see Zion, and only have a few hours to spend in this remarkable place, you’ll need to make the most of your time here. These few highlights are the must-see places inside Zion NP:
- Zion-Mount Carmel Highway – This 10-mile scenic drive along Highway 9 between the East Entrance Station and Springdale. You’ll automatically use this twisting mountain road if coming in from the north or east. The route features 2 tunnels (a first smaller tunnel, then the longer 1.1-mile Mt. Carmel Tunnel), followed by a series of six switchbacks while descending 800 feet to the canyon’s floor. Built in the late 1920s, the highway features plenty of overlooks, scenic views. However, since it was built for the smaller vehicles of the early twentieth century, larger trucks and RVs will need to veer into oncoming traffic to get through. Don’t worry, though… park rangers are there to help with traffic issues such as these.
- The Riverside Walk – Hiking this easy (2 mile round trip) paved pathway will require you to hop aboard the park’s free shuttle buses. You may need to wait 30 minutes or more to find a parking spot at the visitor’s center, then get in line for the shuttle. Ride it to the very last stop #9, Temple of Sinawava. The Temple of Sinawava stop puts you right at the entrance to the Riverside Walk, my favorite of the easy trails inside the park. I would suggest walking to the end of that paved trail and back, which should take over an hour.
- After finishing the Riverside Walk, ride the shuttle back to the visitor’s center, stopping at various other stops along the way if you have time. A few good stops to see when you’re short on time would be the Court of the Patriarchs (shuttle stop #4) and The Grotto picnic and trail area (stop #6).
Unfortunately, most of the highly publicized attractions inside Zion won’t be available to any short-day traveler into the park. The Narrows and Angel’s Landing are two amazing hikes inside Zion, but they alone will take a full day, and in the case of Angel’s Landing, you need to enter a lottery system to even receive access.
When Can You Visit Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is open year-round, but there are some seasonal restrictions that you need to be aware of before visiting.
First, during the most of the year, to help curb traffic inside the canyon, public vehicles are not allowed inside the park. The only way to get around is via the park’s own shuttle service, which operates over 90% of the year. Typically, the shuttles run from March through November, weekends in February and March, and the last week in December. So more often than not, you will need to rely on the shuttle service to get around the park.
Second, during the winter months when snow is common, certain roads and trails may be temporarily closed. While snow is a frequent visitor in the winter, only the high backcountry is seriously affected, sparing the roads and low-lying trails. The park’s higher elevations get around 13 feet in a typical year.
Our data and research shows the best month to visit Zion National Park is April. It has mild temperatures (60s and 70s during the day) and has not yet reached peak visitation numbers yet (it’s the 7th-most visited month).