I just visited Zion National Park for the first time this summer, and I did allll the research before my trip, did some pretty crazy hikes, and learned a lot in hindsight.
Now that I’ve done it, here’s how I would put together the perfect Zion National Park 2 day itinerary:
Zion National Park 2 Day Itinerary
First things first, there are some things you need to know before you even SHOW UP to the park.
If we’re going to talk about Zion, we’ve got to talk about the crowds…
In 2022, Zion National Park was the THIRD most visited park in the US (behind Great Smoky Mountains & the Grand Canyon). And Zion definitely gets CROWDED. Especially during the summer.
They’ve taken some big steps to mitigate the crowds in the last few years and they definitely help but also make it less convenient.
In the main section of the park where most of the hiking trails are, you can’t drive your own car. From March through November, transportation through the park is done by shuttle. You can park your car for free at the visitor center (just through the main gates), and hop on the shuttle there.
If you want to get a parking spot at the visitor center (the first stop on the shuttle), plan to arrive before 8 AM.
After 8 AM in the summer, you’re going to have 1) pretty long lines just to get through the gates, 2) you may not get a spot at the visitor center and have to turn around and pay to park in Springdale and take a shuttle to the visitor center just to get the main shuttle.
I did my trip the third week in August (13-19) and Zion was definitely the most crowded place we went, but it wasn’t as bad as I was prepared for. People said it was like going to Disney World. I see why they say that (crowds, lines, busses, etc), but thankfully it wasn’t so dramatic when I was there. I think that the week I visited though was the first week that the crowds started to break. By the third week in August, a lot of schools are starting back in the US. So even though it was still crowded, I don’t think I saw peak summer crowds.
There were sooooo many shuttles running too. They said the shuttles run every 5-10 minutes, but they were pretty much pulling up one right after another whenever we were at a stop.
But there were a lot of ropes and switch backs at the stops (especially at the visitor center) so I know they do get big crowds plus when we got on the shuttle at Zion Lodge to go back to the visitor center it was PACKED with people who had already gotten picked up at the more popular hiking stops. And nobody was getting off. We were squeezed in pretty tight and it was standing room only.
If you are going during peak summer months, here’s the strategy that was recommended to me:
Be parked at the visitor center and in line for the first shuttle (6 AM) early. I cringed when people said to arrive at 5 AM.
Take the shuttle to the stop to hike the Narrows or Angels Landing. Do the hike. Get the heck out of there.
I heard it was basically like “rope dropping” Disney World where you get one shot to be at the front of the line for a ride and when you get off that ride, the crowds will have arrived.
It wasn’t nearly that dramatic when I went, but it was by far the most crowded National Park I’ve ever been to so I can definitely see how it would be that way during peak season.
Basically, if you’re planning to do one of the big, popular hikes, get there early and get it done. Plan for one big hike a day and anything else is just a bonus.
This is why I think you want to spend two days here. With two days in Zion National Park, you’ll be able to tackle the park’s two most legendary hikes…The Narrows and Angels Landing.
Also, if you’re going during peak season and spending at least two days, I think it’s super nice to stay somewhere with a pool so when you finish your hike you can head back to your hotel midafternoon and cool down at the pool.
I LOVED staying at AutoCamp in Virgin, UT. It was about 25 minutes from the main gate entrance, and when you’re done exploring the park for the day, it’s such a nice place to come back to. There’s a pool plus plenty of areas to hang out and relax. Read more about glamping near Zion National Park here.
Zion National Park 2 Day Itinerary
Okay, now that you know what to expect, here’s how I would plan to spend two days at Zion National Park:
Hike the Narrows.
This is Zion’s most famous hike and arguably one of the most famous hikes in the world.
The “trail” is actually the Virgin River. That’s it. That’s the trail. You’ll wade into the Virgin River and make your way upstream through the river bed as far as you have the patience (or nerve) to go. The water is mostly knee deep but sometimes as much as chest deep and the farther into “The Narrows” you go, the better the views get.
I recommend planning to do this hike on your first day in the park because in case something happens, you’ll have a second shot at it the next day.
The Virgin River is susceptible to flash flooding (especially during the summer monsoon months) so you have to really monitor conditions to be sure it’s a good idea to go out.
If you’re going to attempt the Narrows hike, you’ve GOT to rent the gear from Zion Outfitters. The river is COLD even in the summer and with your feet in the water potentially for hours, you’re really going to want their special shoes.
Zion Outfitter’s summer Narrows package includes neoprene booties (like wetsuit socks), boots that feel a bit like water shoes with really good ankle support, and a walking stick for about $30/person. It’s 100% worth it and honestly after doing it I wish I had gotten a second walking stick.
You can reserve in advance here (not necessary but it makes pick up a lot quicker). You can pick up the morning of when they open at 7 AM or if you’re planning on getting an early start to avoid the crowds they’ll let you pick up the night before (based on availability).
I would NOT have wanted to do this hike without the booties and shoes. And even if you decide to tough it out in your own shoes, a walking stick is the bare minimum thing you need.
So here’s how it went: We arrived at Zion Outfitters (just outside the park) to pick up our gear about 7:30 AM. I had reserved it in advance so we pretty much just grabbed it and went. We drove through the gates and pretty easily found a parking spot at the visitor center.
We got on the shuttle at the visitor center and rode it all the way to the end at the Temple of Sinawava which is where you’ll pick up the trailhead for the Narrows.
From the shuttle stop, you take the Riverside Trail for about a mile which enters deeper into the canyon and passes along the Virgin River. When you come to a little overlook with benches and steps down to the riverbed, this is where the people hiking the Narrows get in the water and everybody else turns around (or stands there watching the crazies ; )
I had read that you should go at least a mile and half down the trail to come to the point where the canyon really starts to “narrow.” I thought that meant a mile and a half through the river, but after doing it I would say that’s a mile and a half from the shuttle stop (so half a mile into the river) which is about where the canyon really started to narrow. We hiked almost a mile up the river before turning around and we were in the river for almost three hours (including a snack/water/rest stop at the turnaround point).
IT IS SLOW GOING. The riverbed is made up of pretty good sized rocks with bigger boulders randomly throughout and the water is brown so you CAN’T SEE WHERE YOU’RE STEPPING.
It’s not at all “icky” but you can’t see where to put your next step and it makes it such slow going because you’re trying really hard not to fall down and land in the cold water. So fun haha!
So a bit about the logistics: There’s not really an end of the trail (there technically is but it’s like 15 miles) so most people just hike up the river until they’ve had enough and then turn around.
You CANNOT do this without getting wet. It’s mostly calf/knee deep, but when I did it (the water level changes) we had to pass through a section fairly early on that was chest deep so you’ve got to be prepared to get wet.
It was actually pretty chilly the morning I did this (mid August) and I left my sweatshirt in the car because I didn’t want to carry it around all day and I was really regretting that as I was hiking through the shady canyon to get in the cold river.
Buuuut…when I fell in the river about 5 minutes into the hike I was really glad I wasn’t wearing a sweatshirt ; ) So, even if it feels a little chilly in the morning, this is a shorts and t-shirt hike if you’re going in the summer. But if you’re really cold natured, a thin long sleeve layer that would fold up small in your backpack may make the beginning more comfortable (after I’d been in the river a few minutes hiking I warmed up and I didn’t ever feel cold after that).
Also, I didn’t take a waterproof backpack with me (I had no intention of falling in ; ) but my backpack was water resistant and I had a waterproof pouch inside that I put everything that I really didn’t want to get wet and it was fine.
And I can also now personally attest to the fact that the newer iPhones are basically waterproof! My phone was in my pocket when I took a dunk and it was completely submerged for a few seconds and it was totally fine.
If you’re wanting to keep your phone accessible for photos/videos and not tucked away in a waterproof bag, In hindsight I do think it would be a good idea to have one of those straps that wraps around your phone and hooks to you. And I also ended up keeping it mostly tucked inside my sports bra (TMI??) since a lot of the time the pockets on my shorts were in the water.
So OVERALL, about the Narrows…I’m glad I did it, it’s an experience I’ll always be glad to have, it was a bit surreal, but honestly I have to say that I didn’t necessarily enjoy it very much in the moment.
It’s not a physically tough hike in most ways (completely flat, not hot, etc.) but it felt really exhausting just trying to get my footing and not fall down and get hurt and I’d realize that I’d gone for a long stretch and not even looked up around me.
Also all of the gear required (plus extra clothes and shoes because you’ll get wet) make it more complicated logistically (especially since you won’t have your car parked at the trailhead), but if you’re at all able bodied, I think this is an experience that you’ll want to have. I’m not exaggerating…every person that’s found out that I went to Zion has asked me “did you hike the Narrows?” haha.
When you’re done hiking at the Narrows, catch the shuttle and ride it all the way back to the visitor center so you can change into dry clothes and shoes. I would NOT try to pack everything and carry it around with you all day. Plus you’ll have your walking stick.
I would plan to go back to your car, change at the visitor center (or your hotel if you’re staying right there in Springdale) and then find somewhere to have lunch in town.
Drive the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive on the Mount Carmel Highway
Instead of getting back on the shuttle and going back into the park for another hike, I think it makes sense to spend the rest of the day exploring the part of the park that you can actually drive to.
You CANNOT miss driving the Mount Carmel Highway through Zion Canyon. It’s an incredibly scenic drive and it’s hard to imagine how long ago they built this road.
Once you drive through the Mount Carmel Tunnel, pull off to park (there’s a small parking lot on the right hand side of the road) and more parking further down the road) and hike the Canyon Overlook Trail.
It’s a fairly easy one mile loop trail that has AMAZING views of Zion Canyon.
When you’re done with the hike, I would finish up the scenic drive before turning around and heading back to Springdale to return your Narrows hiking gear.
Start day 2 off with the park’s other “big hike.” Angels Landing is one of the most famous hikes in the world and actually considered one of the most deadly hikes (yikes!), BUT you can do like 90% of it and still get the amazing views without doing the scary bit.
And you actually have to have a permit now to do the “scary bit.” So if you’re set on doing the FULL Angels Landing hike, make sure to secure your permit. They’re given out by lottery and you’ll have a shot for a seasonal lottery in advance plus a day before lottery. You can find the details here.
The full hike is 5.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1500 feet. It takes most people about four hours.
Without a permit, you can hike to Scout Lookout which is at the base of Angels Landing and probably about 90% of the hike. It’s 3.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1100 feet.
It’s a great hike if you want most of the payoff without the dangerous bit at the end.
The trailhead is at shuttle stop #5 (The Grotto). You’ll take the West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout. Plan to spend at least three hours.
After you hike to Scout Lookout, head to the Zion Lodge for lunch. Now, I LOVE National Park lodges and I never miss checking one out, but I was honestly a bit disappointed with Zion Lodge. It’s not terribly grand, but it is pretty cozy.
We had lunch in the lodge which wasn’t terribly remarkable, and I think I would actually go to the quick service location on site. I heard their pizza and ice cream is pretty good and honestly you EARNED IT after that hike.
Do you have one more (easier) hike in you? Right across from Zion Lodge you can take either the Lower Emerald Pools Trail or the Middle Emerald Pools Trail and from there connect to the other one (plus the Kayenta Trail and the Upper Emerald Pools Trail).
And there you have it! That’s how I would personally spend two days in Zion National Park. One note though: If you’re doing both of these big hikes (Angels Landing and the Narrows) and are absolutely exhausted afterwards and don’t have it in you to do anything other than head back to the hotel pool or campfire…if you’re also doing Bryce Canyon and/or the Grand Canyon on this trip, you’ll actually end up driving the Mount Carmel Highway so you could save that and the Canyon Overlook hike for early on that day.