The Best Way to Spend One Day in Zion National Park

zion national park hikes canyon
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Zion is one of the most popular parks in Utah due to its unique landscape and endless hiking options. The park is one of five in the state, and many people like to make a road trip out of it. That means you may only have time for one day in Zion National Park during your visit.

However, you can easily do Zion National Park in one day if you want to see a little bit of what it has to offer. I only had a few days when I went there the first time and thanks to planning ahead, I was able to see everything I wanted to.

This guide gives you tips on what to know before visiting Zion in one day and a sample itinerary you can follow to make the most of your trip there!

Tips for Spending One Day in Zion

I always like to research my trips in advance before I go, so I saved you time by looking up the most common questions when planning a Zion National Park 1 day itinerary.

Zion National Park Entrance Fees

The cost of a day pass to Zion is $35 for cars, and this will be good for up to 7 days should you choose to extend your trip. You will need to buy this when you go through the entrance booth to get into the park and will display your pass on your dashboard.

However, if you plan on visiting any other national parks for the year, I highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass. This will get you into all the parks as much as you want for only $80 per year. You can buy this in advance online or once you get to the park.

How to Use the Shuttle

zion shuttle map

One of the most important parts to know before going on a Zion National Park day trip is that you’ll likely need to depend on the park shuttle to get around. You can’t drive on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive when the shuttle is in service, which starts daily operations on March 13, 2021, and goes until the fall.

The shuttle operates on timed tickets, so you can find out more and buy yours online in advance. Tickets cost $1, and you will need to buy a new ticket each day you’re in the park. You will get an hour increment on your ticket, meaning if you have a 9 am ticket you can board the shuttle at the visitor’s center anytime between 9 am and 10 am.

There are nine stops on the shuttle so you’ll want to research in advance which ones you need to stop at based on which hikes you want to do or sights you want to see during your one day in Zion National Park.

Where to Stay in Zion

You may find it more convenient to book accommodation for the night so you can make the most of your Zion National Park 1 day tour. I have a whole post on where to stay in Zion if you want to compare various options, but here are some places I recommend:

  • Zion National Park Lodge – Although this is a bit pricy, it’s the only hotel that’s in the park, which is very convenient when you only have 1 day in Zion National Park (rates start at $199 per night).
  • Driftwood Lodge – This Springdale lodge is close to the shuttle that comes in town so you can leave your car at the hotel, and you can walk to the Virgin River nearby. (rates start at $109 per night)

One Day in Zion National Park Itinerary

This Zion National Park itinerary is organized in a way that you can stay in the same general area most of the time to make the most of your one day trip in Zion National Park.

Morning: Catch the Sunrise

zion national park sunrise

Sunrise at the park may have been my favorite part, so I highly recommend getting up early to get here before the sun comes up. While you may be tired, you’ll want to add this to your list when looking for what to see in Zion National Park in one day.

Keep in mind that you should get to your spot at least 30 minutes before the predicted sunrise time, as the light will continue to change in that time period and produce beautiful pictures.

One of the best places to see the sunrise is behind the Zion Human History Center, which you can drive your car to at this time. You’ll be able to see the sun cast a beautiful red-orange glow on the Towers of the Virgin from this spot.

Another good option to watch the sunrise at is Canyon Overlook, which you can also take your car to. Similar to the other spot, get here early, as you’ll likely be surrounded by photographers.

After this, you can grab coffee and breakfast (I recommend Deep Creek Coffee in Springdale) and then head to the visitor’s center. They open at 8 am so I would check in with them to see if there are any trail closures you need to be aware of and then head to the shuttle.

Mid-Morning: Hike Around the Park

easy hikes in zion national park

You’ll want to get an early start on hiking for your Zion one day itinerary, preferably as soon as you’re done with sunrise and have breakfast. Hiking in Zion is one of the most popular activities, so getting a head start before the trails get crowded is smart. The temperatures can also soar during the summer with little shade around, so hiking in the morning is the way to go.

If you’re looking for easy hikes in Zion, I have a whole post on it to choose from. However, here are some popular hikes that are a bit more challenging that you might be interested in during your Zion day trip.

  • Angel’s Landing – This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so you’ll need to start early on this. While it’s only 5.0 miles roundtrip, you can’t be scared of heights on this, as you’ll need to scale some steep parts with only a chain to hold onto while going up.
  • The Narrows – This unique hike has you walking through a canyon with walls that are up to 1,000 feet tall and only 20 feet wide in certain parts. You’ll also need to walk through the Virgin River, so prepare to get wet. Check the park website for updates on this, as flash floods can happen during certain weather here. The entire hike is 16 miles long, but many people choose to do just a portion of it.
  • The Subway – This is a beautiful slot canyon hike that you will need a day permit for. While I think it’s one of the more beautiful hikes in the park, you’ll need to be able to scramble over boulders and cross creeks. This is nine miles roundtrip but strenuous, so this will take up a large portion of your day should you choose to do this hike.

The weather gets hot and dry here, particularly as you get closer to the summer months. That means you’ll want to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself.

If you’re not interested in hiking during your one day in Zion National Park, you can spend the morning getting off at each stop. They all have different features, and some have bathrooms too, which you’ll find marked on the map. You may enjoy hiking part of the way on some trails to see what they look like.

Noon: Lunch Break

one day in zion brewing

Zion Brewery is the perfect place to stop for lunch in the middle of your Zion National Park one day trip. I fueled up with a hearty burger and a pint of their Pilsner while enjoying some rest in the shade.

The Brew Pub section is family-friendly, and they have both outdoor and indoor seating available. You can also sit indoors at the 21-and-over tavern. It’s important to note that the BAC in Utah was lowered to 0.5%, and they have rules of how much they can serve you, so you may only be able to have one beer.

Tip – don’t drive here because you will lose your spot in the parking lot, which is extremely rare at this time in the day. There’s actually a bridge that you can use to walk from the visitor’s center to the brewery so you can keep your car in the same place.

Alternatively, you can eat lunch at Zion Lodge during your day trip to Zion National Park if you want to stay in the park. They have a cafe as well as a fine-dining restaurant to choose from.

Afternoon: Visit a Museum and Take a Stroll

riverside walk zion

Enjoy some easy activities during the hot afternoon during your one day in Zion National Park.

Zion Human History Museum

When looking for what to do in Zion National Park in one day, you’ll want to add Zion Human History Museum to your list. Admission is included in the price of your entrance fee. This is the perfect place to spend the hottest part of the day while learning about the history of the area.

You can learn about pioneers settling in the area, American Indian culture, and how Zion became to be a national park. They also show a short half-hour video of the park, which I recommend watching if you have the time. I find I always appreciate the areas I’m visiting more when I know the history behind them.

Riverside Walk

If you still have time on your Zion National Park one day itinerary, I recommend taking a stroll along the Virgin River. The Riverside Walk is flat and wheelchair-accessible, so any level can enjoy it.

There are also trees along the way so you’ll have some shade from the afternoon sun. The trail is only 2.0 miles roundtrip, so you can do this as fast or slow as you want.

Evening: Enjoy Sunset and Stargazing

one day in zion sunset

Dinner in Springdale

When you’re done exploring the park for the day, head back to the visitor’s center and drive your car down to Springdale. Depending on the season you’re there, it may be a bit of a wait since this is the closest town to the park.

A few places to check out when visiting Zion National Park in 1 day include:

  • Zion Pizza and Noodle Co – An old Mormon church converted into a pizza restaurant
  • Thai Sapa – A restaurant with Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine available
  • Spotted Dog Cafe – A good place for salads, sandwiches, and pasta

Sunset

Once you’re done with dinner, it’s time for one of the best activities – sunset in the park. Zion is one of the best US national parks for stunning sunsets, as you can get up high for an amazing view.

I loved being at Timber Creek Overlook Trail during the sunset, as it’s an easy walk out to the outlook. This is in the north end of the park, so you’ll have to drive around the west part of it and go up to the Kolob Canyon area. The drive will take you about an hour from Springdale, so take this into account when planning your one day in Zion.

Another option for watching the sunset in the park is Canyon Junction Bridge. This is about a 1.5-mile walk back to the visitor’s center, which you’ll need to do since shuttle service will be over by this time. Just make sure to bring your flashlights or headlamps and you can follow the trail along the river.

Stargazing

The fun isn’t over just because the sun goes down in this park. Zion has amazing stargazing due to the lack of light pollution, so I encourage you to take advantage of it if you’re up for it. It’s one of the best national parks for stargazing, so pack some warm clothes to stay out at night.

If you’ve already gone to Kolob Canyon to watch the sunset, just wait a bit for it to get dark out. I did my stargazing here and loved how clear the skies were at night. The area isn’t as crowded as others, so you’ll have more space to yourself during your one day itinerary for Zion National Park.

You’ll love spending one day in Zion National Park no matter what you end up seeing on your trip.

The Best Way to Spend One Day in Zion National ParkThe Best Way to Spend One Day in Zion National ParkThe Best Way to Spend One Day in Zion National ParkThe Best Way to Spend One Day in Zion National Park

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