The Perfect 2 Day Zion National Park Itinerary

by | Last updated May 11, 2021 | USA | 10 comments

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Zion National Park is a true marvel to explore, with towering cliffs made up of colorful sedimentary rock, scenic overlooks, and challenging hikes that reward you with jaw-dropping views. Zion was one of our first stops on our road trip across the Southwest and it really set the bar high! We spent 2 nights and 2 days in Zion and enjoyed every minute of discovering what we could.

There is so much to do in Zion National Park for outdoor lovers, particularly hikers. There are dozens of awesome hiking trails ideal for both beginners and those with a more adventurous spirit!

Although we didn’t get to check off our entire Zion bucket list because of the global health crisis, we did get to hike The Narrows, go horse riding among the Ponderosa pine trees, take a thrilling jeep tour at sunset, drive the Mount Carmel highway, and more! We even had time to spend an evening by the fire pit outside our cozy glamping tent.

All in all, we had such a blast in Zion and look forward to going back in the future when operations resume as normal! In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about visiting Zion National Park in two days.

Tip: Save tons of money by buying the America The Beautiful annual park pass. It costs $80 and can be used for all the NP’s across the United States. With Zion and nearby parks costing $35 for a single entry, the annual pass basically pays for itself if you visit just 2-3 parks!

Note: Many hikes and services are closed in Zion through until further notice due to the pandemic. Read more below to find out what’s open and possible to visit.

Here are my recommendations and travel tips for a 2 day Zion National Park itinerary!

How to Spend an Epic 2 Days in Zion National Park

Where to Stay

Navigating Zion can be tricky, so it’s good to know what your options are in terms of accommodation. The town of Springdale, just before the entrance to Zion, has a few options in addition to stores, markets, and restaurants.

But if you want to stay somewhere unique with opportunities for adventure right at your fingertips, then I highly recommend the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort.

Zion Ponderosa is where we stayed in our canvas glamping tent for two nights. This gave us the opportunity to ride horses and go on an off-road jeep tour to watch the sunset over the top of Zion’s plateau with their sister company, East Zion Adventures.

sunset at Zion National Park

Zion Ponderosa was actually named by U.S News and World Report Travel as one of the six best adventure resorts in the States – and for good reason! With 20+ activities, including canyoneering, jeep tours, zip-lining, horse riding, swimming, putt-putt, and more, it’s definitely where you can spend 3-5 days relaxing while having access to exciting adventures for all ages.

How to get there: It is located on the northern end of Zion, so you will actually drive across Zion National Park via the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Hwy to reach it. Although it’s not far in miles, it takes at least 40 minutes driving because of the slow, winding roads. Keep that in mind if you need to take an early morning shuttle ride from the visitor’s center at the entrance of the park!

If you plan on hiking A LOT, you could opt to stay inside Zion National Park for easier trail access. In this case, you could either stay at the Zion National Park Lodge or just outside the park entrance in the town of Springdale.

Best Things to Do in Zion in 2 Days

There are many things to do in Zion National Park and with only a few days to spare, your itinerary will get packed pretty fast. We only had two days but could have easily spent more inside the park. There are simply too many hikes and overlooks to cover them all, but you’d be surprised at how much you can see and do in that amount of time anyway.

To optimize your two days in Zion, try to plan for one “big” activity per day. For most people, that’s hiking either The Narrows or Angel’s Landing – two of the most popular hikes.

Here are some of the best things to do in Zion:

  1. Hike in Zion Canyon (see hike descriptions below)
  2. Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and go through the dark, 1-mile tunnel
  3. Rent a bike and cruise alongside towering cliffsides on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
  4. Go canyoneering in the slot canyons with Zion Ponderosa
  5. Wade through the Virgin River on The Narrows hike
  6. Check out the wild Kolob Canyons in the northwest part of Zion National Park for more hikes and scenic viewpoints

Remember, getting around the park right now isn’t that easy because you can’t drive through the Zion Canyon Scenic Route from April-October where the shuttle services (also, because of the pandemic, access to trails and points of interest is limited). However, you can still drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway traversing Zion National Park from the south to east entrance.

Until December 2020, or until further notice, Zion National Park is using a temporary shuttle system to give visitors access to upper Zion Canyon. You MUST purchase a $1 shuttle ticket online if you want to access the trailheads inside the upper Zion Canyon. The shuttle currently stops at Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Temple of Sinawava (stop #9, where you get off for The Narrows hike), and Big Bend shuttle stops. All the other stops are temporarily closed.

Note: There are two booking windows to book your ticket. If the advanced tickets are already sold out for your travel dates, you’ll have to book your ticket the day before at exactly 9 am Mountain Time. This can be a little stressful as the tickets tend to sell out in five minutes. You can read more here about purchasing shuttle tickets online for Zion.

