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Visiting Zion and/or Death Valley NP in early January 2020

Thinking of putting together a trip early in the new year to Zion National Park from Las Vegas. (My home airport is SFO but I would fly into Vegas and rent a car). This is a last minute thing. Checking weather online, average high is 48F this time of year. Should I be concerned with driving there from Vegas, thinking of possible snow to the degree that chains are required? Or within the park, I know it does snow there. I'm not afraid of cold, more afraid of driving in snow.

I would also consider Death Valley NP, same question there--is the approach to the park from Vegas over mountains where snow would be bad? How about approaching Death Valley from the west?

A third option is Joshua Tree and Palm Springs, not worried about that one.

Posted by
1822 posts

We hit snow in Zion in January. The road up from the canyon is steep and winding. I think it can be closed if there is bad weather but I’m not sure.

There can be snow heading out of Vegas on 15 at higher elevations. I’ve not seen much though. I’d check the 15 day forecast.
Zion is at 3000 feet.
Joshua is nice but a little on the boring side for me.
I can’t remember what it was like going to Death Valley from Vegas but our exit was definitely up a steep hill to the west. We were young and dumb. Our car overheated but there were water stations on that hill. It was August!

Posted by
4121 posts

The pass into Death Valley from the East should not be high enough for snow (there’s also a southern entrance via Shoshone with a max elevation 1300 ft). The western entrance is higher but you won’t use that way.

Zion is also nearly always snow free at the floor elevation. I think the road Diane is describing is the east exit which you wouldn’t use.

The fear of driving in snow that Californians have is remarkable.

Posted by
850 posts

If you had looked just five days ago this same question was asked.

Posted by
15365 posts

I spent nearly a week in Death Valley between Xmas and New Year some years ago and it was excellent. I drove from the Peninsula (back when I lived there), took a detour to visit King's Canyon and Sequoia, then drove past Mono Lake. I don't mind driving long distances and I like having my own car, partly because I hate the hassles of flying, but also because it's cheaper. Also, if you drive, you can adjust your route to last-minute weather conditions. Do check what accommodations are available before you book a flight. A lot closes up for the winter.

In the valley, I got up before dawn to drive up one of the surrounding mountains to watch a sunrise and it was very cold. Then I drove back down to do some hiking in the valley and started shedding clothes. By 10 am I was in short sleeves.

Posted by
1878 posts

Thanks for the replies. Looks like it could be a little questionable to try for Zion. Not an area to learn to drive in the snow, any more than you want to learn how to drive a stick shift on your vacation to England.

Posted by
5900 posts

This recent thread may be helpful, at least parts of it. That poster is looking at driving at higher elevations to Bryce and Grand Canyon, which most responders discourage. But your situation is different. I'd be very surprised to encounter snow requiring chains between Vegas and Zion Canyon, or between Vegas and Death Valley. Ice might be more of an issue, especially early in the morning before sun hits roadways that might have had light rain or snow the day or night before.

Posted by
850 posts

Actually, with rain coming thru the area, flash floods are more of a problem. They have snow in Flagstaff and Williams, which would cover the south rim of the Canyon, I doubt you'd need chains, but tires are more important, and I never trust rental cars to have the best.