At least in the northern parts of Illinois, it can be challenging to find a spot to hike with rigor. Starved Rock offers visitors many ways to encounter the great outdoors.
It’s a magical year-round destination for hiking and sightseeing. In summer it’s very special to see the waterfalls after a hard rain, in winter when the falls are frozen. Spring offers the beauty of wildflowers. Fall shows its beauty with yellow, golden and red leaves that are present on the trails.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The park is a less busy in winter months (Dec, Jan, Feb). Otherwise it’s often heavily crowded in spring, summer and fall. Even more on weekends and national holidays. To beat the crowds: Avoid weekends and be there early. The visitor center opens at 9 AM but you can arrive and park earlier. Another way to avoid the crowds is to hit the trails that are not located in the main hub. The park is large and has many trails where you can ‘hike away’.
Bird Watching Months (Eagles)
Every year, thousands of eagles migrate to the area, they come for the fish found in the cold waters of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The birds begin arriving in late December and stay until March. To spot the eagles and be on the safe side visit in January or February. Park administration says, that depending on the weather, most of the birds are gone in March already.
Like the paradise it was named after, Zion National Park is the kind of place that you won't believe exists even when you see it yourself.
The best time to visit Zion is either in April or October. In April the summer crowds haven’t arrived yet and the weather is pleasant with temps around 73°F (23°C). In October most crowds are gone, temps hover around 78°F (26°C), and you can witness the fall colors. The shuttle runs in both months.
Zion: The Narrows in summer with crowds and without crowds in spring
We provide you with tips on how to avoid the crowds, even in peak season. In general, Zion N.P. can can be visited year-round. Depending on what time of year you go, you will be faced with different conditions that you need to prepare for. Summer is hot and dry, spring and fall vary widely and winter is cold and wet. As well, the services available will vary based on the season.
Below you’ll find a weather overview and a paragraph on how to avoid the busy times. Even more tips can be found in our complete guide with every season explained in detail. We put wrote down what you can expect to encounter on a monthly basis. The seasons are broken down based on the weather rather than the calendar. Finally we added tips and information about when The Narrows are open and the operating times for the Zion Shuttle System.
Always keep in mind that the difference between dayime temperatures (see above) and during the night can be 30°F (15°C). In summer, it is oven-like and can get well above 100°F (38°C) and on the other side thunderstorms occur. If you go in the middle of summer avoid long hikes. In the winter snow and ice can be an issue. However, winter is a great time without any crowds and an awesome experience. It's not too cold! Check out this video on YouTube: Zion in Winter Another huge advantage in the winter: Accommodation rates are at their lowest. Check the hotel deals below. For the official helpful season guide visit: NPS - Zion Seasons
Avoiding Busy Times
Official Zion National Park Visitors 2018/2019
Peak months are June to August. A little less crowded in spring and fall. Very quiet in December, January, February but bear in mind road or trails can be closed. However, you can avoid crowds year-round by starting your hike or exploration right after sunrise. At that time you’ll have the park almost for yourself. Most visitors don’t start before 10 a.m. In the morning there is also a better chance of spotting wildlife and the best light for photos.
Shuttle Overview: From March to October you have to take the shuttle bus, cars are not permitted. Usually, from November to February you can park your car at the available parking lots. The scenic drive in Zion can be closed on weekends in February and shuttle bus transportation has to be taken. Read more details about the shuttle system further below in our shuttle paragraph.
Spring | March and April
Spring is a great time to visit Zion NP as the temperature is not as hot as summer. Spring can be volatile so bring warm layers and rain gear as the weather can change quickly. Mornings tend to be cool but warm up as the sun heats the valley.
March is the start of spring in Zion which is an unpredictable transition time with warmer days but is also with up to 8 days of rain. The temperatures make for great hiking as it's not too hot and not too cold. Daylight is getting longer as well which means you will have more time to explore.
