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The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Zion National Park is Utah’s oldest national park and was established in 1919. Located near Springdale, Utah, this stunning national park offers the experience of nature at its finest.

A trip to Zion National Park is an unforgettable opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, history, culture, and more. It’s filled with remarkable vistas, gorges, canyons, and rivers.

How To Get to Zion National Park

Where Is Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is located in the southwest corner of Utah near Springdale and Kanab. Zion is only a few hours from Las Vegas and stretches over 3 counties in Utah, including Washington, Iron, and Kane counties.

Airports Nearest to Zion National Park

Flying is the most efficient way to get to the park, depending on where you are traveling from. Several airports are near Zion National Park. Choosing the best airport will help you make the most of your trip to Zion.

Harry Reid International Airport

Located in Paradise, Nevada, Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) is a popular base for traveling to Zion National Park.

This airport is considered to be in Las Vegas and offers passengers lower prices and several flight options from anywhere around the world.

An incredible array of airlines are serviced by Harry Reid International Airport, including American, Delta, Southwest, and United. On the ~3-hour journey from the airport to the park, you can enjoy the scenic route and have the ability to stop and visit several canyons and other remarkable sights along the way.

Salt Lake City International Airport

Many travelers choose to fly into Salt Lake International Airport (SLC) because of its close proximity to Zion National Park. This airport features many budget airlines, including Southwest, United, and American, so travelers can search for great deals on flights.

From the airport, it takes 4.5 hours to get to Zion, but there are stunning views of canyons and landscapes on the way.

St. George Regional Airport

St. George Regional Airport (SGU) is the closest airport to Zion National Park, as it is only 1 hour from the park. While it is extremely close, it’s limited to a small number of non-stop flights within the United States.

There aren’t any direct international flights to St. George, but you can take a connecting flight from Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Phoenix (PHX), Denver (DEN), or Salt Lake City (SLC).

There aren’t many budget airlines that fly into this airport. Even though St. George is the closest airport to the park, you may choose a different option to better meet your needs.

Hot Tip: Learn more about the amazing national parks in the area, such as Grand Canyon National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, in our ultimate guide to U.S. national parks.

Driving to Zion National Park

Driving Zion National Park
Image Credit: Egor Shitikov via Pixabay

Driving is always an option when it comes to getting to Zion National Park, so load up your car, van, or RV with all your road trip essentials.

Highway 9 is the main road to and through Zion National Park. This journey will take you through picturesque small towns and gorgeous landscapes.

If you are taking an RV, there are several factors to keep in mind, such as needing a special permit to travel through tunnels. There are also some difficult roads that you may want to avoid in your RV. This road trip will be a chance of a lifetime, but as always, preplanning will be key for smooth travels.

Taking the Train to Zion National Park

The closest train station to Zion National Park is the Flagstaff Amtrak Station, which is about 4 hours from the park. This station has car rental offices nearby that can help you select a rental vehicle for the rest of your trip.

Getting Around Zion National Park

Zion is a massive national park, and to help its adventurers, the park offers many free park maps on its website, including an area map, a wilderness map, and a pedestrian map.

The 2 main ways to explore Zion National Park include utilizing the shuttle system and driving. During the busy season, tourists are advised to use one of the shuttle systems to help avoid crowding at the park.

Driving in Zion National Park

Driving in the park is permitted in many areas. Zion has several scenic drives that lead to popular attractions such as Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and Kobb Canyons.

March through late November, the park only permits shuttle bus drives through the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This is the park’s way of reducing traffic during its peak months.

Zion Canyon Shuttle

Zion National Park has a shuttle system that is an incredible transportation option to utilize while exploring the park. It stops at 9 different attractions, and you can get off and on at any of the bus stops throughout the park. There are times throughout the park’s busy season when the shuttle is the only option for entering certain parts of the park.

Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the visitor’s center to stops on the Canyon Scenic Drive. In addition, there are shuttles that leave every few minutes and take visitors either north or south to begin their journey.

