Two Days in Zion National Park: Creating Your Perfect Itinerary

By Joshua Davis •  Updated: 06/23/22 •  32 min read

Our family is big on road trips. More often than not, we chart our course through as many national parks as possible, staying at each as long as we can before our Road Trip Fund bottoms out and we have to head back home.

This means that, sometimes, we have only a short time to enjoy a given park, and a few years ago, passing through Utah on our way home, we had to blitz Zion National Park.

And one does not simply blitz Zion.

In an ideal scenario, I would typically devote a minimum of 1 week to exploring this majestic 229-square-mile gem; but, we had already been on the road for 3 weeks, summer was ending, and so was the travel cash.

Thus, a guide is born. By creating a custom 2-day itinerary, Zion National Park can be enjoyed by those, like us, with only a little time on their hands.

  1. The Caveat: How to Narrow It Down
  2. Single-Day Zion National Park Itineraries (By Activity)
  3. When is the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?
  4. The End of the Trail … For Now

The Caveat: How to Narrow It Down

That’s a Zion pun, folks.

There’s an inherent challenge with having only two days to orchestrate a Zion National Park itinerary: with so many places to explore and so much to do in Zion, how does one prioritize all the options, selecting what to include and what to save for future visits?

It all comes down to this: What do you want to do in Zion National Park during your short stint there?

Do you want to day-hike, go on an overnight backpacking excursion, go mountain biking, do some canyoneering, horseback riding, or rock-climbing those mind-bending-ly tall canyon walls?

Maybe you just want a leisurely auto-tour in the comfort of your own vehicle.

Whew! Choices, choices …

With these in mind, we have created several single-day itineraries that can be combined for 2 days in Zion National Park. Furthermore, each day’s itinerary is based on popular activities suited for the park.

First, decide what it is you want to do, then …

Use the QUICK LINKS above to jump from one activity to another and feel free to mix and match a day from one activity to a second from another. Customize your adventure!

Even with just two days, there is no reason not to check off a few bucket list items!

Single-Day Zion National Park Itineraries (By Activity)

To create your perfect itinerary for 2 days in Zion National Park, select 2 options from any of the following activities (or, if backpacking, just one), and, voilà, you have your very own customized two-day Zion National Park adventure!

Have fun!

Also hiking and backpacking times are averages only. If you need help determining how long it may take you and your crew to hike a given distance, see our guide on How Long Does It Take to Hike ? Miles (Even With Kids)?

IMPORTANT NOTE: From March through November, personal vehicles are not permitted along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the main road that takes you to most of the popular trailheads. Access during these months is by park shuttle service only.

1-Day Hiking Itineraries: Easy to Moderate

These day-hiking itineraries are ideal for families visiting Zion with small children or who just want to take it easy.

Hiking Itinerary 1: Pa’rus Trail, Archaeology Trail, Watchman Trail, and the Emerald Pools via Kayenta Trail

You’ll begin your day at Shuttle Stop #1: Visitor Center. This itinerary features a total of 9.5 miles of hiking requiring 6 hours to complete (not including a brief drive between trailheads and any time you choose to spend at the Human History Museum).

Begin your day early to avoid crowds and extreme heat during the summer months.

Pa’rus Trail (Easy)

Archaeology Trail (Easy)

Watchman Trail (Moderate)

After hiking the Watchman, give your crew a hiking break by visiting the Zion Human History Museum at Shuttle Stop #2 on your way to the last stop in this itinerary at Shuttle Stop #6.

Emerald Pools via Kayenta Trail (Moderate)

Hiking Itinerary #2: The Grotto, Kayenta, Weeping Rock, and Riverside Walk Trails

You’ll begin your day at Shuttle Stop #6: The Grotto. This itinerary involves at least 5.6 miles of hiking requiring about 4 hours.

Additional time should be factored for short drives between trailheads (especially during peak season) and for lingering at relaxing locations such as Weeping Rock or Riverwalk Trail.

If you have extra time at the turn-around point on Riverwalk Trail, we recommend venturing into The Narrows for a bit to get a taste (if you have not already). You can turn around at any point you have had your day’s-worth of hiking.

