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After living nearby in Washington, UT for over a year, I can attest that visiting Zion National Park in December is pretty darn enjoyable. Well, not that it isn’t fun the rest of the year, but for reasons we will get into soon, December might be my favorite month in Zion.
You won’t be fighting the crowds, although there will still be plenty of people there checking out the sites with you. In December 2021, over 200,000 visitors came through Zion’s gates, the third lowest month of the year.
This time of year, the weather in Zion is getting colder, with highs in the mid-40s and lows in the 20s. Remember, you will be in a canyon area, so often, it may feel colder than the actual air temperature. That means – Bring a coat and gloves!
Let’s look at how to make the most of your visit to Zion in December…
Tips for Your December Visit to Zion NP
Get Your National Parks Pass
Before you go, make sure to have your America the Beautiful Pass. If you purchase your pass via that link to REI, they will donate 10% of the proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation, and the US Endowment for Forestry & Community – at no extra cost.
If you are an Active Duty Military member or Veteran like I am, you can save yourself – and family members in the same vehicle – $80 and get in for free! Soon – sometime in late 2022 – you will even be able to get a free LIFETIME pass which will make visiting National Parks, National Monuments, Forests, and more that much easier.
For now, make sure to have your military id, Veteran status on a state-issued id, or America the Beautiful Military Pass ready to show at the gates.
Don’t have one of those passes? You can still visit Zion if you pay at the gates, where the fee is $35 per vehicle and is valid for seven days.
Now that we have that technicality out of the way, it’s time to highlight some fantastic things to do in Zion during your December visit.
Even though we mainly refer to the main entrance of Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah, there are other locations to enjoy, like Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace Rd. Since Zion is so big, don’t feel like you are limited to just one area.
Since most of you will go to Zion’s main entrance, we’ll start there.
The parking lots fill up fast, and although December is one of the least busy months, you still should plan on getting to Zion National Park early. The visitor’s center opens at 8 am MT, but if you plan on hiking, I would get to the park before that and just plan on stopping in the visitor’s center before you leave that day.
Plus, whether it is winter or any other time of year, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on the park service’s current conditions page for Zion. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Things to Do in Zion National Park in December
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
December is when the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive opens up to private vehicles, whereas for the bulk of the year, you can only access the road via the Zion Shuttle or bike. However, the road can still get busy, and you may have trouble finding a spot to park in some locations depending on the time of day you go.
We aren’t early morning people, but when visiting any National Parks or going on hikes, we do our best to be the early bird that gets the worm, and you should too!
Zion Canyon Road is how you access some of the park’s most popular locations, like Angels Landing and The Narrows. You will even drive around Big Bend, where the Virgin River has carved a unique looking narrow cliff over the years.
The view of Big Bend is better from above, which you can experience from the Observation Trail, but unfortunately, it is currently closed due to a significant rockfall. Bookmark the National Park Service’s Zion Canyon Trails page for current conditions.
The Canyon Overlook is a safer way to get some epic views down into Zion during the winter when it might be unsafe to hike some other trails. You will drive up Zion Park Blvd./Utah State Rt 9 through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and the trailhead will be to your left.
There is limited parking right after you exit the east side of the tunnel, so be prepared. The trail to the overlook is only a half-mile long, but it is considered moderate, so pay attention to the weather and play it safe.
You might have heard that Angel’s Landing is dangerous and can become even more so in the winter. The wet, sometimes snowy, and icy conditions make it unsafe to attempt, even if you add crampons or microspikes to your hiking boots.
It is just not worth the risk if the weather is iffy during your visit. Many other amazing things to see and do in Zion National Park will satisfy your outdoorsy cravings.
But if this December is unusually dry and you can’t help yourself, then don’t forget that in 2022 the National Park Service implemented a permit system for those wishing to hike Angel’s Landing.
It is a lottery system to get a permit to hike Angel’s Landing. So make sure to plan ahead and visit recreation.gov to apply or get more details.
The Angel’s Landing hike is strenuous and gains almost 1,500 feet of elevation within 5.5 miles, so be prepared. Not only that, but the last section is along a narrow ridge, and yes, there have been deaths along this trail.
Lower Emerald Pool
Since the Lower Emerald Pool trail is only 1.4 miles out and back and not tricky, it’s worth checking out in December. This easy hike will lead you to – wait for it – the Emerald Pool and waterfalls. Yes, waterfalls in Zion!
Swimming in the Emerald Pools is not allowed, so please don’t be those people that think the rules don’t apply to them.
If you plan on hiking The Narrows in Zion, head to the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and hope there’s a parking spot left.
