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Zion Vs Arches: Which of These National Parks is Better?

Recently I’ve begun making more posts comparing popular national parks and in this one I want to talk about Zion vs Arches which are both amazing spots to visit, but for entirely different reasons. What I’m going to cover are the main reasons why one place is better to visit than the other as well as what makes them standout.

To start I want to say that I’ve been to both these national parks more than once and I have to say that after carefully analyzing my experiences, Zion in my opinion is better than Arches but not by much and based on what I have seen other people say about this topic, most agree with me. But let me talk about the details of all this so you understand why that’s the case (or perhaps not).

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Zion vs Arches (similarities):

  1. Arches and Zion are 2 out of the Mighty 5 National Parks.
  2. There’s large towns by both these national parks (Moab for Arches and Springdale and more for Zion).
  3. You can do a lot more outside Zion and Arches because of all the spots near it.
  4. Both these national parks are in Utah (there is a 4 hour drive in between them).
  5. Both have great hiking trails.
  6. Both have amazing overlooks in numerous places.
  7. Both have amazing scenic drives (Zion’s is slightly better but they are both on my list of the best scenic drives in Utah).
  8. Both parks are extremely popular and often overcrowded depending on when you visit.

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Zion National Park vs Arches National Park (differences):

  1. For starters, the terrain is completely different in both these national parks.
  2. Zion has way taller mountains and canyons. Arches is more open plains with lower mountains.
  3. Zion has a natural bridge, but no arches. Arches National Park however has 1,000s of arches.
  4. There are no water hikes or rivers in Arches, whereas in Zion there are more than a few.
  5. The main attractions in Arches is well, arches (although there’s more) but in Zion there’s multiple different types of attractions to see.

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Where Zion National Park is better than Arches National Park:

1) Zion has no timed entry systems, Arches does:

Because they are both so popular, Arches has a timed entry system in place where you need to reserve your visit if it’s between certain months, which is both good and bad. With Zion, there is never a timed entry system and you can go in whenever you wish.

2) Zion has way more beautiful nature and hikes in my opinion than Arches:

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I also said the same thing when I compared Zion vs Bryce Canyon, but while Bryce, Zion and Arches are totally different parks, in my opinion you can get a way more mixed experience hiking and exploring Zion than Arches.

With Arches you still get amazing stuff yes, but it’s mostly centered around the following activities:

  • An incredible scenic drive (at first, then it gets boring in my opinion).
  • Low mountains, nothing even close to the high elevations in Zion.
  • Arches everywhere, which is great but I like more variety.

Overall, there’s just more fun things to do and see in Zion in my opinion while Arches feels more like a tourist viewing spot with fewer choices for fun adventures (though there are still plenty of them there too).

3) Zion National Park is better positioned to a major city than Arches National Park:

  • The closest major city to Zion National Park is Las Vegas (3 hours away).
  • The closest major city to Arches National Park is Salt Lake City (5 hours away). You may also be able to land in Provo.

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Other than this, you will find close airports to Zion as well as Arches but they are all local, and thus more difficult to find flights to. To be fair though, if you land in Las Vegas to see Zion or Salt Lake City to see Arches, you are going to have a lot of sights to explore along the way to each park and I highly recommend you do that before you actually reach the parks.

Where Arches National Park is better than Zion National Park:

1) Zion has a shuttle service during many months, Arches does not (more flexible to explore):

I personally dislike shuttle services because I like to drive wherever I want when I visit a beautiful place but in Zion, if you visit in the Spring-Autumn seasons, you may have to wait in line for shuttles to take you to certain parts of the park. Arches doesn’t have a shuttle system so in that regard (to me at least), it beats Zion.

2) Winter time in my opinion is better in Arches than in Zion:

I’ve been to both these national parks during winter time and I believe Arches National Park is way better during that period to see than Zion National Park. You will see less snow in Arches even during rare snowfall days, whereas in Zion, when rare snowfall occurs, it stays longer making it a bit more annoying and more dangerous to hike certain spots (the higher mountain elevations there make that happen).