Park visitors can get on and off the shuttle at any shuttle stop. The system even has a narration guide, so you can listen and learn about the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive as you take in the sights.

Biking in Zion National Park

Biking is another option for getting around in Zion. Bikers may feel closer to the scenery while riding through this glorious park. But there are some serious considerations to keep in mind. Steep and twisting roads in the park can be hard to traverse, especially in the summer heat. There is also a fee involved to ride bikes around the park. Finally, cell phone service is almost non-existent.

What To See and Do in Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its remarkable canyons, awesome hiking trails, climbing opportunities, and camping. The park is a popular summer vacation destination for families and adventure enthusiasts.

With so much to see in this national park, planning to visit for at least 7 days will give you plenty of time to discover the beauty and treasures of Zion National Park.

Angel’s Landing

Angels Landing
Image Credit: Fineas Anton via Unsplash

One of the most popular attractions in Zion National Park is Angel’s Landing. This 1,488-foot-tall rock formation is a sight to behold. The area also has a trail cut into the rock formations that lead to the top of Angel’s Landing, where a panoramic view of Zion Canyon can be viewed.

This trail is strenuous, steep, narrow, and filled with drops of 1,000 feet. It may not be for those who fear heights, but you’ll be rewarded with magnificent canyon views if you take it on.

Hot Tip: When traveling this trail, hikers need to take caution as there are dangers of falling. With drops of over 1,000 feet, the fall risk is dangerous and sometimes deadly.

Canyon Overlook Trail

If you’re seeking a family-friendly or shorter trail, look no further than Canyon Overlook Trail. This hike is only about an hour long and is fairly gentle. It even features railings in many sections. Arriving at the peak of the trail rewards you with views of well-known landmarks, including Bridge Mountain, East Temple, and the Pine Creek stream.

Checkerboard Mesa

Checkerboard Mesa is a notorious attraction in Zion National Park. The sandstone hills have crack patterns that appear to look like a checkerboard grid. This magnificent landmark is one of Zion’s most photogenic and recognizable features.

Court of the Patriarchs

The Court of the Patriarchs is a group of sandstone cliffs featured in Zion National Park. This is said to be the shortest trail in the park and an excellent start to your Zion adventure. This trail is just a 2-minute hike and takes you to a small viewpoint that overlooks the majestic mountain structures throughout the canyon and the towering trees.

This attraction is a picturesque spot for group photos. Sunrise photos at the Court of the Patriarchs are particularly breathtaking.

Emerald Pools

Zion National Park is home to 3 emerald pool areas. These large steaming pools have solid deposits of minerals around them, giving the pools a unique and intriguing look. Long ago, the pools were blue, but they have changed pH balance over time, giving them a green tint and a captivating name.

These pools can be viewed in 3 different areas: The Lower Emerald Pools, Middle Emerald Pools, and the Upper Emerald Pools. Tourists can view these pools while hiking the Emerald Pools Trail.

Kolob Canyons

This mesmerizing area of Zion National Park hosts stunning views of the crimson canyons and hiking trails with amazing views.

Kolob Canyons is located in the park’s northwest corner and has remarkable peaks and cliffs with 2,000-foot walls. Tourists enjoy the views by taking a scenic drive and hiking the trails, and some even spend several days in this area alone since there is so much to discover.

The Narrows

One of the most popular hikes and attractions at Zion National Park is The Narrows. This canyon hike is known for its narrow parts that are only 20 to 30 feet wide, as well as its depth of 2,000 feet.

This unique hike has adventurers traveling upstream through the Virgin River and crossing slippery, uneven river boulders. Should you choose to brave The Narrows, you will be rewarded with magnificent sandstone walls, roaring waterfalls, and an ultimate feeling of accomplishment when your adventure ends.

Observation Point

Observation Point Zion National Park
Image Credit: Presley Roozenburg via Unsplash

Observation Point is a famous landmark in Zion National Park that is an 8-mile round-trip hike. This strenuous hike is a journey up a hill chiseled out from the canyon walls and cliff formations.

