Zion National Park VS Grand Canyon: Which Is Better
Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon are two of the most iconic national parks in the United States. Both offer stunning natural beauty and breathtaking views. But which one is better, Zion National Park or Grand Canyon National Park?
In this post, we’ll compare these two amazing parks to help you decide which is right for your next visit.
We’ll look at their similarities and differences, covering aspects such as weather, popularity, and what to do while you’re there. This comparison will help ensure that your visit to either of these magnificent parks is not only a memorable one but the perfect fit for your vacation.
So let’s take a closer look at the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.
Zion National Park Vs Grand Canyon
Unless otherwise specified, when we discuss specifics about the Grand Canyon, like weather and activities, we are talking about the South Rim as it is the most popular area of the park to visit.
Zion Vs Grand Canyon: Size & Geography
Grand Canyon National Park is immense. Spanning over 1,900 square miles, the park contains spectacularly carved canyons.
It is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide in some areas, and reaches depths of over 6,000 feet.
In comparison, Zion National Park is much smaller but no less impressive. It spans just over 229 square miles. The main feature is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long, and reaches depths of over 2,500 feet.
One of the aspects that is important to note is how differently you enjoy these two parks.
When you visit the Grand Canyon, you will be looking down into the canyon from the top rim. If you want to hike, you will head DOWN to the inner canyon.
Zion National Park is the opposite. You will start down in the canyon, and instead of deep ravines, you will have dramatic mountains. If you want views from up high, you must hike UP to see the sights from above.
📖 Interested in photography? If you are headed to the Grand Canyon you might want to check out our beginner tips.
Zion Or Grand Canyon: Weather
The climate in Zion National Park in Utah is warmer than the Grand Canyon.
While both parks are located in the desert region, Zion has an average high temperature of around 98ºF during the summer, while Grand Canyon temperatures reach only about 82°F.
If you are down inside the inner canyon of the Grand Canyon, then it would be slightly different as it can get quite a bit warmer than the rim, with averages during the summer being 103°F.
During the height of winter, Zion is still about 10°F warmer than Grand Canyon, with average daytime temperatures holding around 54°F.
📎 Tip: Be extremely careful hiking to the inner canyon during the height of summer. It is not recommended due to the higher temperatures at the bottom.
Rainfall is similar in both parks, averaging 15 inches per year.
Snowfall, on the other hand, varies substantially between the parks.
Zion National Park has only about 13 inches of snow annually, most of which falls in the high backcountry. The park is open year-round.
Grand Canyon has an average of 58 inches of snow at the South Rim. The North Rim gets substantially more, with a whopping 142 inches per year.
Due to the North Rim snowfall, it is closed to vehicles from late November to mid-May. The South Rim is open year-round.
📖 If you decide on Zion, consider staying in St. George, Utah.
Zion National Park Vs Grand Canyon: Getting There and Getting Around
The closest airport to Zion National Park is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nv. It is a 170-mile drive to the park, taking just under 3 hours.
The closest airport to Grand Canyon National Park is Flagstaff Pullium Airport in Flagstaff, Az. The drive will be about 1.5 hours and is around 85 miles.
If you want the freedom to stop when you want, driving yourself is the best option to get to either park.
But you can take a tour if you don’t want the hassle and cost of renting a car to see these gorgeous national parks.
This is the best tour from Las Vegas to Zion National Park
Best Tour From Las Vegas: Zion & Bryce Small Group Tour
This is the best tour from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon
Best Tour From Flagstaff: Grand Canyon Small Group Tour
Getting In And Getting Around
Neither Zion National Park nor the Grand Canyon has a timed entry or reservation system to visit the park.
Therefore, you can roll up the day of and get into the park. But expect long lines at the entrance gates during the popular months. We suggest you arrive early to avoid the longest lines.
But this is where things diverge.
The Grand Canyon allows visitors to drive their own personal vehicle WITHIN the park year-round. The Desert View Drive is a 23-mile scenic drive with various viewpoints and gives you an excellent overview of the park.
Shuttles are available and free to ride. While optional, there are limited parking areas along the scenic drive, and you may struggle to find parking at some viewpoints. The shuttles can be a great alternative, so you only have to find parking once.
On the opposite side, due to the crowds, Zion has MANDATORY shuttles between March and November. You are not allowed to drive your personal vehicle along the scenic route while the shuttles are in service.
While the shuttles are free to ride, you must conform to the hours of shuttle operations, and shuttles can sometimes be full, leaving you waiting even longer between stops.
📖 Leaning towards the Grand Canyon? How about looking at the reasons why it might be worth a visit?
Zion Or Grand Canyon: Cost
According to Budget Your Trip, Zion National Park comes in at $95 daily. The Grand Canyon is just slightly more expensive at $130 per day.
These are just estimates based on how expensive the area is, the cost of living, average meal prices, etc.
The two parks are equal if you break it down to just the bare bones and look at entrance fees. They both have a $35 entrance fee for a personal vehicle that allows you seven-day access to the park.
Once inside the park, you can choose whether you want to spend additional money on food and activities.
While Zion is cheaper per day by about $35, keep in mind that this park is also further from the airport, as we discussed above. So you will pay for additional fuel to get here and back for your vacation.
This may not add up to the difference, but as fuel prices continue to increase, the price gap between the parks will get smaller.
📖 The ghost town of Grafton is a great side trip if you decide on Zion National Park.
Zion National Park Vs Grand Canyon: Popularity
Both parks are extremely beautiful and thus, popular.
If you had asked what park was busier before the pandemic, the answer would have been easy, the Grand Canyon.
But because the pandemic stopped international travel and had Americans finding places to visit in their own backyard, visits to Zion National Park have soared.
