Zion National Park Travel Guide

Zion National Park surrounded by Zion Canyon’s steep red cliffs is one of the most awe-inspiring places to visit on earth.

Situated in southwest Utah in the heart of desert slot canyon territory this nature preserve is fairly small when compared to other national parks in the country.

However, it has a diverse terrain with plenty of hiking opportunities, scenic drives and forest trails along the Virgin River. The river leads to the Emerald Pools with a hanging garden and waterfalls.

The Zion Narrows Wading Hike trail runs partly through deep chasms along the river and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive cuts through the main section of the park.

There is a lot of beauty to be explored in Zion Park such as lush forests, claustrophobic slot canyons, and breath-taking majestic viewpoints that casual visitors to the park may not get to see.

Zion National Park Facts

1. Zion National Park was a national monument before it became a national park.

It was first protected by President William Howard Taft in 1909 when he used the power of the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate the Mukuntuweap National Monument.

10 years of expansion followed until it became a national park and changed its name to Zion National Park. Today the park covers 229 sq.m of stunning red rock landscape that looks almost surreal.

2. More than just a place of slot canyons and spectacular hikes, Zion National Park also has protected archaeological sites.

For more than 10,000 years people have inhabited the plateaus and canyons of Zion. Remnants of the times they have spent here can be found throughout the park.

Structures from improbable highways to humble granaries bear testimony to the ingenuity of the people who made this their home in years past.

3. The park features one of the grandest engineering feats of modern times – the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel.

This modern day wonder was made possible because a limited railway and poor road conditions made the park virtually inaccessible to visitors who wanted to explore it after it became a national park. Construction was started on a 25-mile stretch of road to connect the park to the Grand and Bryce Canyons.

Eventually completed in 1930, this has become a must-see phenomenon for visitors to the park. The tunnel that blends in with the surrounding landscape cuts through 1.1 miles of vertical sandstone cliffs with window views of the Zion Canyon. At the other end the tunnel opens up to a spectacular view that leaves drivers in total awe of the beauty of the canyon.

4. The Virgin River and its tributaries that run through Zion Canyon are continually carving and shaping the territory.

An average of 1 million tons of sediment is estimated to be removed by the Virgin River, mostly during flash floods, that results in the canyon being continually widened and the river channel being continually deepened.

5. While Angels Landing provides visitors with spectacular views it is also one of the most dangerous places in the world.

Towering 1,488 feet above the base of the Virgin River, it juts out precariously over the canyon. The 2.2-mile hike may seem tame to some but there are many long drop-offs, exposed edges, and switchbacks over slick rock and sand to be negotiated.

The Angels Landing hike has been listed by many outdoor publications as one of the most dangerous in the world. However, hikers who come prepared and take safety precautions are rewarded with spectacular views that are described by some as ‘out of this world’.

6. Contrary to its name, The Subway in Zion is not connected in any way to a form of public transport.

The journey through The Subway is unparalleled as there are no trails which requires some expertise in route finding, experience in rapelling, and in some areas even swimming.

The Subway hike is subjected to daily limits and visitors are required to obtain permits.

7. Zion is home to one of the largest free standing arches in the world.

While the park is not really known for its natural arches, one of the few to be found is pretty darn massive. Kolob Arch is hidden away in a small side canyon located deep in back country of the Kolob Canyon district.

The arch is perched high on a canyon wall and has a majestic curve that resembles the wing of a giant condor. At just over 287 feet long, Kolob Arch is second only to one of the largest arches in the world – the Landscape Arch in Arches National Park.

8. Zion National Park is a climber’s paradise.

The 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs in the park are world renowned for big wall climbs. The best times for climbing conditions are between March to May, and from September to early November.

Where Is Zion National Park

Distinguished by steep red cliffs, Zion National Park is situated in southwest Utah’s Zion Canyon.

It can be reached from the I-15 via UT Highway 9. The park has 2 entrances, both located on Utah State Route 9. One entrance is 12 miles west of US 89 and the other 33 miles east of Interstate 15. Visitors coming from Salt Lake City can take Heritage Highway 89.

Nearest Airports To Zion

Here are 4 airports to consider when visiting Zion National Park:

  • McCarran International, Las Vegas. This is the nearest major airport that offers direct flights from many domestic and foreign destinations. A 3-hour drive from the airport is required to get to the park.
  • St George Regional Airport. This is the closest airport to the park but has limited commercial flights. It takes a 1-hour drive to get to the park.
  • Salt Lake City International is a major airport that offers direct flights from many domestic and foreign destinations. A 4-hour drive from the airport is required to get to the park.
  • Cedar City Regional offers flights from Salt Lake City and the airport is just one hour’s drive from the park.

Zion National Park Entrance Fee

A 7-day entrance pass to the park for vehicles costs $25 and $12 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Shuttle buses are available for free and run from April through October.