If you however love snow and want to prefer to see snow in these national parks, then I’d say Zion is a better choice, if you can actually get there when snow occurs that is.

3) If you have never seen arches or natural bridges, Arches is king here:

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Arches are an incredible thing to see and hike to if you’ve never done it before. But Arches National Park does have more than just those things inside. There are also beautiful hikes through lower canyons like Devils Garden worth checking out. Like I said earlier, Zion does has 1 natural bridge or arch but it’s a tough hike to reach that isn’t really an official option (nor safe to hike over).

3) There is also Canyonlands National Park only 30 minutes away. With Zion, the closest national park is Bryce which is 1-2 hours away:

If you don’t like driving a lot, then Arches is better positioned to see more of the popular Utah sights and in this case, Canyonlands National Park is the top choice. Its very close to Arches National Park and you can stay in Moab all throughout your time here. And that park is also stunning for completely different reasons than Arches (it’s also completely different than Zion National Park too).

With Zion, there’s actually more options for exploring places near it, but in terms of nearest national park, Bryce Canyon National Park is the only choice and it’s a bit further.

Note: I would not limit your explorations to just national parks in Utah regardless of which park you choose to visit. There’s way more things to do around both these parks and speaking from experience, I’d argue there’s equally good if not better spots to see around the parks than inside them, so I would recommend taking 2-3 extra days to do that if you can.

For instance, with Arches:

  • See Moab, there’s more to see and do there alone than just in Arches or Canyonlands.

With Zion:

  • See Springdale, hike to Kanarra Falls.
  • See St. George, as well as Hilldale, Kanab Utah and if possible Page Arizona. All of these are towns within 1-2 hours drive from Zion and they have their own hikes, amazing sights and more to explore.
  • And if you explore those areas, then you may as well go through Bryce Canyon, Red Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante and more spots.
  • On a side note, like I said earlier most people I’ve seen talk about this topic say that Zion is better than Arches (see this Tripadvisor post).

Questions about Zion vs Arches:

Is Arches National Park better than Zion?

In my opinion Zion is better than Arches National Park because it has higher mountains, better overlooks and more hikes. Arches is incredible too but it has smaller mountains and more plains.

How close are Zion and Arches?

Zion and Arches are about 4-5 hours apart depending on which route you take.

Are the Arches in Zion?

There are no arches in Zion National Park, but there are tons of them in Arches National Park.

Arches vs Zion: Which is the better choice for you?

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There might be different plans and logistics to how you travel to Utah to see these parks, so I’m going to list out the most likely scenarios and recommend which park is better to see for each one:

  • Zion is the better choice if you’re visiting Las Vegas (you can make a day trip from Las Vegas to this spot easily).
  • Arches is the better choice if you’re visiting Salt Lake City.
  • Zion is the better choice if you can only choose 1 park and have never been to either one.
  • Ideally try and check out all the Mighty 5 National Parks and I have advice on how to plan a road trip there in that link.
  • I’ll be adding more pictures for these parks, but for now I’ve created a separate post on Zion National Park photos and will do the same for Arches soon (Update: The post with Arches National Park photos has been made).

The bottom line however is that you cannot go wrong choosing Zion over Arches or vice versa (if you can’t explore both that is) because they are truly incredible parks that I have had the pleasure of seeing more than once and will do so more in the future. And if you’ve never been to them, you will be amazed by either one or both if you get the chance.

What’s next? See these posts on the best things to do in Zion and Arches:

I’ve written up individual articles on what to specifically do in each of these national parks so regardless of which one you see (or both), you’ll know where to go in each park, what to see and how to spend your time there (you can actually see and do a lot in either park):

If you’ve visited both these national parks and you have your own views on this that you’d like to share, you can do that below!

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