Zion National Park in December

For both the outdoor enthusiast and traveler looking to experience awe-inspiring locales, Zion National Park is a bucket list destination. Zion is wonderful to visit in December because the temperatures are cooler and the crowds are smaller, but you need to know how to manage the unique challenges that this time of year presents. Our guide will help keep you safe and make your December visit much more fun.

Zion Weather in December

The weather in December is cool for this region, but if you are coming from the north, it will seem like fall temperatures.

In early December, the daily high temperatures in Zion National Park are around 54°F (12°C) and hover around 48°F (9°C ) at the end of the month. There are, on average, six days with precipitation which can be a mix of snow or rain. The snow melts at lower elevations during the day but can build up on the canyon’s rim and higher trails.

December Average Daily High Temperature: 50°F (10°C)
December Average Daily Low Temperature: 34°F (1°C)

These are only averages, and it can get quite a bit colder if a high-pressure system from the north descends.

On the other hand, keep in mind that these temperatures in the bottom of the canyon can be much warmer than the top, which is about 1500 feet higher and exposed to more wind. This can affect what you need to bring if you plan to start a hike at the bottom and head up to the rim of the canyon.

Quick December Weather Facts

  • It’s cold, but not freezing during the day
  • Snow accumulates at higher elevations
  • After a snowfall, it melts quickly at lower elevations

The overnight lows will average near the freezing point with it getting just below towards the end of the month.

 

How Busy is Zion in December

December is not busy in Zion National Park. It gets about a third of the traffic in this month compared to the high point in May. December averages 170,000 visitors with the majority of them during the last week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

If you visit during the first three weeks of December, you will find the park much less busy, especially if you visit during the week. This means you will have the trails and views to yourself but must be well equipped and self-sufficient as there won’t be as many people around if you get into trouble.

What to Wear in December

Angels Landing in December
Dress In Layers

Mornings start cool and can get warm in the afternoon so it is smart to dress in layers. If you are going to be doing anything active, make sure you are wearing merino wool or synthetic clothing to wick away the sweat. Keep a winter jacket or down puffy on hand for when you stop, especially in the shade.

Which coat? The temperatures are autumn level for any of the northern states, so we suggest a wicking base layer with a thermal mid-layer such as fleece or a light jacket such as an Arcteryx Atom works well to keep just about anyone warm during activity.

Formula for Comfort
  • Start activities slightly cool so you don’t overheat and sweat once you start working
  • Wear a wicking base layer against the skin
  • Add insulation layers such as fleece or puffy mid-layers as needed for the temperature and activity level.
  • Finish with an outer shell for wind and water protection.
  • Add or remove layers as needed to stay comfortable and dry.
  • Bring a beanie hat and gloves to keep the extremities warm.
Wear Waterproof Hiking Boots

To manage the cooler temperatures and wetter conditions it is wise to wear waterproof hiking boots or shoes. Good traction combined with extra ankle support is nice on the rugged trails you find in Zion.

To further add to foot comfort make sure you are wearing merino wool hiking socks to protect your feet and wick sweat away from the skin.

Bring Microspikes

When going on any hikes in Zion NP in December, it is important to bring microspikes or traction devices you can put on the bottom of your boots. These are little metal spikes that strap to the bottom of your shoes to give you traction on ice.

Many trails, especially higher elevations or in the shade, can get a build-up of ice. Hikes such as Angel’s Landing are known to get ice on certain sections, so microspikes are very important if you want to do that hike safely.

Things to Do in December in Zion

Zion visitors photographing West Temple in December – There is not always snow
Drive

Just driving through the Zion area is a sight to behold. The first three weeks of December give you the bonus of being able to drive into the park since the shuttle service only runs during the Christmas to New Years’ week.

Combine this with the drive up to Mount Carmel, and you have a few hours of sightseeing, especially if you stop and look around at the many viewing spots.

Hike

The hiking in December is quite pleasant as the weather is cooler and there are far fewer people on the trails. Dress in layers, bring extra warm clothing and carry micro-spikes in case you encounter ice on the trails.

Good to know: Some trails may be closed in December due to the hazard of falling ice.

Climb

Rock climbing in December is a lot of fun as the cooler temperatures help with grip. As long as it is dry out, you can climb in Zion but make sure you give it a couple of days to dry after a rainfall as the rain can weaken the sandstone.

If attempting longer routes like Moonlight Buttress, keep in mind the shorter daylight hours. Start early and bring a headlamp for the hike off.

Canyoneering

If you are into canyoneering you can indulge in December but you will really need to have your gear dialed in to deal with the cold water. Routes like the Subway require a dry suit to handle the cold water swims that are part of the trip.

Any time of year canyoneering in Zion requires a wilderness permit.

Backpacking

The cooler days make backpacking in December almost refreshing compared to the heat of the summer. You just need to pack the clothing and sleeping bag to handle the colder nights.

Make sure to have extra batteries for your headlamp as December has the shortest days of the year. Bring microspikes for any icy sections of the trails.

Overnight backpacking requires a wilderness permit. Since the traffic is lower in December, you will probably find it easier to get a permit.

The Narrows in December

The Narrows in December

The Narrows is a hiking route in the Virgin River at the north end of the canyon. Because the canyon is so narrow at this point you have to walk in the river as there is no bank.

Can you hike the Narrows in December?

The Narrows can be hiked any time of year but the park service closes access if the flow of the river is too high or there is a risk of flash floods.

Is it too cold in the Narrows in December?

It would be too cold to hike the Narrows without adequate protection. If you would like to hike the Narrows in December you should wear a dry suit with river boots for traction. These can be rented from local outfitters.

Roads and Shuttle Services in December

The shuttle service doesn’t run during the first three weeks of December. The shuttle service does resume for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

This means you can access the park with a personal vehicle during the times the shuttle isn’t running.

Road conditions: Roads are plowed in December in Zion National Park. However, during a storm, driving conditions can be difficult, but roads are usually plowed quickly afterward.

Is Zion Worth Visiting in December?

Visiting Zion National Park is great any time of year, but December offers small crowds and cooler temperatures. For anyone coming from somewhere cold, the temperatures will seem like fall weather.