The ending viewpoint will have you over 700 feet higher than Angel’s Landing, with an astonishing view of the main canyon and attractions such as Weeping Rock and Angel’s Landing.

Pa’rus Trail

This beautiful trail got its name from the Paiute word meaning “bubbling water” and is one of the newer trails at Zion National Park.

Pa’rus Trail is the only Zion trail that permits bicycles and pets, and it is accessible to wheelchairs. This trail is filled with gorgeous scenery, including bridges that cross over the river, endless wildflowers, and even deer.

Riverside Walk

Another family-friendly trail is the Riverside Walk Trail. Riverside Walk is another trail that is accessible by wheelchair. This hike begins at the Temple of Sinawava and is nearly 2 miles long.

While journeying Riverside Walk, hikers get incredible views of the Virgin River, lush vegetation (including moss, ferns, and trees), and weeping walls that provide water to plant life. Wildlife — including wild turkeys, mule deer, blue herons, squirrels, and chipmunks — can easily be spotted on this hike.

This hike ends in a place where the canyon becomes extremely narrow, with no banks of land on either side of the river. Once you reach this tight squeeze, you have entered The Narrows.

The Subway

The Subway may be a challenge to accept for experienced hikers. This 9-mile hike isn’t just a walk through the park. It involves rappelling, swimming, and route-finding. Also known as Left Fork of North Creek, The Subway Trail requires an advance wilderness permit.

There are 2 trails to choose from if you decide to conquer The Subway. One trail begins at the Wildcat Canyon Trail and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead. The other begins and ends at Left Fork Trailhead. The Subway is the ultimate hiking experience for extreme adventurers.

Watchman Trail

Overlooking the entire Springdale area, Watchman Trail is sadly often forgotten about. This easy trail is 3 miles round-trip and is a classic hike experience that’s perfect for first-time visitors to take in Zion’s glory.

Watchman Trail is enveloped by desert greenery such as the prickly pear cactus, shrubs, and a few scattered evergreen trees. The hike is in the open, and little shade is provided, so be sure to have plenty of water, sunscreen, and sun hats to beat the heat, or plan your hike in the early morning or late afternoon.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
Image Credit: Aditya Vyas via Unsplash

One of the best ways to experience the greatness of Zion National Park is to journey through Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

This drive runs through Zion Canyon and is nearly 8-miles-long one-way, depending on where you start. If you choose to drive straight through without stopping, you can finish the drive in 20 to 30 minutes, but if you want to stop and explore along the way, it can take up to 8 hours.

The best time to start on the Scenic Drive is early in the morning. The early morning allows you to beat the crowds and traffic and offers spectacular morning views of the park.

Be sure to plan ahead if you want to take your private vehicle on the Scenic Drive. The drive is closed to private vehicles from March through November, but you can still access it with a free shuttle service.

There are many points of interest along the Scenic Drive, including Canyon Junction Bridge, the Visitor’s Center, Zion Human History Museum, and much more. If you want to see all the famous attractions and landmarks in Zion, your best bet will be to travel the Scenic Drive.

Zion Human History Museum

Zion Human History Museum is a wonderful place to learn about the human history of Zion National Park. Visitors can learn about American Indian culture, the pioneer settlement of long ago, and how Zion has grown into a magnificent national park.

Another interesting exhibit at the museum is the water exhibit. This exhibit shows how water is a creator and destroyer and why people have traveled through and settled in Zion. In addition, there are informational videos that provide tourists with a wonderful overview of the park.

This museum is open year-round but has varying hours depending on the time of year. Admission to the museum is included with Zion National Park admission. This is a great place to learn, regroup, and take a break from the heat and walking.

The Best Times To Visit Zion National Park

While Zion National Park is open year-round, there are many times during the year when operating hours, shuttle schedules, and park admission change. Plan your trip ahead so you can visit everything you’re hoping to see during your trip to Zion.