The Grotto Trail (Easy)

Kayenta Trail (Moderate)

For the next trail, hop in the car or take the Shuttle to the Weeping Rock Trailhead, 1.3 miles North along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Weeping Rock Trail (Easy)

Now, on to the last stop on the day’s itinerary and the terminus of Zion Canyon’s Scenic Drive. Head north for 1.8 miles watching for signs for the Temple of Sinawava. We recommend making a brief stop to take in the views from Big Bend Point on the left on your way.

Riverside Walk (Easy)

As stated before, use any extra time you have at the end of your day to venture through the Gateway to the Narrows. It’s worth a peek and might just hook you … if it hasn’t done so already!

1- Day Hiking Itineraries: Moderate to Strenuous

The following itineraries include trails that require hikers to be physically fit and of sure-footing and stamina. If hiking with children, be judicious and realistic about their abilities and fortitude before venturing on.

Hiking Itinerary 3: The Narrows Bottom-Up (Strenuous … but, you can turn back at any time)

Of all the popular hikes in Zion, hiking The Narrows is King!

This hike will take most of, if not ALL, of your day (and energy). If you get an early start, you may be able to squeeze in another smaller hike in the late afternoon.

This hike is a great way to escape the heat of the summer months as the water of the Virgin River and the high walls of the slot canyon will keep you nice and cool. During Winter, waterproof hiking pants and neoprene socks are a must.

Hiking Itinerary 4: The Narrows Top-Down (Very Strenuous)

While this hike is more-than-sufficient to pack a day from dawn to dusk, you could also spend your entire two days in Zion hiking this route through the Narrows as an overnight backpacking trip.

Hiking Itinerary 5: Angels Landing, Emerald Pools via Kayenta Trail, and Canyon Overlook Trail

This itinerary involves roughly 8.7 miles of hiking requiring approximately 7 hours including the drive from The Grotto to Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Add in extra time for traffic congestion at parking lots during peak season.

You’ll begin the day with an arduous but breath-taking excursion to the precipitous Angel’s Landing and finishes the day with moderate hikes around The Grotto at Shuttle Stop #6. Depending on when (and if) you can procure a permit for Angels Landing, you may have to flip the order of these hikes.

Angels Landing (Very Strenuous)

Emerald Pools via Kayenta Trail (Moderate)

Canyon Overlook Trail (Moderate)

After hiking Angels Landing and Kayenta, give you and your crew a breather with a gorgeous drive along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive through the Upper East Canyon to the Canyon Overlook Trailhead.

This short, moderate trail is a great way to cap off the day with a sweeping viewpoint!

Hiking Itinerary 6: Hidden Canyon Trail and Observation Point

Helpful Tip: These two hikes are HOT in the summer months. Get an early start to enjoy the cooler morning temps.

This itinerary involves about 10.25 miles of hiking requiring approximately 9-10 hours (factoring in elevation gain).

Depending on your fitness level, tackling both of these hikes in one day may be too much. If you choose one, we recommend heading for Observation Point and saving Hidden Canyon for another time.

Hidden Canyon Trail (Strenuous)

Observation Point via Weeping Rock Trail (Very Strenuous)

Hiking Itinerary 7: Day Hike to Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail (Strenuous)

This single-hike itinerary involves 14 miles of hiking requiring 8-10 hours.

Hiking through the red rock cliffs of Kolob Canyons is a fantastic way to experience the vastness of the Zion primitive wilderness. It’s also HOT during summer! We recommend beginning this hike very early or saving it for the Fall.

Kolob Arch, the star of this hike, is one of the world’s largest natural stone arches, spanning 287 feet with a thickness of 75 feet. Eat your heart out, Arches National Park!

Hiking Itinerary 8: The West Rim Trail – Bottom Up (Very Strenuous)

This single-hike itinerary requires hikers and their entourage to be physically and mentally fit and to BEGIN THE DAY AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE! Consider dividing this trip up into an overnight backpacking excursion to lighten the demands of the route, especially during the heat of the summer.

Saving this hike for Spring or Fall promises a more pleasant experience.