If there is a high amount of snow up on top of the canyons then the many seasonal waterfalls will start to flow. They are usually dried up by summer so it is a treat to see. This meltwater can make the Virgin River a raging torrent so keep away from the banks. The Narrows is closed during spring due to the water levels and current.
Flash Flood Danger: Always check with the visitor center for any flash flood warnings and the daily weather forecast. I've witnessed the sheer power of nature as we watched from upon a ledge a trickling stream transform into a wall of water in seconds. With steep terrain when it rains it will all get funneled to the low points which tend to be the canyons so you might not know it's coming because it rained many miles away. If when hiking in a canyon and you hear a rumble upstream and feel a cool damp breeze, get to high ground as this may signal an imminent flash flood.
While down low is becoming warmer and lush the trails up atop the canyon may still have snow and ice late into March so bring traction devices if you plan to hike at the higher elevations. The trees start to bud and the canyon floor appears to come back to life after a winter slumber. But winter and the spring melt can take a toll on the trails with flood damage and downed trees, so check at the visitor center or the Zion National Park webpage to find out about current trail conditions.
In the month of April the wildflowers really start to bloom. Longer days, less rain and warmer temperatures make this an almost idyllic time to visit. Early April is one of our favorite times to go as it's not too hot, waterfalls are often still flowing and the crowds aren't excessive. By this point, all of the trails but the Narrows are open. The snow is melted and the rock dry so rock climbing is often perfect during this window as well.
Backpacking Tip: If you want to go backpacking then consider going in on the northwest side at Kolob Canyon or on the east side for the East Rim Trail. There are local shuttle services that will take you from one trailhead to another and you can hike back to your car. There are also loop routes that will bring you back to where you started. If your route starts or ends in the main canyon make sure you are finished before the shuttles stop running as there is no camping in that part of the park. You will require a backcountry camping permit that is available online or in-person at the Visitor Center.
Weather: Warm days with cool nights and mornings. Wettest time of year with regular rain.
|Daily High||63°F (17°C)||73°F (23°C)|
|Daily Low||36°F (2°C)||43°F (6°C)|
|Days of Rain||8||6|
|Rainfall||1.7 inches||1.3 inches|
Park Services: The shuttle buses start running in March so private vehicles are not allowed on the canyon road. The shuttles are free with park admission. While the visitor center is open year-round, other amenities like the South Campground and Human History Museum open back up for the season in the spring.
Crowds: March sees a huge spike in traffic over February due to the improving weather and spring break but is still only half of the peak traffic in the summer. April ramps up again as it may be one of the best months for hiking, climbing and general exploring. During weekends and spring break it's advised to get to the park early in the morning (before 8 am) to get a parking spot and avoid crowds on the trails, especially Angel's Landing.
Summer | May, June, July, August, September
With the warm weather comes the crowds. The span from May to September is the busiest time of year with over half a million people visiting the park each month. May marks the beginning of summer in Zion. Daily high temperatures are getting to be over 80°F (27°C). At this point, any damage from spring flooding will usually be repaired so all the hiking trails should be open spreading the crowds out.
From June to Mid August you will find a lot of families with children on summer vacation so the park has several programs for kids and shorter easier hikes. There are ranger-led walks and talks that will give you an understanding of Zion NP while being easy enough for even young kids. There are also nature games, music, and storytelling on the lawn of the Zion Lodge. Check for the schedule each day.
Parking in Summer: During the busy times of June, July, and August you avoid parking issues in the park with one must-know tip: Use the free shuttle service from Springdale to the entrance of Zion NP! It runs roughly every 10 minutes and the pick-up spots are close to the hotels in town. Tip: Read our shuttle section below the season guide.
