a hiker raises his hands in zion national park

How to Handle the Crowds at Zion National Park this Memorial Day Weekend

Visiting any popular location during Memorial Day Weekend is going to be chaotic. But Zion, which saw over 4.6M people in 2023, is one of the worst offenders for crowds and chaos.

This stems predominantly from the most popular part of the park, a one-way-in, one-way-out canyon accessible only by a national park shuttle bus. (The two exceptions are if you have a disability pass or are staying at the Zion Lodge.)

In all honesty, Zion was not made to handle over four million tourists a year, but here we are.

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Tips For a More Enjoyable Experience

I just visited Zion a couple of weekends ago, and even on a Monday at 9 a.m., the Visitor Center parking lot was full, and the line to get into the park looked to be at least 30 minutes long. And that was just a normal Monday in mid-May. I can’t imagine how crazy it’ll be now.

Wake Up Early, Early, Early Or Explore After 5PM

This is the biggest cheat code of them all. If you plan to explore Zion, you need to set your clocks early and get that coffee brewed. Not only will this decrease your wait time for the shuttle and entrance, but you’ll also hike in cooler conditions.

Temperatures for Zion over Memorial Day Weekend are slated to be 81F Friday, 86F Saturday, 85F Sunday, and 81F Monday. Let me tell you, it is HOT inside the canyon with no shade at 80F. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and skin protection.

Another tip that many do not realize is that because Zion is at the end of its time zone, the sun doesn’t set until 8:41 p.m. This means you can start a hike at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. when the crowds thin out and get a full hike in before dark. (Check shuttle schedules if you plan to hike inside Zion Canyon later into the evening)

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Explore Areas East of the Tunnel

Most people congregate in and around Zion Canyon. This is where Angels Landing and the Narrows are, but there are a ton of other incredible places to see. It won’t be empty, but it will be slightly less hectic. The recommendation is to get there early, as there’s limited parking.

One trail that I highly recommend is Observation Point. Years ago, you could hike to this from inside Zion Canyon, but a rockslide closed the trail. You now have to get to it from the top. In my opinion, it’s the best view in Zion, and it’s where I got engaged!

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Plug Zion Ponderosa Ranch into your maps
  2. Either park there and take a shuttle. It’s $7 per person, leaving the lodge on the :00/:30. If the road is dry, almost all cars can make it. We saw a sedan there. There’s one spot that is a bit gnarly and will take careful maneuvering. If you have a high-clearance car, you’re golden.
  3. If the shuttle drops you off, it’s an 8-mile trail with about 700 feet of gain in all (not bad)

Here are some additional hikes that you should check out:

  • Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
  • Many Pools Trail
  • Lower Clear Creek
  • Cascade Falls
  • Checkerboard Mesa Trail
  • Hepworth and Roof Peaks

The Narrows are Now Open

Due to the high water level, the Narrows were closed from April 11 to May 19 of this year. Now that they are open, people can disperse more throughout the park. That said, the water is very cold. I strongly recommend renting a wetsuit or boots if you want to hike them.

the zion narrows in utah
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/@alecoutside

Park In Town, Take the Shuttle, Walk Across the Bridge

This one costs slightly more money, but if you’re not trying to wait in line, this is a quicker route. They’ve added a ton of public parking throughout Springdale, where you can pay to park (it varies from $20-$40 depending on how close you are to the entrance) and then hop on a bus that will take you near the Visitor Center and Shuttle Area.

Here, walk across the bridge, show your park pass, or pay your entrance fee, and then walk 1/8 of a mile to the Zion Canyon busses.

Angels Landing Requires a Permit

Don’t get caught with your pants down. You cannot hike the chained section if you do not have a permit for Angels Landing.

If you want to apply for the daily lottery, submit your application before 2 p.m. MST, and you’ll receive an email letting you know if you won. I tried twice during my visit and failed.

Each application costs $6.

Even if you don’t get the permit, you can still hike past Walter’s Wiggles to Scouts Lookout and continue up the West Rim Trail. This will see fewer hikers and show off a new view and experience.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Explore Less Visited Areas

While I can’t say this area will be empty, if you drive north towards the Kolob Canyons and LaVerkin Creek area, you will see FAR fewer crowds. I have not been here, but my dad backpacked here years ago and said it’s pretty nice.

This isn’t the classic Zion photos you’ve seen, but if you want to see places others may not have, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Driving to Kolob Canyon: It’s a 60-minute drive from Springdale to Kolob Canyon Picnic Area if you backtrack and get on the I-15. You can also take North Kolob Terrance Rd, which cuts through scenic Red Rock Country.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Enjoy Zion

Zion National Park is an amazing place, but it will feel utterly overwhelming to many, thanks to the crowds. But if you check out a new area or visit off-peak hours, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.

Happy Trails!

Until next time, adventurers, stay safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside