This weekend, tens of thousands of visitors will descend on Zion National Park. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer in many of Utah’s National Parks, with attendance reaching record-breaking numbers. Last year, Zion saw more than 86,000 visitors during the four-day weekend, the highest number in a single weekend in 2018. This year, numbers are expected to reach or exceed that, leading to plenty of traffic at entrance gates, lines at popular trailheads, and crowds everywhere you turn
This doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of a long weekend and enjoy a visit to the area. But it does mean that you’ll want to do some careful planning ahead of time to prepare and avoid the crowds as much as possible.
Planning Your Memorial Day Weekend
While there will be crowding in the park, if you’re lucky enough to be staying at Watchman Villas, you may be able to avoid the worst of it. Because you’ll be sleeping just steps away from the free Zion Canyon shuttle, you won’t have to worry about fighting for a parking spot or getting up hours early to get in line to enter the park. Instead, simply roll out of bed and right onto the shuttle.
If you want to get to the park before the crowds begin to form, aim to catch the shuttle before 9 a.m. If you catch the shuttle at 7 a.m., you can enjoy a couple of hours of tranquility in the park. Then, ride the shuttle back to your villa and spend the afternoon relaxing poolside or visit the spa. Then, go back to the park in the late afternoon when many of the day visitors will begin to leave.
If you’ve been to Zion before or know that you’ll return in the future, you can also avoid a lot of the crowding by visiting on Friday and/or Monday. Then, spend your Saturday and Sunday, the two busiest days of the holiday weekend, enjoying some of the other attractions that Springdale and the surrounding area have to offer. Keep reading for a few ideas to help you do just that.
1. Visit a State Park
Several of Utah’s other mighty 5 National Parks will also experience record crowds this weekend, including Arches and Bryce. But the state also boasts plenty of other beautiful parks. Many will still experience plenty of holiday visitors, however, with far less traffic and fewer crowds. Many visitors to the area never even realize that there are sand dunes, fishing, and more, located just a short distance from Zion National Park.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Just over an hour’s drive from Springdale is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. This breathtaking park features light pink sand dunes, formed over thousands of years by the eroding sandstone cliffs that surround the dunes. This park is known for it’s off-road trails and family-friendly activities like sledding on the dunes.
Sand Hollow State Park
Less than an hour from Zion is Sand Hollow State Park. While you’ll also find sand dunes here, the park is better known for its lake, where you can enjoy a variety of watersports. If Memorial Day weekend is too chilly for boating, you can also rent UTVs and ATVs and hit an off-road trail instead.
Valley of Fire State Park
While it’s located a bit further from Springdale than the other state parks on this list, Valley of Fire State Park is well-worth the drive. Nevada’s oldest state park, Valley of Fire is located in the Mojave Desert. Here you’ll find stunning Red Aztec sandstone, vibrant limestone, and plenty of desert flora. History-buffs will enjoy seeing the ancient petroglyphs and petrified trees. A visit to this park is a great chance to experience a very different landscape from the ones that exist in Zion.
2. Shop Downtown Springdale
If you need a break from standing in line or sitting in your car, take a stroll through downtown Springdale instead. The town has plenty of shopping for all ages and interests. From gift shops and outdoor outfitters to local arts and crafts, you can easily enjoy a full afternoon of wandering and bring home fun souvenirs to commemorate your vacation. If you have little ones along who need a play-break or you just want to take a walk and enjoy the weather, there are also several city parks located throughout Springdale that you can visit.
3. Take a Road Trip to a Different National Park
While Zion has more than 4 million visitors a year, other Utah National Parks see far lower attendance numbers. Memorial Day weekend may still be some of the busiest days of the year for these parks. But the crowds and traffic are likely to be far more spread out.
Capitol Reef is one of the most underutilized National Parks in the nation. While it covers over 100,000 more acres than Zion, it sees just 1.1 million visitors a year. You’ll find red rock canyons, cliffs, and domes just as in Zion, but with a completely unique landscape. Capitol Reef is located on the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic phenomenon that is a literal fold in the earth’s surface.
While the Grand Canyon will also experience record-breaking numbers this weekend, there’s a lesser-known secret that’s located just a short distance from Springdale that will allow you to still take in the Canyon without the crowds. The North Rim is visited by just 10 percent of all people who come to the Grand Canyon. You can easily take a day trip here from Springdale, allowing you to visit two of the U.S.’s most famous parks in just one weekend!
4. Take a Tour
Another great way to beat the crowds and still enjoy the beauty of Zion National Park and the surrounding landscapes during Memorial Day is with a tour. Technically you’re still in the park. But with a scheduled tour you won’t have to fret about finding parking or choosing which trails to hit and which to avoid. You can take in the backcountry views on a Jeep safari, try a taste of canyoneering, or even tackle a lengthier trek with professional guides.
While most companies are likely already booked for this year, scheduling a tour far ahead of your next holiday in Zion will give you the chance to still enjoy the park without worrying about lengthy trailhead lines or car traffic.
Spending Your Holidays in Zion
Whether you’re already headed to Zion for this year’s Memorial Day weekend or thinking ahead to next year, with a little planning, you can still enjoy a wonderful adventure in Springdale and Zion National Park on the area’s busiest days!