The Narrows: In May the chances of hiking The Narrows are good. However, the water is freezingly cold (see below). The first time we ever went to Zion was in May 2000. No shuttle, no gear (neoprene) to rent, nothing. We are experienced hikes had to return after a few minutes due to the freezingly cold water. June is a safe bet for the Narrows hike to be open. This hike is in the Virgin River walking either from the canyon upstream or a longer multi day trek downstream. To hike the whole downstream stretch requires a permit but a day outing upstream as far as Big Spring. We’ve done the upstream hike (no permit required) in the summer and while it is extremely hot out the water, the river was surprisingly cold. You will want to wear water hiking shoes and use poles as the uneven rocky bottom and the current makes it treacherous in places. To do the downstream hike which is 16 miles you will also need to arrange a shuttle to Chamberlain's Ranch as it starts outside the park. If you are interested in this hike always check with the Visitor Center as flash floods happen in the summer due to thunderstorms. You can rent canyoneering boots and neoprene socks if you find the water too cold. If a thunderstorm is forecast the Narrows is closed to avoid dangerous conditions.
Hiking and other activities in June, July and August should be started early in the morning or later afternoon due to the heat. Wear a wide-brimmed hat as well as UV protective clothing and sunglasses to protect against the sun. Cover any exposed skin with sunscreen. The hot dry air will dehydrate you faster than you would expect if you are not used to it. Bring about a quart of water per hour of hiking. Electrolyte drink mix added to your water can help your body retain moisture and replace what you are sweating out. There are places to fill water bottles at the Visitor Center, Grotto, and Zion Lodge.
September is still busy but slightly less than the peak of summer. If you visit in September, go after Labor Day weekend and try to avoid the other weekends as well. That way you’ll avoid most of the crowds Temperatures are slightly cooler making hikes more enjoyable.
Weather: Hot days with warm nights. Relatively dry but frequent thunderstorms which can lead to flash floods.
|Daily High||83°F (28°C)||93°F (34°C)||100°F (38°C)||97°F (36°C)||91°F (33°C)|
|Daily Low||52°F (2°C)||60°F (16°C)||68°F (20°C)||66°F (19°C)||60°F (16°C)|
|Days of Rain||5||3||5||6||4|
|Rainfall||0.7 inches||0.6 inches||0.8 inches||1.3 inches||0.8 inches|
Park Services: Summer is the time where the park is going full speed. Unless otherwise posted all programs are running and all the attractions are open. The shuttle buses will be running roughly every seven minutes so you don't have to wait long if you missed one. >> raus und in generellen Shuttle Abschnitt: There are shuttles from Springdale to the park and shuttles within the park so you have options on where you park.
Crowds: This is the high traffic time of year with more planning and reservations needed. July is the peak month with over 600,000 people going through the gates. Because this is peak season expect lineups for shuttle buses and parking to be harder to find. If you plan to head to Zion NP during the summer make sure you book accommodation in Springdale or the park campsites months in advance as everything books up quickly.
Fall | October and November
Aside from cool temperatures, October and November bring the fall colors. One of the coolest things you will see is the descent of the color change as it starts at the top of the canyon and works its way to lower elevations with the peak in the valley in late October.
Temps: In fall the temperatures can vary so bring layers for warmth as well as sun protection. The temperature can vary by 30 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. We carry beanie hats, light thermal gloves and some light layers which will let us adjust our comfort level if the temperatures drop or the wind picks up.
Crowds: This is our favorite time to visit as the crowds are decreasing and the weather is more pleasant if you are hiking or climbing. Just make sure you have a headlamp with you as the days are getting shorter and you don't want to accidentally get stuck out after dark.
The Narrows: In the fall, the Narrows start to get too cold to go bare-legged so insulated water gear is suggested. You can rent canyoneering boots, wading pole, dry pants, waterproof backpack, and neoprene socks from Zion Outfitters in Springdale right by the Visitor Center. You can rent the boots and socks in the warmer weather if you just need better traction as well.
Drive: Fall is the best time to drive the Mt. Carmel Highway and experience the tunnel. The tunnel is about a mile long with hole cut in the rock so you can see out. The switchbacking road has many pull-offs that let you get beautiful views. Just after the tunnel, there is a pull out on the right to park and hike the Canyon Overlook Trail. This will give you a great view of the canyon.
Weather: Moderate daytime temperatures with cool nights and mornings. November can see snow at higher altitudes.