Points of interest along this route include Refrigerator Canyon, Scout’s Lookout, views of Angels Landing, the White Cliffs, and views down into the canyon over 2,000-foot drop-offs! Beyond, you’ll be treated to many Zion landmarks and breathtaking views of the Great West Canyon and much more!

When the ascents have punished your legs enough, turn around at any time and enjoy the relieving descent back to The Grotto.

2-Day Backpacking Itineraries

The following itineraries are surveyed here as recommendations for a 2-day trip to Zion; however, backpacking (even just overnight) requires substantially more planning, preparation, and guidance than we offer in this post.

When selecting one of these suggestions, you are solely responsible for preparing yourself and those who accompany you.

Overnight backpacking in Zion requires a reservation and permit. Inform yourself on the NPS website.

Do NOT attempt these backpacking trips without adequate experience, research, and preparation.

Also, there are MANY other backpacking routes offered in the vast expanse of the Zion wilderness. As parents with young children, we are still expanding our backpacking experience ourselves – we figured we would share what we know, thus far.

Backpacking Itinerary #1: The Narrows – Top Down

The Virgin River has carved a stunning slot canyon in the upper regions of Zion Canyon: 16 miles long, up to 2,000 feet deep, and at times only 30 feet wide.

Walking beneath towering walls, sandstone caverns, natural springs, and hanging gardens is an unforgettable wilderness experience. It is not, however, a trip to be taken lightly.

Hiking the Zion Narrows involves becoming closely acquainted with the waters of the Virgin River. The majority of the trek is spent wading, walking, and occasionally swimming in the river. There is no formal path; you must follow the river route.

The current is strong, the water is chilly, and the rocks beneath foot are slick. Flash flooding and hypothermia are always risks. Planning, adequate equipment, and sound judgment are all crucial for a safe and successful trip.

Backpacking Itinerary #1: The West Rim Trail – Top Down (Strenuous)

The trip starts at the West Rim trailhead near Lava Point and follows the alpine plateau with views out into Wildcat Canyon for the first 6.5 miles as you descend towards Potato Hollow.

The main trail continues to climb, leaving Potato Hollow and splitting into the Telephone Canyon Trail and the West Rim route.

The West Rim Trail follows the rim, with views of Phantom Valley and the southern neighboring canyons.

The Telephone Canyon Trail is a quicker route between Potato Hollow and Cabin Spring or a possible circular itinerary for hikers coming in and out of the same trailhead.

The route to the Grotto Picnic Area begins a sharp decline in elevation and descends 2,500 feet over 4.7 miles before reaching the Grotto Picnic Area at Cabin Spring.

Backpacking Itinerary #2: The East Rim Trail to Observation Point (Strenuous)

The route climbs to the plateau with vistas of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. Hikers can connect to Deertrap and Cable Mountain via Stave Spring, or they may continue on the East Rim Trail and descend into Echo Canyon towards Observation Point.

Backpacking Itinerary #3: The Hop Valley Trail to Kolobs Arch

The hike begins near the Kolob Terrace Road and meanders through open pastures with spectacular views of the surrounding rock formations. The route breaks away from the road and begins a steady, but gradual, descent as you approach Hop Valley.

With its flat sandy bottom and towering vertical sides, the valley floor of Hop Valley is stunning. The trail is sandy and well-traveled.

Backpacking Itinerary #4: The La Verkin Creek Trail (Lee Pass Trailhead to Kolob Arch)

The route starts at Lee Pass and travels through the exposed canyons and nearby cliffs of the Kolob Canyons as it follows Timber Creek. The trail descends the slope down to the creek bed on a hard-packed path as it comes around the bend and within sight of La Verkin Creek.

The trail leads upstream for a stretch, providing spectacular views of the canyon’s cliffs. The distance from Lee Pass to Kolob Arch, one of the primary goals of the route and one of the world’s biggest free-standing arches, is 7 miles.

From there, you may continue up the canyon to Bear Trap Canyon and Willis Canyon to extend your trip. This is a wonderful location to spend a few days in.

1-Day Guided Canyoneering Itineraries

Zion National Park is often referred to as the birthplace of the sport of canyoneering. More than just taking a hike through one of the meandering slot canyons of Zion, canyoneering approaches canyon exploration via more creative techniques: rappelling, scrambling, stemming, chimneying, and sliding.