9 Most Popular Hikes in Zion National Park

Zion has a ton of hikes to choose from. Depending on which ones you choose, you could do at least 3-4 hikes with two days in Zion. The best times to hike are in the morning in the late afternoon/evening, so make sure to plan accordingly based on the weather and trail distances.

Hiking in The Narrows in Zion National ParkThe Narrows

1. Observation Point – A classic hike in Zion, and not for the faint of heart. Climb up a steep mountainside via the Weeping Rock trailhead to reach stunning canyon views. (8 miles roundtrip, 4-5 hours).

2. The Narrows – Wade through the Virgin River between the canyon walls on this epic hike! The Narrows is a mildly challenging hike due to frequent river crossings. The Narrows can be conquered from bottom-up, or bottom-down for 16 miles. Most people hike via the Riverside Trail which leads bottom-up into The Narrows. It’s one way in, one way out – so however much time you hike in you’ll have to turn around and do to get out! Wear good walking/river shoes you don’t mind getting wet. If you need, you can rent neoprene shoes/gear in Springdale at Zion Outfitters. Read my guide to hiking the Narrows for beginners here.

3. Riverside Walk – For those who wish to walk on an easy, flat, and semi-shaded trail alongside the Virgin River. This hike is 2.2 miles round-trip and takes about 15-20 minutes one-way. You’ll walk along this trail to access The Narrows hike.

4. Watchman Trail – The Watchman Trail is a moderate, 3-mile round-trip hike near the Zion Visitor’s Center that offers canyon and Virgin River views. It’s a popular choice for catching the sunset!

5. Angels Landing – A thrilling hike that takes you along the daring ridgeline of a monolith in Zion Canyon. This is the hike with the famous chain-section that allures adrenaline-junkies to grapple over rocks with drop-offs on either side. Allow for 3-6 hours since Angels Landing is 5 miles round-trip.

6. Hidden Canyon – A shorter (3 miles round-trip) and somewhat safer alternative hike to Angels Landing. It starts at the same location – Weeping Rock Trailhead – before taking you up switchbacks and along an adventurous path that skirts the canyon walls. A portion of the trail is also assisted with chains.

7. Pa’rus Trail – This easy, paved 3.3-mile round-trip trail will take you alongside the Virgin River in lower Zion Canyon. It’s the only bike plus pet-friendly trail in the park and is wheelchair accessible.

8. Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools Trails – The Emerald Pools Trails are relatively easy-moderate trails that consist of three sections. You can hike either the lower pool trail, the middle and upper Emerald Pool trails, or combine them all into one big, fun 3-mile round-trip hike.

9. Weeping Rock Trail – Another classic hike in Zion, but this time short and sweet (0.5 miles out and back). It only takes 1 hour to hike but it can be strenuous as it’s fairly steep.

the Narrows canyon in Zion National Park

2-Day Itinerary Zion National Park

Day 1

Morning:

Once you arrive in Springdale, head to your hotel or park in the town. If you’re staying at Zion Lodge or Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, you’ll immediately enter into Zion National Park. Make sure to have your park pass ready.

Tip: Save tons of money by buying the America The Beautiful annual park pass. It costs $80 and can be used for all the NP’s across the United States. With Zion and nearby parks costing $35 for a single-entry, the annual pass basically pays for itself if you visit just 2-3 parks!

Depending on what time you arrive in Zion, you could opt to do a morning hike. If you arrive later in the day, check the weather and see if a short hike is better. Save your long hike for the next morning on Day 2.

Afternoon:

For your first day in Zion, consider hiking the Watchman Trail for sunset, visiting the town of Springdale, or taking a sunset jeep tour. If you have more time, the Emerald Pool Trails are a good introduction to Zion’s various hikes.

On our first day, we drove the length of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (stopping at viewpoints and overlooks along the way), settled into our glamping tent, and went on a fun sunset jeep tour. We ate dinner at the on-site restaurant at Zion Ponderosa which saved us a lot of time from having to go back into Springdale.

Day 2

Morning:

For day 2, I recommend waking up early to hike The Narrows. Try to buy a shuttle ticket for 7-8 AM or 8-9 AM, at the latest. In general, hiking in The Narrows is cooler because you are in the water. But on the way back later in the day, the temps can soar quickly. So it’s better to start out early.

It’s best if you budget your time to hike in The Narrows for at least 4-5 hours round-trip. It takes at least 2 hours of hiking to really reach “the narrow” part of the canyon walls. That’s where we turned around. Many people will keep going and make it an all-day adventure, but we had to get back in time for our horse riding activity in the afternoon.

Side Note: A week later, my dad hiked The Narrows for 3 hours and reached “The Subway” portion of The Narrows and said it was really cool.

The shuttle ride there and back (to stop #9 at Temple of Sinawava) takes 40-minutes each way. Plus, you need to factor in the time it takes to walk the Riverside Trail which is 2.2 miles round-trip. That, combined with how much you hike in The Narrows, will take at least 4-6 hours, if not more.

