Updated: Mar 11
Short answer - of course. You can do anything in a day!
The question you should really ask yourself is, SHOULD Zion be done in a single day. Short answer-no.
But, it's what we did!
We flew into Las Vegas and stayed the night with the expectation of making the short 2.5 hour drive from Vegas to Zion. Be sure to note (as we did not) that Zion is in a different timezone than Las Vegas! We stayed in Springdale, UT which is the town where the entrance of Zion lives. The town is walkable and filled with gift shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. Prior to Covid, Springdale was a lively town where you shared stories with strangers over a beer and sat next to strangers at the coffee shop. While we were there, it was subdued.
Riding the Shuttle
We had a 10-11 AM shuttle that we needed to catch. Due to COVID restrictions, you do have to buy your shuttle pass prior to arriving. You can purchase online here! They are requiring you to purchase a time slot in which you board from the visitor's center, once in the park, you can board any time at any of the other shuttle stops with your QR code (though they are limiting how many people can be on the shuttle, so lines and wait times may be longer than usual). Some of the shuttle stops are closed due to weather or rock fall, so be sure to check ahead of time.
**Pro Tip: Screenshot your QR code because your service is going to get spotty in the park.
Parking and Driving in the Park
You can easily drive in the park. It's $35 per car pass and that pass lasts for 7 days. There are parking lots near most of the shuttle stops. However, you can also park at any pull-off area. I will say, driving to the pull-off areas and hiking the trails from there will give you more privacy. The shuttle stops will be crowded.
On the Trail
Because we only allotted a day to Zion, we were only able to hit two trails. We started at the Zion Lodge and made our way to the Emerald Pools Trail. It's about a 3 mile round trip hike. It's considered an easy hike but for those of you who live at sea-level, keep in mind when Utah says "easy" or "moderate" hike, they mean easy or moderate for people who know how to breathe clouds.
This trail was very crowded until the waterfalls. The selfie sticks were out (i.e. my selfie stick was out much to the embarrassment of boyfriend). The trails after the waterfall is when the hike starts to increase in difficulty.
The difficulty - if you're able is worth it. We did hike this during the hottest part of the day during a 104 degree heat wave. I don't recommend that. The upper emerald pool is a hang out spot, covered in shade, and full of camaraderie where people share stories.
From the Emerald Trail we moseyed to the Grotto Trail. The Grotto Trail is much easier, when you start from the Emerald Trail. It's a slow downhill with some pretty amazing views. The trail swings all the way back to the Zion Lodge.
The Zion Lodge is still offering food and drinks (no beer, though, we learned). There is no indoor seating, but there is a beautiful lawn in front of the lodge where you can sit under the shade of the trees as you eat your lunch.
After lunch we wandered to the Narrows. Blogs and Instagram said this was the MUST-SEE trail at Zion. It's actually an easy hike, primarily flat the entire way through as you hike through the canyon. Due to all of this - this trail was PACKED with people. It did offer some beautiful views, when we were able to stop and capture them without people jostling us. The water is also currently polluted with toxic algae so we weren't too keen on walking through the water with our blistered feet.
Our final stop in Zion was the Checkerboard Mesa. We drove up the mountain to it and stopped at the pull off. It's a great spot for that IG photo.
Grafton Ghost Town
About 20 minutes outside of Springdale is Grafton Ghost Town. The drive was a bit of an adventure. I definitely expected a ghost town with tumble weeds dilapidated buildings. Instead we came across this super quaint historic preserve. The town was built in 1862 and the buildings have been recently restored. I recommend taking a quick drive and make a donation to keep the preservation.
Spend multiple days in Zion. Take your time.