The Best Time To Visit Zion National Park in Winter

Winter in Zion is an incredible time to sightsee and enjoy all that the park has to offer. These months are much slower than the rest of the year, which is great for guests who want to experience Zion at their own pace with fewer crowds.

A benefit to visiting Zion National Park in the winter is that the park allows private vehicles to drive through. The Scenic Drive explored in your own vehicle makes for a much more comfortable and less stressful visit than riding in the shuttle.

Those who visit during the winter months enjoy the cooler temperatures, which range from 50 to 60 degrees during the daytime. All the trails are open during the winter, which is great for experiencing the beauty of Zion.

Hot Tip: There is a chance you may encounter some icy conditions while visiting in the winter, so be sure to wear boots with traction to avoid slips and falls. While it may snow at times during the winter, snow typically disappears in just a few hours at lower elevations.

The Best Time To Visit Zion National Park To Avoid the Crowds

Zion National Park attracts 4.3 million visitors each year. If you want to visit the park and avoid crowds, your best option is to come in the late fall, during the winter, or early in the spring.

The weather will be a bit chilly, and some of the facilities may be closed, but if you want a peaceful and more solitary visit, these are the best times to visit.

If you want to avoid crowds but can’t plan your trip during these seasons, there are ways to have a less-crowded experience during the regular season. Begin your park journey in the early morning to beat the crowds.

The Best Time To Visit Zion National Park for Wildlife

Zion National Park for Wildlife
Image Credit: Samantha Fortney via Unsplash

Zion National Park is home to 68 species of mammals, including kangaroo rats, bighorn sheep, mule deer, foxes, and squirrels. Spring and fall are the best times to get a glimpse of the diverse wildlife found in Zion. The ideal time to see wildlife in the park is early in the morning before the park becomes crowded with tourists.

The Cheapest Time To Visit Zion National Park

Traveling is never inexpensive, but there are ways to travel on a budget. For example, February is a great month to visit Zion National Park if you want to save money.

The hotels are typically much cheaper during this time of the year, and there are hardly any crowds. However, more visitors start returning to the park in late February, so try to come early in the month for a more peaceful, budget-friendly trip.

Annual Events in Zion National Park

Zion has several events throughout the week, including exciting ranger-led programs that teach visitors about geology, plants, animals, and human history. Guests ages 4 and up can earn a badge by completing a Junior Ranger handbook. These programs are held on a weekly basis.

Zion Canyon Music Festival

The Zion Canyon Music Festival happens each year in late September at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater, right outside the park entrance. This 2-day event includes music, food, arts, crafts, and lots of ways to have fun. This event is so exciting and fun, you may want to plan a yearly visit to the park so you can sneak in this festival as part of your itinerary.

Red Bull Rampage

The Red Bull Rampage happens each year in late October. This is the ultimate action sports competition and the most extreme mountain biking competition. This televised event is held in the town of Virgin in Utah, which is right near Zion. Bikers ride down mountains, create their own routes, and jump across sections to find their way down to the bottom.

Where To Stay in Zion National Park

Whether you choose to stay in the park in a luxury lodge, campsite, or a nearby town, there are countless lodging options for an unforgettable Zion vacation.

Inside Zion National Park

Zion National Park has plenty of lodging options available for park visitors. Stay at a luxurious resort, in a rustic cabin, or in one of several campsites throughout the park.

Zion Lodge

Zion Lodge has been a lodging option in Zion National Park for decades. This lodge is located inside the park and offers easy entrance to hiking trails and other attractions.

This hotel has modern rooms with private porches and balconies for guests to enjoy. The hotel rooms are stocked with comfortable beds and linens, satellite TV, and full baths.

Zion Lodge also has historic cabins for guests seeking a more rustic experience. The cabins feature cozy beds and linens, gas log fireplaces, a full bath, and a private porch.