Zion National Park was the second most visited national park this past year, with 5 million visitors. The Grand Canyon was the fourth most visited park, with 4.5 million visitors.
No matter which way you slice it, there are tons of people at each park.
Ways To Get Some Solitude
Even though Zion National Park has more visitors annually than Grand Canyon, we found we were able to get more solitude there.
It might be because the popular season stretches a bit longer (from April to September rather than the Grand Canyon’s May to August), or because more people are spreading out to hit different trails in different parts of the park.
Whereas in the Grand Canyon, only 1% of visitors decide to hike below the upper rim, which leaves A LOT of people crowded at the viewpoints and the central hikes along the rim.
So how can you get away from the crowds at these parks?
The first option is to visit during the shoulder season. That means hitting the park right before or after its busy season. There will be fewer crowds, but you can take advantage of the semi-warm weather conditions.
The second option is to try some of the less popular hikes. Obviously, the popular treks are popular for a reason, but that doesn’t mean that the others are less worthy of your attention.
Talk to the park rangers and find out what would be a good option for you that is less crowded.
Our last suggestion is specific to the Grand Canyon.
It is to consider a visit to the North Rim. The South Rim is the hotspot because of its ease of getting to it from nearby cities and the amenities it has on location at the Grand Canyon Village.
The North Rim is a 5-hour drive from the South Rim, so don’t expect to get there and back in a day. But it will be much less crowded and still have epic views and great hiking options.
📖 Have you ever wondered if you could get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon without having to hike?
Zion Or Grand Canyon: Wildlife
The Grand Canyon has more than 90 species of mammals, nearly 450 species of birds, and numerous reptiles and amphibians. You will likely see elk, mule deer, and squirrels.
Zion National Park has over 75 species of mammals, more than 290 species of birds, and like the Grand Canyon, varying numbers of reptiles and amphibians. You will likely see mule deer, bighorn sheep, and tons of squirrels scurrying around.
Regarding mammals, what you can expect to see during a visit will be similar in both parks, mainly deer and squirrels.
But if you are a birder, Grand Canyon has the upper hand. With an additional 150+ species that can be seen, you will surely have better luck ticking birds on your checklist within the Grand Canyon (and don’t call me Shirley!).
📎 Tip: Be on the lookout for the rarest bird you might see in either park, the California Condor.
📖 Will you be traveling to the Grand Canyon from Houston? If so, we have three routes with stops along the way for you to check out.
Zion National Park Vs Grand Canyon: Most Popular Hike
Hiking is the most popular activity to do in either park. And each park has some great hikes that are worth doing during your visit.
Zion National Park’s most famous hike is Angel’s Landing.
This strenuous 5.4-mile round-trip hike takes hikers up a series of switchbacks and over narrow ledges with dropoffs, culminating at a dramatic viewpoint with breathtaking views of Zion Canyon.
Due to the popularity of this hike, you must now make a reservation before visiting (and these reservations fill up quickly) or take part in the lottery system the day before in hopes of getting a pass.
If you can’t get a pass to do Angel’s Landing, the Narrows is also very popular. This 9-mile (round trip) hike takes you upstream on the Virgin River, allowing you to explore the narrow canyon walls. Be prepared for walking in water, often to your knees or thighs depending on your height.
For those looking for a hike in Grand Canyon National Park, the Bright Angel Trail is the most popular option. This 12-mile (round trip) trail takes hikers from the South Rim to Plateau Point, offering stunning canyon views along the way.
There are plenty of turnaround points along the trailhead, so even if you don’t want to hike the whole way, this is a great trail to get you below the rim for a different perspective.
📖 Planning a trip to Vegas and want to get out in nature? There are actually tons of Vegas Grand Canyon tour excursions you can pick from.
Zion Or Grand Canyon: Popular Activities
The Grand Canyon offers tons of activities beyond hiking, including white water rafting, mule rides, and helicopter tours, just to name a few.
White water rafting allows visitors to experience the Colorado River from an entirely new perspective as they paddle down the canyon’s famous rapids.
And helicopter tours are the perfect way to get a bird’s-eye view of this stunning natural wonder. Riding a mule is a great way to see the inner canyon if you don’t feel up the hike; the two-day experience is something you won’t soon forget.
Another option is to head to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon (located on the Hualapai Indian Reservation) and experience the Skywalk. This glass observation deck hangs 4,000 feet above the canyon floor.
Then we have Zion National Park. They also have a variety of activities, but fewer than the Grand Canyon.
Horseback riding, exploring slot canyons, and UTV tours are the most popular activities to do. You can also hit up a helicopter ride for a different perspective.
Grand Canyon is the clear winner if you want to do activities during your visit. But if you want to spend some quieter time in nature, Zion National Park will be the better option of the two.
Enjoy More From The Southwest:
–Can You Drive To The Bottom Of The Grand Canyon
–5 Amazing National Parks Near St George, Utah
–Is The Grand Canyon Worth It
–An Epic Road Trip From Houston To Grand Canyon
–13 Best Vegas Grand Canyon Tour Excursions
To Finish – Zion National Park Vs Grand Canyon: Which Is Better
Both of these parks are incredible. As you can see, we didn’t give you a definitive answer to the “which is better” question…Zion National Park or Grand Canyon.
Because, in truth, the answer truly depends on what you are looking for.
The Grand Canyon is known for its impressive size and colorful landscape, while Zion National Park is characterized by its dramatic cliffs and towering peaks.
If you want to hike and have a bit more solitude, Zion is your best bet. If you wish to see iconic views that you can’t see anywhere else and hope to do some activities during your trip, Grand Canyon is a better choice.
Ultimately, whatever you choose will be the right decision for you.