Zion National Park Weather

In a word the weather in Zion National Park can best be described as diverse. Temperatures of over 100 degrees are common during the hot summer season so visitors venturing out for a hike should plan to go out either in the early morning or late evening. More moderate weather can be expected during the spring and fall and is the best time to visit the park.

During the months of April and May, September and October the weather can be expected to be sunny and warm with average highs of between 60 and 90 degrees. However, occasional cool and rainy spells can be expected during these months.

During spring the water levels in the canyons can be expected to be higher which may result in some hikes being off limits. An ideal time for a visit to the park is autumn with clear days and mild nights. Low water levels during this time makes exploring and hiking more enjoyable and safer. Fall colors are best viewed during late October.

Best Time To Visit Zion National Park

The park is open to visitors 24-hours a day, every day of the year. The most popular times to visit are when the shuttle busses are running from April through to October.

Summer, Fall and Spring are usually more crowded, however, spring runoff can make hiking in the canyon more difficult or even impossible. Summer temperatures can make hiking uncomfortable, especially around midday. Fall is the best time for serious hikers.

Basically there really is no bad or good time of the year to visit Zion National Park as it largely depends on personal preferences and activities and whether crowds will be an issue.

Winter In Zion National Park

A visit to Zion offers a welcome escape from the cold and snow of winter. Because the location of the park is at a low elevation, temperatures will be relatively mild with little likelihood of snow reaching the canyon floor.

Check the weather report for local snow conditions to ensure that the trails you plan to travel will be clear and safe. Trails like Angels Landing can be icy and snowy on the higher sections during the winter months.

Popular Winter Activities

  • Scenic drives and sightseeing
  • Camping
  • Hiking and backpacking
  • Wildlife watching
  • Photography
  • Cross country skiing or snowshoeing

Note:

Snowmobiles are not allowed to be used inside the park. However, there are excellent trails available just outside the boundaries of the park.

Things To Do In Zion National Park

Visit the sites along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

Just like the name promises, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is deemed to be the most interesting and awe-inspiring activity, thanks to the beauty of this section the Park.

The Zion Canyon is accessed along the zion canyon scenic drive which is a road running through the floor of the canyon with cliff walls towering the sides of the road. On this road, one can see the amazing Angel’s Landing and the narrows which are signature features found in the park.

There’s so much to enjoy; to put it in simple words, most of the park’s best sites are found on this road. The park also has shuttle buses that allow you to stop over at various scenic sites. Alternatively, you can bike through the road. When the shuttle buses are not operating during winter, one can also drive through the road in their car.

Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

This highway runs through the park from the south entrance to the east. The highway is as scenic as the Zion Canyon but it is quite different as it winds high above the valley providing breathtaking views from both sides of the valley.

After exiting the tunnel on the east is a parking area where you can view the canyon trail which is a one-mile round trip hike to an amazing viewpoint over the valley, beyond which one can see orange and cream rolling ridged mountains.

Checkerboard Mesa and the East Side of Zion National Park

This part of the Zion National Park is worth exploring because of its uniqueness. It has its own parking area and an information plaque. Even though the pullouts on this side of the park are small and can only accommodate a few cars at a time, it is worth a stopover if you can find a spot.

The white-colored Mesa is the first stop from the park’s entrance beyond which there are white and amber colored stones that appear in ridges up the mountainsides, while large pine trees can be seen at the hillsides. This side of the park also looks completely different from the zion canyon on the west side.

Weeping Rock

This is a dripping stone overhang along the Zion Canyon Drive which offers a view of a garden hanging off a sheer cliff wall. The amount of water coming off the rock can either be drips, a stream, or a full waterfall depending on the season. The view of the valley from the base of the Weeping Rock gives you a breathtaking experience.

Canyon Trail Rides

There are horseback riding tours along the virgin river for visitors who come from march to October, the ride is amazing and longer tours are also available for experienced riders. This can serve as an alternative to hiking and sightseeing. It is a good family activity but visitors are advised to book tours in advance to secure a spot. Moreover, all tours must be authorized by national park services.

The Human History Museum

While on the shuttle bus, this is the first stop where one can learn about the culture and history of Zion. The museum is equipped with large and easy to read displays with a huge model of the park and surroundings to give visitors a mental picture of the park and its environs.

Additionally, the museum has information regarding pioneer settlements of the American Indian culture, as well as the creation of the park. Temporary exhibits and a video that runs every half hour are also available. Some rangers help to answer questions.

Canyoneering and Rock Climbing

Canyoneering is a popular activity in the park because of the park’s canyons and unique landscape. A variety of the lifters in Springdale offers canyoneering courses for both beginners and advanced learners. You may also visit the area to familiarize yourself even if you are not interested in taking classes. Outfitters in Springdale can also organize climbing trips.

Best Hiking Trails In Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known to have the best hiking places in the world for many travelers and outdoor lovers. Some of these places are still considered phenomenal by various tourists. The ten best hikes in the park include;

Canyon Overlook Trail

It is the most talked-about hike because of its viewpoint which overlooks the zion canyon. It is also safe for children hence a recommended family adventure. This hike takes approximately one hour.

Weeping Rock

This is one of the shortest hikes and some people don’t like it because it is usually crowded as it is easy to access and complete. During winter, there’s water dripping off the rock overhang which is a sight to see. This hike takes 30 minutes or less.

Emerald Pools

This is one of the most popular places to visit with easy access. Emerald pools have been ranked as one of the best hikes inside Zion National Park. When you begin the hike it feels easy but gets more challenging as you proceed.

A majority of people stop at the first pool which is equally exciting, but as you proceed to the middle and upper pools the scenery and rock formations become even more attractive. The length of time you take to hike these pools ranges between 2 and 4 hours depending on how far one decides to go.

Hidden Canyon

Hiking to this place is incredibly strenuous but it allows you to explore the scenic canyon and the hung cliff sides. The place reminds you of the angels landing zion hike.

In this place, however, chains have been installed to ensure safety. The peak elevation is also not as high as that in angels but the views become more incredible as the foot traffic reduces. This hike may take 2-3 hours.

Riverside Walk

It provides a very easy and beautiful experience since its paved and level as well. The trails lead to the alluring bottom of the narrows which is exciting to see. The fact that walking there is easy makes the experience serene and effortless.

Angel’s Landing

This is unquestionably one of the most loved hikes in Zion. The hike is quite strenuous but the view at the top is worth the struggle. The total distance one covers in this hike is around 5.5 miles. The incredible heights, chain assisted sections and rock scrambling make this one of the most rewarding hikes in the US. This hike is recommended for everyone and takes 3 to 5 hours.

The Narrows

Of all slot Canyons in America, this is one of the best if not the very best. For someone who loves to hike in water, whether ankle-deep or neck deep, this is one of the best places to visit.

You’ll track through flowing water, between towering cliff walls full of lush vegetation. The place is full of exciting colors and amazing rock formations. This will definitely be one of the most unique experiences for you. The full hike is around 16 miles and is quite hectic. The hike may take several hours ( bottom-up) and 1-2 days (top-down)

Observation Point

It has also been ranked as one of the best viewpoints in Zion. Climbing 2300 feet for a distance of 8 miles is completely worth it because the view at the top is breathtaking. This is a favorite hike in the park for so many Zion visitors. The hike takes 4.5 to 6 hours.

West Rim

This hike is as long as the narrows with a length of 17 miles. Though strenuous the hike is full of amazing views and it also provides a more solitary experience because it does not include going through the foot traffic as the trails in the main canyon.

This hike is good for people looking for a full-day experience. It is one of the most rewarding hikes in Zion National Park. The time one takes for this hike is between 9 to 12 hours.

The Subway

This place also provides an exciting water-filled experience just like the narrows. However, one needs extra skills like canyoneering to some extent, especially if you hike top down. Hiking from the bottom towards the top helps to avoid the rappelling and the very cold water.

The hike is also strenuous and challenging but the scenery is breathtaking. The best views for this hike are actually seen on the top-down route. This hike takes a whole day and it is a distance of 10 miles from top to bottom.

Zion National Park Camping

This national park has three campgrounds and all of them have amazing views. They all provide a display of the amazing rock walls. The campgrounds are usually fully booked from mid-March to November.

Watchman Campground

This campground has 176 sites and most sites are reservable. The campground is near the south entrance which is the park’s main entrance. It provides tents and electric campsites all year round. Note, however, generators are not allowed. There are eighteen walk-in sites that serve cyclists.

In case one needs to make a reservation on a site, they can do so six months in advance. A site by the river is most recommended for someone wishing to make a reservation.

South Campground

This campground has 127 non-reservable sites. It is located just past the watchman campground. One of the greatest advantages of camping here is that it allows generators.

Lava Point Campground

This campground has 6 non-reservable sites. All its 6 sites are very primitive and they offer the quietest and most official camping experience in zion. It has pit toilets and trash disposal facilities but unfortunately, there is no water. Generators are allowed but only from 8 a.m to 10 a.m and from 6 p.m to 8 p.m.you can camp here for free.

Other Lodging Options Near Zion National Park

Zion canyon campground and RV resort in Springdale are some of the other camping options incase the campgrounds in Zion are fully occupied or unavailable. These campgrounds have showers unlike other campgrounds in the park which explains why they are a bit pricier at around $30 per night. A site next to the river is most recommended by trip advisors.

If you prefer RV camping oversleeping in a tent, you can contact zion trailer rentals to set up an RV travel trailer to any of the above compounds except the South Campground. They usually book up fast because of the 6-months-in-advance reservations as well as during the peak which is 3-6 weeks during spring and fall.

However, if camping is not your cup of tea, or you find it too hot, you may visit several hotels in Springdale. Some of these even come with the exotic advantage of swimming pools; Desert Pearl Inn, Cliffrose Lodge, or The Hampton cost between $150-$200 a night while The Canyon Ranch Motel or The Zion Park Motel cost between $100-$150 per night.

Brian

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