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Zion National Park Guide: Read This Before You Go

Zion National Park Guide - View of Virgin River

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This blog is all about Zion National Park and everything you need to know before you go!

Zion National Park Guide - View of Virgin River

Zion National Park is easily one of my favorite US National Parks. It’s full of so many things to do and is easily a desert gem. If you haven’t read my blog on All 5 Utah National Parks Ranked Best To Worst, you’ll want to give that a read here! Otherwise, let’s get right into Zion National Park and everything you need to know before you go!

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small percentage of every purchase at no cost to you! If you choose to shop, I’d appreciate it if you used my links, but no pressure at all. Thank you so much!

When to Visit Zion National Park

Summer

Summer is the best time to visit Zion National Park simply because all the trails will be open. This includes the ever so famous Narrows! It’s important to note that visiting Zion National Park in the summer means you will more than likely have to deal with crowds.

Spring

Spring can be another great time to visit Zion National Park. Some trails may be closed due to snowmelt. If you want to visit in spring, you need to watch the weather to make sure it doesn’t start storming!

Winter

You still have the option to hike in Zion National Park during the winter season, but some trails might be challenging to reach because of snow and ice. The shuttle system will be closed, so you can drive your car around roads that are usually closed for shuttle purposes. 

Fall

I have heard fall can be beautiful in Zion National Park. In various parts of the park, you will find a range of fall colors like no other! Similar to spring, some bad weather days may prohibit you from hiking.

How Long to Stay in Zion National Park

Because there is so much to do in Zion National Park, I suggest visiting for at least 4 or 5 days! That seems like quite a bit considering there are 4 other Utah National parks you could visit, but Zion is worth the stay! 

Zion National Park

Zion National Park Fees

Zion National Park fees are as follows. You can visit the official Zion National Park website for additional details!

  • $35 for a non-commercial vehicle – 7 days
  • $30 for a motorcycle – 7 days
  • $20 for a single person entering by foot or bicycle – 7 days
  • $70 Zion Annual Park Pass – one year starting at the month of purchase
  • $80 America The Beautiful – one year beginning at the month of purchase

Scott and I have always purchased an America The Beautiful pass because it gets us into all US National Parks for a year!

Getting to Zion National Park

Alrighty, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how you can get to Zion National Park and start your trip!

Flying

If you’re flying in from out of state, several sources suggest flying into Las Vegas, renting a car, and driving to Zion National Park. The Las Vegas airport is about a 3hr drive from the entrance of Zion National Park. You’ll also have cheaper flights by choosing this airport!

Driving

Like most US National Parks, there are various ways to enter by car! Below are driving directions to Zion National Park from the official Zion NPS website

“From Las Vegas, Nevada (163 miles), Mesquite, Nevada (80 miles), and Saint George, Utah (40 miles):

  • Interstate 15 North
  • Exit 16 – Right on State Route 9 East (33 miles)
  • Right to stay on State Route 9 East in La Verkin, Utah (20 miles)
  • Stay on State Route 9 East into Zion National Park, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is ahead on the right.

From Salt Lake City, Utah (307 miles) and Cedar City, Utah (57 miles):

  • Interstate 15 South
  • Exit 27 – Left on State Route 17 South (26 miles)
  • Left on State Route 9 East in La Verkin, Utah (20 miles)
  • Stay on State Route 9 East into Zion National Park, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is ahead on the right.

From Page, Arizona (118 miles) and Kanab, Utah (45 miles):

  • US Route 89 North
  • Left on State Route 9 West in Mount Carmel Junction, Utah
  • (24 miles)
  • Stay on State Route 9 West into Zion National Park, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is 12 miles ahead on the left.”

 

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

Where you stay in or near Zion National Park can almost make or break your entire experience there! Let’s get into that now.

Hotels

If you want to stay in Zion National Park, you will need to stay in Zion Lodge. Otherwise, you should look into staying in Springdale! Springdale is right on the border of Zion National Park and will make getting to the park a lot easier. Kanab is another excellent option, but it is over an hour from Zion National Park.

Below is a bullet list of the various places to stay during your Zion National Park visit. 

 

Camping

Zion National Park has two main campgrounds within park boundaries. Below is some information about them! Click here to read about booking.

  • South Campground – $20 per night for individual sites; $50 for group sites; there are 117 sites total! To reserve, visit this webpage
  • Watchman Campground – Open March to November; 176 sites; $20-$30

Zion National Park Sections 

Zion National Park is made of six sections that act as a sort of grid system for various adventures. Let’s get into the sections below!