Whether you stay in the hotel or in the cabins, Zion Lodge has plenty of amenities, including complimentary Wi-Fi, access to trails and park attractions, and special rates during the off-season.

A visitor’s favorite for Zion dining is the Red Rock Grill at Zion Lodge. This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, so guests can fuel up for a day exploring the park or unwind and rest after a long day of hiking.

Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort

Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort
Image Credit: Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort

Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort has something to offer every traveler. From luxury cabin rentals to campsites in the woods, this resort has you covered. Let’s explore some of these unique lodging experiences.

The Cabin Suites are perfect for those who want to experience a rustic ambiance. These cabins are equipped with everything needed to feel at home, including a full kitchen, spacious living areas, and a cozy front porch.

Deluxe Glamping is available at Zion Ponderosa for visitors who like the idea of camping and luxury. The glamping tents have beautiful furniture and the comforts of home, all under a luxury tent. Those who choose to glamp also have access to a sparkling tiered swimming pool, restrooms, and a shower house.

Another fun accommodation at Zion Ponderosa is the Conestoga Wagon camping. This exciting option allows guests to sleep in a covered wagon like the pioneers of the 19th century. Other accommodations available at Zion Ponderosa include tent camping, RV camping, and cowboy cabins.

Zion Mountain Ranch

Zion Mountain Ranch is an authentic western destination. This 4-star accommodation allows guests to choose from cabins or lodges when staying at Zion Mountain Ranch.

The private cabins are in the east mountains of Zion National Park. There are several styles for guests to choose from, depending on your needs. Choose from cabins near the main lodge or private, secluded cabins in the prairies or near the edge of the canyons.

Lodges are larger accommodations with plenty of space for families or large groups. Lodges give a rustic ambiance and are scattered in secluded areas on meadows or near the woods, or close to the Buffalo Preserve.

Accommodations Near Zion National Park

There are several gateway towns near Zion National Park that are excellent options for adventurers who need to take a break, rest up, and prepare for another day exploring the park. Whether you are seeking a location that is lively and exciting or a town that is quiet and secluded, you will have no problem finding exactly what you are looking for near Zion.

Rockville

Rockville is one of the closest towns to Zion National Park. Only 5 miles from the south entrance, this quiet town is perfect for those wanting an escape from the crowded park areas. Rockville has several inns and bed-and-breakfasts available for lodging. For dining and entertainment, you are just a short 10-minute drive to the shops and restaurants of Springdale.

Springdale

Springdale is the closest town to Zion National Park. While it is a small town, Springdale is full of restaurants, hotels, and vendors that host a variety of outdoor entertainment.

Springdale is extremely convenient for those who are spending time at Zion National Park. The park’s shuttle service travels back and forth from the park and has 9 stops in Springdale alone. This town features many chain hotels as well as quaint inns and lodges. Springdale is such a popular destination, it’s important to plan well in advance to secure your accommodations.

Virgin

Virgin is a sleepy town that is a 20-minute drive from Zion National Park. This town is the second closest town to the park and is very small. Balcony One is a well-known restaurant and the only restaurant in Virgin. It is top-rated and has an excellent menu for refueling after a long day in Zion.

There are 3 lodging options available in Virgin, each very highly rated. The Fairfield Inn & Suites Virgin Zion National Park is the only true hotel, and the other 2 are unique options, including glamping in tents and wagons or staying in a tiny home with stunning views.

This peaceful paradise is the perfect escape from the crowds and busy itinerary, and just a short drive to the park when you are ready to head back out to adventure.

Where To Eat in Zion National Park

There are 2 main places to dine in Zion National Park. The nearby towns have a more diverse array of restaurants and diners, but if you need to take a break and eat, you can dine at the Red Rock Grill or Castle Dome Café.

Red Rock Grill Dining Room at Zion Lodge

The Red Rock Grill is located in the main lodge building at Zion Lodge. This restaurant serves meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

With a decorative theme that imitates Zion Canyon using its wood and stone accents and breathtaking views overlooking the floor of the canyon, dining becomes an unforgettable experience.