Angels Landing and Observation Point were on our Zion bucket list, but portions of these trails are currently closed due to the pandemic. I overheard a lady in the shuttle say they hiked Angels Landing up to the part where the chain-section begins (that part is closed) and that it was still really beautiful. In normal times, though, these are good alternative hikes if you don’t want to do The Narrows.

Lunch: 

Since you will probably return to the Visitor’s Center after your hike in The Narrows, it’s a good time to exit the park and tour the town of Springdale. We came back and ate lunch at Cafe Soleil, which serves organic and fresh sandwiches, soups, smoothies, pizzas, and salads in a cute, artsy atmosphere. Note: They are currently doing take-out and outdoor seating because of the pandemic.

Afternoon:

Canyoneering, horse riding, jeeping… There are plenty of activities that could fit into your afternoon! We went horse riding because the canyoneering group was full. So make sure to book in advance if you want to go canyoneering! But we still had a great time and then cooled off in the pool at our hotel. You could also use this time to rent a bike and cruise the Zion Canyon or Pa’rus Trail, or go on a shorter hike like the Weeping Rock Trail.

If you have more time in Zion:

With 3 days in Zion or more, you could easily do one big hike each morning and schedule a fun adventure activity for each afternoon or early evening. Observation Point, The Narrows, and Angels Landing are all good choices and will give you a fantastic experience in Zion. We missed out on some of the best hikes because of the closures but still ended up having too many options to pack into a 2-day itinerary anyway.

Last Travel Tips for a 2 Day Zion National Park Itinerary

Distances from Vegas or Bryce Canyon: From Vegas, Zion National Park is 2.5 hours away. We took the scenic route via the Valley of Fire State Park which I highly recommend doing. It adds on 1 more hour of drive time. From Zion, Bryce Canyon National Park is only 1.5 hours drive away and is definitely a must-see!

Shuttle tickets: Log into Recreation.gov at 9 AM MT to purchase the $1 Zion shuttle tickets to secure your timeslot for the next day!

Park pass: Get an America The Beautiful park pass and save a bunch of money!

Hotel options: Zion Ponderosa (adventure resort on the east side of the park), Zion Lodge (for staying inside the park), and hotels in Springdale

What to bring on hikes: the National Park Services recommends drinking at least 1 gallon per person per day. We carried at least 3 liters in our backpacks on all our hikes. Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen too!

There is so much to pack into a 2 day Zion National Park itinerary but you can do it!! Zion is arguably one of the most beautiful parks we’ve been to. It definitely deserves its spot on your USA bucket list! Are you planning to visit Zion National Park soon? What hikes or activities are on your list?

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10 Comments

  1. Tammy

    I am planning a trip to Zion for 2 days November 20 and 21, 2021, Will shuttle service be in operation during this time period? I have read conflicting info on different sites about this.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hi Tammy! It’s hard to tell for that far in the future. I just checked the NPS Zion Canyon Shuttle System page here and its last update was July 1, 2021 indicating that the shuttle was still in operation. The hours are from 6 am – 5 pm for shuttles leaving from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the last shuttle to return back to the center is at 8:15 pm. Check regularly on that site I linked for the latest up-to-date info when your trip date gets closer!

      Reply
  2. H

    Hi! This is so helpful thanks. However I think you may have included the wrong link- Zion canyon lodge is not inside the park, but I have seen a lot of reviewers confuse it with whatever lodge is actually in the park. I only know because I just booked the Zion canyon lodge and it’s in the town of Springdale outside the park. (Correct me if I am missing anything!!)

    Reply
    • Bri

      Hi Holly! Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention! INDEED! The correct hotel for inside the park is the Zion National Park Lodge – not canyon lodge, and I see they also refer themselves as simply the “Zion Lodge”, so that is fairly confusing. Thanks again for letting me know!

      Reply
  3. Fallon

    How was the transportation from Zion Ponderosa to the visitor center? Thank you so much for all your tips! I look forward for my own personal trip!

    Reply
    • Bri

      It was fine, as long as you have your own car! It is a scenic route, so a nice drive. But since it’s winding roads, even though the distance is fairly short, it takes like 30-40 minutes to descend down through the park to get to the visitor’s center! That’s why we had breakfast early and took the 8 AM shuttle to hike the Narrows! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Rebecca

    The Narrows look like an unreal hike to accomplish.

    Reply
    • Bri

      It definitely beat our expectations! Would love to hike the Narrows again but with more time!

      Reply
  5. Taylor

    Ah I loved Zion National Park when I visited end of June. It was so breathtaking and I loved hiking the narrows there. Also Zion Ponderosa is such a fun place to stay. I’m so glad you had a great time! 🙂

    Reply
    • Bri

      Thanks, Taylor! And thanks for your tip about the shuttle – we grabbed ours just in time! x

      Reply

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

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