One Day in Zion National Park – The Best Things to See in a 1 Day Itinerary

by The Belle Voyage

Planning a one day trip to Zion National Park?  Or are you taking a day trip to Zion? Zion National Park is a true gem, and there are so many beautiful sights and things to see, that it can be hard to figure out the best sights for a 1 day itinerary.  If you’re wondering what to do in Zion National Park in one day, this guide has everything you need to plan the perfect one day trip.

river in a narrow red canyon

Important things to know before taking a 1 Day Trip to Zion National Park

While you’re deciding how to spend your day in Zion, there are a few very important things to know so that you can maximize how you spend your day at the park.  Here are a few key tips that will make your trip to Zion go as smoothly as possible, especially if you only have a short time in the park.

If you plan on doing some hiking while you’re in the park, check out these 5 easy hikes in Zion.  And if you have more time in Zion, I absolutely recommend hiking the Narrows!  Here’s everything you need to know in terms of hiking the Narrows for beginners.

For more tips, check out my guide to planning at trip to Zion.  It’s got the scoop on everything I did wrong during my first visit to Zion, and exactly what you can do instead. And if you need help packing for your trip, I’ve got you covered with this packing guide for Zion.

Check the Official Zion National Park website for current info and restrictions

Before you plan your day trip to Zion, I highly recommend visiting the official Zion National Park website, so that you have the most current information about any park restrictions and closures, and also understand current conditions at the park.

Currently, a park reservation is NOT required to visit Zion, but you should visit the park’s website when you’re planning your Zion trip so that you avoid any surprises.

Many Parts of Zion Don’t Have Cell Service – So Make sure you pack This!

If you only have 1 day in Zion, you’ll need to be well-prepared with your plan.  I’ve included a ton of info in this guide, but I also recommend purchasing a guidebook so that you have all the details you need in one place.

Why do you need a guidebook for Zion?  Most areas of Zion don’t have cell phone service, so you’ll want to have a guidebook with you JUST IN CASE.  Here’s my favorite Zion guidebook – it’s less than $16, totally up to date, and as a bonus, has info on Bryce Canyon, too.

Parking in Zion is Limited, so Plan to Arrive at the Park Early

If you only have one day in Zion, I recommend getting to the park as early as possible, so that you can park your car inside the park, and spend as much time as possible exploring everything there is to see at Zion.

Parking inside Zion is limited, so plan to get to the park when the gates open.  Check the official park website for opening hours.  I recommend arriving no later than 7:45am to make sure you’ll be able to park inside Zion’s gates.

Purchase the America the beautiful pass if you plan to visit any other national parks in the next 12 months

To enter Zion, you’ll need to pay the park entrance fee.  If you’re visiting Zion, I highly, highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful pass.  At $80, it is the most economical way to visit multiple National Parks in the US in a year.

The pass gives you entrance to any National Park in the United States for an entire year.  So if you plan to visit two more national parks in the next 12 months, the America the Beautiful Pass will pay for itself!

Use the Shuttle System at Zion to See more sights during the day

This 1 day itinerary for Zion makes good use of Zion’s excellent shuttle system.  Between May and October, cars aren’t allowed on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the main road in the park that runs north-south along the floor of Zion Canyon.

Since private vehicles aren’t allowed, you’ll need to take the park shuttle to access the main things to see in Zion.  Fortunately, the shuttle is quite easy to use, and shuttles circulate constantly, so you’ll never be waiting long for the next one.

With only One Day in Zion, Make Sure to Book Your Accommodation Early so You can Stay Close to the Park

If you’ll be spending 1 day in Zion, it is important to stay as close to the park as possible, so that you minimize your travel time, and can spend most of the day enjoying everything there is to see in Zion.

The best area to stay if you are doing a short trip to Zion is in the town of Springdale, which is just outside of Zion’s gates.  One of the best things about staying in Springdale if you’re visiting Zion is that you can just walk from your hotel into the park.

Most of the accommodations in Springdale are within a 20 minute walk to Zion.  My recommendations for the best places to stay if you only have one day in Zion are:

Hotel Closest to Zion’s Entrance: The Cable Mountain Lodge

Best Luxury Hotel Near Zion: The Cliffrose (this place looks amazing!)

Cutest Apartment rental near Zion: The Watchman Villas

Best Budget place to stay near Zion: Montclair Inn & Suites

Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!