Canyoneers are typically fitted with safety gear such as helmets, harnesses, and rope systems.

Canyoneering is the sport/art of experiencing a canyon from more imaginative angles than just the canyon floor, beyond where the average hiker would venture.

It is also a sport that is only as technical and as extreme as you want to make it. This is good news for inexperienced beginners, especially for those with young children.

A variety of guided canyoneering tours are available in Zion that is specifically designed for beginners and families with children as young as 4 years old.

Here are a few we recommend:

Crimson Canyon and UTV Adventure (Easy)

To make the most of your day in Zion, we recommend combining this short canyoneering trip with Hiking Itinerary #2 above. Together, these would make for a 7+ hour day including time in the car and breaks. By then, a 4-year-old (and possibly you) will be pretty sacked.

Elkheart Canyon and UTV Adventure (Easy)

To make the most of your day in Zion, we recommend combining this short canyoneering trip with Hiking Itinerary #3: The Narrows Bottom Up above (if that hike is appropriate for you and your entourage).

If you book your canyoneering trip in one of the early morning slots, you’ll be finished in the early afternoon which is a great time to enjoy the cool shade and waters of the Narrows.

You won’t have time to explore the whole thing before dusk; but, you can turn around when needed and you’ll be able to get in far enough for it to be worth your while.

Stone Hollow Canyon (Moderately Strenuous)

If you book this canyoneering trip early in the morning, you may still have time to pack in some other Zion hikes into the late afternoon. The fam may be pretty wiped; so, we recommend combining it with one of the easier hiking itineraries above such as Hiking Itinerary #2.

Powell’s Way: Full Day Canyoneering Adventure (Moderately Strenuous)

Booking this canyoneering trip early in the morning may leave some free time at the end of your day. If you and your crew still have some go-get-’em left, take the scenic 1-hour drive to Shuttle Stop #9 Temple of Sinawava and refresh yourself in the cool waters of the Virgin River and maybe peek inside the Gateway to The Narrows.

By that time, you’ll have burned up all your daylight!

1-Day Guided Rock Climbing Itineraries

There is a myriad of guided rock-climbing tours designed with beginners, children (as young as 4 years old), and families in mind. These tours are available on half-day (4-5 hours in the morning or afternoon) and full-day (8-9 hours beginning early in the morning) adventures.

For detailed information on requirements, pricing, and booking, visit the following resources:

Zion Adventures’ Family Rock Climbing

Zion Rock Guides’ Family Rock Climbing Adventure

1- Day Horseback Riding Itineraries

Adding a horseback riding experience to your Zion National Park 2-day itinerary will bring some of the Old West into your out-west adventure. This is both a thrilling and relaxing way to enjoy the park’s vast beauty as a family with children as young as 7 years.

Helpful Tip: East Zion Adventures offers a 10-minute ride for children under 7 years of age.

For the full horseback riding trips, riders must be a minimum of 4 feet tall and weigh under 220 lbs.

A typical horseback ride lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 hours; so, we recommend reserving a morning ride and spending the afternoon hiking through one of the itineraries above that fits within the time you have left.

We recommend combining a horseback ride with Hiking Itinerary #1 or #2 for some leisurely hiking or Hiking Itinerary #5 for something more challenging.

Virgin River Ride

Pine Knoll Ride (Offers the Best Views)

Zion Sunset Ride (Most Popular)

Sand Beach Trail

1- Day Bicycling Itineraries

If you fancy a day of biking in Zion, select one of these 1-Day Itineraries to pair with another day of activity from our list. This is a great way to add variety to your experience – and to see more of Zion during your brief two-day visit.

Whether you bring your own or rent bikes during your stay in Zion, they are permitted on all park roads. However, there are some things to keep in mind:

Biking Itinerary #1: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive – Up and Back (Moderate) and Hiking Riverside Walk (Easy)

This biking-with-a-little-hiking itinerary will fill up your day. Pack some hydration packs with snacks and water and get ready for a great ride!

The ride up the canyon has a slight incline with hills and level areas here and there. You’ll be rewarded with the mostly downhill ride back after turning around at the Temple of Sinawava.

