For both the outdoor enthusiast and traveler looking to experience awe-inspiring locales, Zion National Park is a bucket list destination.
You should know how to manage the unique challenges that this time of year presents. However, with our experience from many winters in the park, especially in December, we can provide you with valuable tips for a visit during this colder month.
Our unique tips are essential and will help keep you safe and make your December visit much more fun. You learn everything about:
- The Weather in December
- What to wear
- Hiking Conditions
- The Narrows
- Shuttle services
Is December a Good Time?
December is a very good time to visit Zion National Park because the crowds are lower, rates for lodging are cheaper, temperatures are not too cold, and a lot of snow rarely reaches the canyon bottom. It’s a great month to enjoy hiking and scenic drives.
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 average daily high temperatures in Zion National Park are 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: 51°F (11°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.
Temperature progression in December (average highs):
- Early December: 54°F (12°C)
- Mid-December: 51°F (10°C)
- Late December: 49°F (9°C)
Keep in mind that these temperatures in the bottom of the canyon can be warmer than at 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.
Temperature progression on a typical day in Zion:
- Early Morning (7 AM): 32°F
- Afternoon (3 PM): 49°F
- Late Evening (9 PM): 37°F
While temperatures are typically mild during the day, make sure to dress accordingly for the mornings as it gets freezing.
Find our helpful clothing tips in the middle of this article.
It doesn’t snow very often in Zion National Park throughout December. Precipitation occurs only six days on average, and it can be snow or rain. Towards the end of the month, snow is more likely. At lower elevations in the canyon, snow typically melts within hours.
The park is completely accessible during the whole month, and roads are plowed quickly after a snowfall. However, some trails may be closed at times when falling ice becomes a safety issue.
Additionally, a few trails can become difficult or dangerous to hike as parts of them are in the shade and can be covered with ice.
Read more hiking tips for December further below.
How Busy is Zion in December
December is not busy in Zion National Park. It gets about a third of the traffic 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
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 in Zion National Park during December, wear 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. Wearing layers is essential.
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.
Men’s Clothing Tips | Layers
Women’s Clothing Tips | Layers
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.
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 at 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 or crampons are very important if you want to do that hike safely.
Hiking in December
Tip: For hiking information about the Narrows, read the section further below.
Hiking the popular Angels Landing and Observation Point can be done in December. However, check with the rangers first at the visitor center first to find out the current trail conditions.
💡 Any snowfall which happened before can cause a snow melt resulting in icy sections of the hiking trails. Always head to the visitor center first and ask about difficult conditions and suitable trail alternatives, which can be done at that time.
Angels Landing: West Rim Trail to Angels Landing is on the sunny side of the Zion Canyon and typically benefits from melting conditions that clear the hiking trails. Thus, it’s often safe to hike this popular but strenuous trail in December.
We did Angels Landing towards the end of the month many times, and the trail was often dry. However, sections can be icy depending on the weather conditions. One time Walter’s Wiggles (see the photo above) was completely covered with ice.
Observation Point: East Rim Trail to Observation Point can be relatively dry, but it can also be icy as it has many sections in the shade in December.
Read more hiking tips below in the ‘Things to Do’ section.
Recommended Tours for You
The helicopter tour is a once-in-lifetime experience. You will be soaring above Zion National Park and experience spectacular views of the Kolob Canyons, Red Butte Mountain, and West Zion. The tour starts close to Springdale/Zion NP (10-15 minutes drive).
If you have always wanted to hike the iconic Narrows and are not sure about gear, what to pack (dry pants or not), or safety in the winter months, especially in December, don’t worry. We can offer you this truly unique experience with amazing guides (starts in Springdale, the town right outside the Zion entrance). Everything is taken care of, from the dry suit and other gear to transportation and lunch.
Where to Stay and How Many Days
You should spend at least 2 full days (better 3 days) in Zion to do the most popular hikes (Angel’s Landing, The Narrows) and a scenic drive.
Tip: To avoid the crowds, stay in Springdale (closest town – hotel deals via booking.com) and take the very first town shuttle in the morning to Zion NP. It stops at 9 locations in Springdale to pick you up.
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 water in the Narrows is very cold in December, but they can be hiked throughout the month. However, 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 in Springdale.
Dry Suit / What to Bring
Renting and wearing a dry suit for the Narrows in December is essential and will keep you warm enough. We suggest renting the Narrows package, which includes the neoprene socks, the canyon boots, and a wooden hiking pole.
Except for the time it takes to dress up and down, the drysuit will not slow you down. We recommend renting the drysuit and other gear at Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.
Consider renting a dry bag to carry some things, such as additional dry gloves, towel, lunch, camera, basic first aid, etc.
Things to Do in December in Zion
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.
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.
💡 Top Tip: One of the easiest ways to get a fantastic view of the canyon in the winter with an easy hike is the Canyon Overlook trail. You only need to hike a half-mile trail and can enjoy one of the most spectacular sights!
Good to know: Some trails may be closed in December due to the hazard of falling ice. Always check with the rangers at the visitor center first.
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.
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.
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.
Knowing where you can park in Zion National Park is essential. Basically, there are two options:
- Parking inside Zion near the Visitor Center: There are designated parking areas close to the visitor center: Google Maps – Zion National Park Visitor Park. However, the parking space is limited. As it’s not too busy in December, you can try getting a parking lot there. The next easy alternative is …
- Parking in Springdale (Google Maps Location): This town is right at the entrance of Zion N.P. In general, we recommend parking in the town and then using the Springdale shuttle (when it operates in December, see below), which takes you to the park within a few minutes.
If you stay at least one or two nights, which we recommend, parking in Springdale at your hotel is the best and most comfortable option, as you can easily enter the park via the Springdale shuttle (from Christmas to NYE) or easily drive within minutes to the park.
Parking anywhere in Springdale: If you don’t stay at a hotel, please keep in mind that there is a charge for street parking within the town. However, the pay stub for parking there can not be used as a park entrance ticket.
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?
While there are some best times to visit Zion National Park, it is great any time of year. However, December offers small crowds and cooler temperatures. For anyone coming from somewhere cold, the temperatures will seem like fall weather. We love visiting the park in December!