Exactly How to Spend One Day in Zion National Park

There are so many things to do in Zion, that it is difficult to pick the highlights of the park if you only have one day.  I recently spent several days in Zion and I put together the perfect 1 day Zion itinerary to help you figure out exactly what to see in Zion National Park in one day.

This plan for how to spend your time in Zion showcases some of the park’s best day hikes and things to see.  If you’re trying to decide what to see in Zion National Park in one day, this itinerary includes three short day hikes that are about 1 – 1.5 hours each, allows time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and includes the very best sights in Zion!

virgin river running over rocks in Zion canyon

How to See Zion National Park in One Day

Now that you have some basics to help you plan a trip to Zion, here’s the perfect 1 day Zion itinerary to help you plan exactly what to do in Zion National Park in one day:

Start by Fueling Up with Coffee and Snacks

For this 1 day Zion itinerary, you’ll need some energy!  I recommend grabbing some coffee and any snacks at Feellove Coffee which is located right outside the park entrance.

Begin your Day by Boarding the Zion Canyon Shuttle

The Zion Canyon Shuttle System runs from the Visitor Center (Stop #1) all the way north along the Zion Canyon floor to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava (Stop #9).

For this Zion itinerary, we’re going to go as far as possible into the canyon during the morning, and then work our way back to the Visitor Center.  By the time all of the crowds arrive at the park, you’ll already be deep into the canyon, and heading back to the Visitor Center when everyone else is going north!

Begin this itinerary by catching the the shuttle from the Visitor Center, and take it all the way to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava (Stop #9).  On the way, you’ll enjoy some incredible views, so it is one of the best ways to see Zion in a short period of time.

The shuttle ride will take about 25 minutes and is the perfect introduction to Zion’s most beautiful sights.

Hike the Riverside Walk Trail for Beautiful Views of the Virgin River

Temple of Sinawava is the last stop on the Zion Canyon Shuttle, so there’s no chance that you’ll miss it.   Get off the shuttle here and follow the signs towards the Riverside Walk trail.

The Riverside Walk trail is a beautiful short hike in Zion that runs alongside the Virgin River.  The hike is about 2.2 miles round-trip, and will take you through some gorgeous canyon and river scenery.

This trail is a great day hike for one day in Zion because it’s mostly flat, and is also paved.  It is a great hike to do with kids or anyone who might have limited mobility, because there aren’t any rocks to trip over, or dips to watch out for.

view of the virgin river from riverside walk trail

The Riverside Walk Trail should take about 90 minutes to complete, allowing for plenty of time to stop and take in the beautiful scenery.

At the end of the trail is where the Narrows hike begins.  If you only have one day in Zion, you probably won’t have time to hike the Narrows, but you’ll get to see the beginning of the hike to get your bearings so that you can be prepared for your next trip to Zion!

Take the Canyon Shuttle back South and Get off at Weeping Rock

After Riverside Walk, get back on the shuttle – you can only go one direction from here: South.  Get off the shuttle at Weeping Rock, Stop #7.

At Weeping Rock, you won’t be doing any hiking as part of this itinerary, but instead you’re here to soak in the views of Angel’s Landing, Cable Mountain, the Organ, the Great White Throne, and Observation Point.

green canyon floor between red sandstone cliffs

The Angel’s Landing hike is one of the most popular hikes at Zion (you need a permit to hike it), but with just one day in the park, you will have to save it for your next trip!

After taking in the views, get back on the shuttle and get off at Stop #5, Zion Lodge.  Zion Lodge is where you’ll find the trailhead for the Lower Emerald Pools trail.  If you’re trying to decide what to do in Zion National Park in one day, the Lower Emerald Pools trail should absolutely be on your itinerary!

emerald pools trail is a must see for one day in Zion national park

The Emerald Pools actually refers to three pools: the Lower Emerald Pool, the Middle Pool and the Upper Pool.  For this day trip to Zion National Park, I recommend doing the Lower Emerald Pool hike.

The Lower Emerald Pool Hike will take you about an hour, and goes a distance of about 1.5 miles total to the lower pool and back.  Once you reach the lower pool, you have the option of hiking further up to the middle pool, and then even higher to the upper pool, which I think it the most beautiful of all!