The Narrows is one of Zion’s most popular trails, and for a good reason. The way the rock formations look in this narrow canyon makes it hard to believe that this entire area was flat – 250 million years ago!
You can keep your feet dry and still view The Narrows via the wheelchair-accessible Riverside Walk or continue up the Virgin River. And by ‘up the Virgin River,’ I mean IN the Virgin River. But watch out for patches of ice if it has rained or snowed recently.
You can go as far as Big Spring without a wilderness permit, and if you do, plan on the 10-mile round trip hike to take all day. Or, if you would feel safer, book a private guided hike of The Narrows.
Yes, you can hike The Narrows in December but realize the water will be COLD, and depending on any recent rain or snowfall, the Virgin River could flow heavier than usual.
Most area outfitters have gear rentals even if you don’t book their guided tours, so unless you have a dry suit or bibs, it would be a good idea to reserve some. As with any outdoor adventure, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
The Watchman Trail is one such moderate hike and well worth the 3+ mile round trip journey. The Watchman is one of the first unique cliffs you will notice when you enter Zion National Park, and the trail offers some fantastic views of Temples and Towers, lower Zion Canyon, and even the town of Springdale.
Even though you might not need them, it would be a good idea to have a pair of microspikes like these to bring along. With the lower temperatures in December, any shaded sections of the Watchman Trail could still have ice or snow.
The Pa’rus Trail is a paved multi-use trail along the Virgin River and the only trail in Zion where pets are allowed. The Pa’rus Trail is wheelchair friendly and about 1.75 miles long. Something is soothing about strolling along a flowing river surrounded by massive red rock cliffs and birds chirping away.
If the only time you get out of your car on your trip through Zion National Park is at the visitor’s center, do yourself a favor and carve some time to trek along the Pa’rus Trail.
Other Cool Spots…
Since we promised there were other parts of Zion besides the main entrance to enjoy, here are a few things to add to your list…
On your way to Zion’s main entrance, after the town of Virgin, you will come across Kolob Terrace Rd. Don’t blink, though, because the turn-off is easy to miss. This drive is much less trafficked but no less scenic.
You can access a good amount of hikes up Kolob Terrace Rd., but you will be at a higher elevation, so keep a close eye on the weather. Some of the higher roads will not be passable in December since you will get close to 8,000 ft. elevation.
The other area of Zion National Park worth seeing is via the Kolob Canyons entrance. To get there, you will head north from St. George on I-15 and take Exit 40. Like Kolob Terrace Rd., the Kolob Canyons is at a higher elevation – the entrance is around 7,000 feet – so keep this in mind during winter.
The Kolob Canyons section of Zion offers even more hiking opportunities, so hikers don’t sleep on this location! Or you can drive along E. Kolob Canyon Rd. 5-mile scenic route to the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, where you can take in the views or venture onto the Timber Creek Overlook Trail.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park in December
If you want to stay IN Zion National Park, you have two options, but you better plan ahead.
Zion Lodge is along Zion Canyon Rd. within the park and accepts reservations up to 13 months in advance. If you have an overnight stay booked at Zion Lodge, you can drive your vehicle to the lodge with the red permit they will mail you.
Maybe a cozy lodge near the Emerald Pools trail isn’t your thing, and you would rather rough it – half joking, of course, because if you’ve seen some of the RVs available today, they definitely are NOT roughing it! Fortunately for you, the Watchman Campground near Zion’s Visitor Center is open year-round.
The Watchman Campground has 176 total sites, with 65 of them RV only, 69 tent only spots, and 95 with electric hookups. You can make reservations for the Watchman Campground up to six months in advance, and I suggest booking a site as soon as possible!
If those two spots are unavailable for your December trip to Zion, you will have to look at the neighboring towns that aren’t too far away.
Springdale hotels and inns are just outside Zion’s main entrance. But, if you are looking for a unique place to stay near Zion, then check out Zion Glamping Adventures – because why not – right off Kolob Terrace Rd. And just down the road from there is Zion River Resort RV Park & Campground.
Another intriguing and unique spot is the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Located outside the east entrance to Zion National Park, Zion Ponderosa (privately-owned and not located ‘in’ the park) covers over 4,000 acres.
The Ranch has housing options available from vacation rental homes, RV spots, glamping tents, cabins, and even Conestoga wagons in case you want to feel like you’re on the Oregon Trail.
Then there’s the countless options in La Verkin, Hurricane (pronounced her-a-kun), or St. George.
Wrapping It Up…
If you have made it this far, you know December in Zion National Park is a phenomenal time to visit. You can’t go wrong with fewer crowds, cooler temperatures, and spectacular views around every ‘Big’ bend.
Pack your cool weather clothes and appetite for adventure, and let Zion’s magic take care of the rest!