Castle Dome Café at Zion Lodge

Castle Dome Café is a seasonal snack bar and Zion Lodge’s neighbor. This café serves an array of café drinks and pastries during the morning and burgers, hot dogs, and french fries throughout the rest of the day. The café also has a patio that serves local microbrews on a beer garden cart for those who want a refreshing drink.

Zion National Park Facts

Zion National Park View
Image Credit: Jamie Hagan via Unsplash

1. Zion Hasn’t Always Been a National Park

Before Zion became a national park, it was a national monument. When it was recognized as a national monument, it was called Mukuntuweap National Monument. It took 10 years for this monument to be renamed and recognized as Zion National Park.

2. The Meaning of Zion

The first settlers were Mormon pioneers. They chose the name Zion, which means sanctuary or refuge in ancient Hebrew.

3. Home to an Ancient Civilization

The original occupants of Zion Canyon were the Anasazi. This tribe was a group of Native Americans who lived and thrived in Zion around 1500 BC. You can find traces of their sandstone villages and rock art throughout Zion National Park.

4. One of the Greatest Engineering Accomplishments of Modern Times

Zion was practically inaccessible to visitors when it first became a national park due to the poor road conditions and limited railroad access. In 1930, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel was built by cutting through the sandstone cliffs. Drivers today are still surprised when they see the mesmerizing view when they arrive in the park.

5. Home to an Endangered Species

The California Condor has been on the endangered species list since 1967. These incredible birds can be seen soaring above Angel’s Landing or on Kolob Terrace Road.

6. One of the Largest Freestanding Natural Arches on Earth

Zion isn’t commonly thought of when it comes to natural stone arches, but it has several incredible arches that can be viewed in different parts of the park. The Kolob Arch is one of the world’s largest natural arches. It is 287 feet long and can be found in the Kolob Canyons District.

7. America’s Scariest Hike

Angel’s Landing in Zion is considered to be one of the scariest hikes in America. This hike ends at 1,488 feet above the Virgin River and is filled with zig-zag trails up steep hills, terrifying drops, and exposed edges. This attraction brings in many daring adventurers every year.

8. Archaeological Sites

Pieces of history can be found on many sites throughout the park. Adventurers can discover remnants of the past, including rock art, pottery, and smoke stains on the walls and cliffs. These remnants give us clues to the incredible history found in Zion.

9. The Original Zion Lodge Burned Down

Zion Lodge was built in 1925 and sadly destroyed by fire in 1966. The lodge was rebuilt in 1967 and still accommodates visitors each day of the year.

10. Carved by Water

Over 250 million years ago, Zion National Park was covered by water. Over time, huge rivers were carved through the landscape. Water has caused erosion and continues to shape the park even today.

Final Thoughts

Zion National Park is an unforgettable experience for tourists who love discovery and adventure. From breathtaking views of canyons and cliffs to remarkable trails for hiking and rock climbing opportunities, there is something for everyone. Book your trip to Zion National Park and see what this national treasure has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the weather like at Zion National Park?

The average temperature in the park is 75 degrees. Daily temperatures in the winter are typically in the lower 50s and the summer months can get up to 100 degrees.

How many days should I plan to stay in Zion National Park?

A great vacation in Zion can last anywhere between 2 and 7 days. If you just want to see the main sights and do some light hiking, you can plan for about 2 days. But if you want to experience the park to the fullest, it may be best to plan a trip that lasts 7 days.

Does Zion National Park allow pets?

Pets are not allowed on the park trails (with the exception of Pa’rus Trail), shuttle buses, or wilderness areas. However, if you are staying in the park at one of the campsites, pets are welcome to accompany you.

Do I need a reservation to enter Zion National Park?

You do not need a reservation or permit to visit most areas in the park. However, there are some attractions that do require a permit, such as overnight trips and hiking from the top of The Narrows to the bottom.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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