Stop for Lunch at Zion Lodge

Once you wrap up hiking the Emerald Pools trail, you’ll probably be ready to stop for lunch.  Plan to eat lunch at Zion Lodge, the only hotel located within the park boundaries.

trees in front of Zion lodge

After lunch, take a few minutes to relax under the shady trees in front of the lodge before jumping back on the shuttle to finish the afternoon of your day in Zion.

Make a Quick Stop at Court of the Patriarchs to Take in the Views

Take the shuttle one stop further south, and get off on Stop #4, Court of the Patriarchs.  You won’t be doing any hiking at this stop, but take a few minutes to marvel at the Court of the Patriarchs, a group of sandstone cliffs that are named after the biblical figures of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.

court of the patriarchs sandstone cliffs

There’s a quick two minute walk that takes you to a good viewpoint for taking photos.  Take a moment to enjoy the view before jumping back on the shuttle.

Visit the Zion Human History Museum

After the views at Court of the Patriarchs, head back south on the shuttle to stop #2, the Zion Human History Museum.  Make sure to check the park’s current conditions ahead of time to ensure that the museum is open.

At the Museum, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to the human history of Zion National park.  As of spring 2022, the museum was closed for renovations, so make sure to check the website to see when it will be open again.

Take a Short Stroll on the Pa’rus Trail

From the Human History Museum, you can take a short 20 minute stroll south along the Pa’rus trail back to the Visitor Center.  Alternatively, if your feet need a break, you can catch the shuttle here and take it back to the Visitor Center at Stop #1.

river in a narrow red canyon

Explore the Zion Visitor Center

If you didn’t get the chance to explore the Visitor Center at the start of your day, take some time to do so now.  Get off the shuttle at the last stop, Stop #1, and exit here to enter in to the Visitor Center, where you’ll find plenty of information about Zion’s history, along with souvenirs you may wish to bring home with you.

Hike the Watchman Trail for a Beautiful View over Zion Canyon

The final short hike of this 1 day Zion itinerary is the Watchman Hike.  The Watchman Hike leaves from the Visitor Center, and is about 3 miles round-trip.

Hiking the Watchman Trail will take 1.5 – 2 hours, and it ascends into the canyon walls about 350 feet.  At the top, you’re rewarded with an amazing view of Zion Canyon from above.  Personally, I think that the Watchman Trail is one of the most under-rated day hikes in Zion, so I definitely recommend adding it as a thing to do during one day in Zion.

Stop for Dinner in Springdale

It’s been a busy day in Zion!  By now, you’re probably ready for dinner, so head into the town of Springdale to grab a casual dinner.  You can either walk into Springdale, take the Springdale shuttle into the town, or drive.

If you plan to do the final sunset stop on this itinerary, I recommend getting your car and driving for the rest of the day.

For dinner outside of Zion, I recommend Oscar’s Cafe.  They have delicious Mexican food, and the portions are HUGE – so you’ll definitely be able to share.  I also loved the white wine margarita they make – it’s delicious!

Watch the Sun Set with a view of The Entire Zion Canyon from Above

The final stop on your Zion National Park 1 day itinerary is a quick drive away.  Collect your car and drive towards the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.

You’ll be ascending about 1,000 feet during the course of several switchbacks, and there are pullouts to stop and take in the sunset view of the canyon below.

On the other side of the tunnel you’ll see a parking lot where you’ll find the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook trail.  Take this short 1 mile out-and-back hike to watch the sun set with a show stopping view of all of Zion Canyon.  It’s a perfect way to finish your day trip to Zion.

After the Canyon Overlook trail, you can continue on to see Checkerboard Mesa, a sandstone hill with cracks that resemble the pattern in a checkerboard.

And that completes a perfect day in Zion National Park!

Is 1 Day Enough to See Zion National Park?

If you’re wondering whether 1 day is enough to see Zion National Park, my answer is yes!  In one day at Zion, you won’t have enough time to do the park’s most famous hikes, Angel’s Landing and the Narrows, but you will be able to get a taste of all of Zion’s best sights and things to do.

And best of all – you can save a few things for your next visit to Zion!

There You Have it – The Perfect One Day Zion National Park Itinerary!

If you’re visiting Zion from Las Vegas, make sure to check out my perfect itinerary for first time visitors to Las Vegas.  And you can also make good use of your America the Beautiful pass by doing a 3 day trip to Yosemite!

Pin it for Later!

one day in Zion national park