Helpful Tip: There are 9 shuttle stops along this route providing convenient rest stops and bail-out options should anyone in the group become too fatigued during the trip.

Biking Itinerary #2: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and the Pa’rus Trail– Downhill Only (Easy … so, very easy)

If you want to be truly spoiled, let gravity do most of the work and coast down through the canyon from the Temple of Sinawava to the Pa’rus Trail.

Helpful Tip: You’ll need to load yourself and your bikes on one of the canyon shuttles to reach your starting point (or have someone drop you off). Each shuttle can only accommodate 3 bicycles; so, plan accordingly.

Auto Touring Itineraries

Note: From March through November, private vehicles are NOT permitted on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Access it by bicycle or shuttle bus only. Therefore, this itinerary is best enjoyed from December to February.

Stock the car with drinks and snacks, load your favorite road trippin’ playlist, and charge your camera. You’re about to enjoy the grandeur of Zion without breaking a sweat!

Well, at least a part of its grandeur. Limiting yourself from experiencing Zion through your car windows or even with the rag top down provides a mere taste of what Zion has to offer along its many mesmerizing trails and jaw-dropping viewpoints.

BUT, for those of us with young children who are having to save those glorious hikes for when our kids come of age, auto-touring Zion is a pacifying solution that is sure to put the little one into a deep car seat sleep so that Mom and Dad can finally get a break!

Auto Tour Itinerary #1: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

This route involves driving 35.5 miles. With no traffic and no stops, this would only take about 1.5 hours.

Don’t bet on it. Set your mind for a slow, relaxing drive that will take most of the day (if you do it right) and be prepared to wait on others. Besides, what’s the hurry?

This one-of-a-kind driving cruise will begin on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, taking you within sight and short walking distance of some of Zion National Park’s most majestic landmarks including the Sentinel, the Organ, the Three Patriarchs, the Great White Throne, and the legendary Narrows.

At the end of this road, you’ll do a 180° and head to the junction of the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. The final leg of the drive passes through a landscape dotted with huge, abstract geologic formations that dwarf everything else.

Turning around once more at Zion’s East Entrance, enjoy the drive back to your starting point, stopping at any of the myriads of trailheads and viewpoints along the way.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

Drive, stop and take pic’s until you arrive at the Temple of Sinawava at the road’s terminus. There, turn around and head for the junction with Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (a.k.a. Zion Park Blvd or Hwy 9) on your left.

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

From here, turn around, cruise back into Zion proper, hang left onto Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, and make for the Visitor Center. Whew!

Auto Tour Itinerary #2: Zion Scenic Byway (Hwy 9 from I-15 to Mt. Carmel Junction)

This state highway is one of Utah’s pride and joys, taking motorists on an east-to-west trajectory through Zion Canyon terminating at the Mt. Carmel Junction.

When is the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?

Well, it depends on what you want to do …

If you want to avoid crowds and the intense heat (especially of the summer), winter is the best time for you. This is the best time for using your own vehicle to explore the park, as well.

If you’re cool with crowds, but; want the best weather for hiking, biking, and various other canyonland-conducive activities visit during the Fall to avoid the 100° temps of Summer and the flash floods of Spring.

If you enjoy baking in a deep farmers’ tan while hob-nobbing with ridiculously thick crowds of humans jockeying for seats on shuttles, go during the summertime. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The End of the Trail … For Now

Zion is an amazing place and you could spend days exploring all the different areas. We’ve only scratched the surface in this post, but we hope it gives you a good starting point for your visit.

Again, if it’s your first time visiting Zion, select from two of the single-day itineraries we’ve prescribed and pair them up for a memorable two-day Zion National Park adventure!

The next time you head out to Utah, you’ll be more familiar with what this treasured land has to offer and will, hopefully, have more time to get lost in it (metaphorically speaking …).

Now, get out there!

Joshua Davis

Being outdoors is freedom! Being outdoors with my wife and two boys is LIVING! Whether in my backyard or getting lost in a National Park, there’s nothing I’d rather do than explore, discover, and experience the paradise that surrounds us. Give me my family, a backpack, and a trail and my life is full!