Main Canyon

Home to some of the main attractions in Zion National Park. Angel’s Landing, Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, as well as Zion Lodge and the Visitor Center. This is notably the most popular section of Zion National Park. The Main Canyon is where you’ll end up when you get in from the Springdale park entrance. 

Desert Lowlands

Desert Lowlands is the driest part of Zion National Park, which makes it a great section to visit in the offseason! 

Kolob Canyons

Kolob Canyon is a more secluded part of Zion National Park and is most famous for its pink color!

Zion Narrows

Who hasn’t heard of the Narrows? The Narrows is one of the most popular hikes in the world as it takes hikers through a series of canyons carved by the Virgin River. 

Kolob Terrace

Home to another world-renowned hike: the Subway! Some great campsites are here too! You will not be able to access this section of the park in winter.

Upper East Canyon

This is one of my favorite parts of Zion because it makes for such a scenic drive! The Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel is the main attraction and is sort of like the gateway into the park. Along this route, you’ll have the chance to stop and take roadside photos!

Zion National Park Map

The first map was taken from the NPS website. The second map includes things to do in Zion National Park and the surrounding area.

Zion Area Map - Website

Getting Around Zion National Park

Unfortunately, I must admit that getting around Zion National Park is my least favorite part of taking trips there. The shuttle system in Zion can be a tad restricting. To make your life a bit easier, let’s talk about the shuttles now!

Cost of the Zion Shuttles

The Zion National Park shuttles are free! Once you pay to enter the park, you will be able to access the shuttles to get around. 

When Do the Shuttles in Zion National Park Run?

The shuttles in Zion National Park run during the popular tourism months: February through November. In the winter, you will need your own car to get around!

Parking in Zion National Park

Your best bet for finding parking in Zion National Park is to go early. The park gets packed…FAST. The first option you have for parking is to leave your car at the Visitor Center; otherwise, there is paid parking around the Springdale area. Your last option is to leave your vehicle at your Springdale hotel!

How do the Shuttles Work?

The critical thing to note about the Zion National park shuttles is the two main shuttle lines. Let’s talk about them now! 

Zion Canyon

The Zion Canyon Shuttle will take you to some of the most scenic parts of Zion National Park! This is the shuttle line you’ll ride to get to popular hikes like Angels Landing, Weeping Rock, and more! The shuttle line begins at the Zion Visitor Center. 

Springdale

Since Springdale is the neighboring town to Zion National Park, most folks choose to stay here when they visit. Conveniently, Springdale also has a Zion National Park shuttle that’ll take visitors right to the park entrance! 

YOU’D LIKE: My Beginner’s Guide To Hiking

 

The Best Hiking Trails in Zion National Park

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park Sunset

Okay, so now that we’re caught up on everything you need to know before you visit Zion National Park, let’s get into some of the best things to do when you get there!

Angels Landing

Angels Landing is notably one of the most popular things to do in Zion National Park. Angels Landing is a beautiful hike that will bring you to a view above Zion Canyon. Your jaw will probably drop when you get there! One of the best times to hike Angels Landing is for sunrise! The hike starts at the Grotto Trailhead, is 4.8mi RT, and has a total of 1,630ft in elevation gain. You can read more about the hike here!

Observation Point

Observation Point is one of my favorite hikes in Zion National Park! In my opinion, it’s better than Angels Landing because the view is much higher! The only downside to this hike over Angels Landing is that it is more strenuous. The Observation Point trail is 8mi RT, begins at Weeping Rock Trailhead, and has a 2,788ft elevation gain. You can read more about the hike here!

The Narrows

How can you talk about Zion National Park without talking about The Narrows? The Narrows is unique because it allows visitors to go on a desert adventure like no other. Hikers get the chance to wade through water in the narrow canyons of Zion. It’s a bucket list kind of trail for most adventure lovers out there! If you want to explore the Narrows, you have the option of making a multi-day trip out of it. To read more about the hike, permits, etc., click here!

Canyon Overlook Trail

Not in the mood to do any sort of crazy hiking? No problem! Canyon Overlook trail is exceptionally photogenic and is only 1mi RT! The bad part about this hike is that there is next to no parking to get to the trailhead, so your best bet is to get there early and try to find overflow parking near the trailhead. If you’d like, you can read more about Canyon Overlook Trail here!

The Subway

In the mood for a backcountry adventure? Check out The Subway! The Subway is possibly one of the most famous backcountry desert trails in the USA and worth getting permits for if you can! The critical thing to note about The Subway is that you must check on trail conditions before you go. Should the water become too high, the trail becomes extremely dangerous. You can read more about The Subway here. 

 

The Best Photo Spots in Zion National Park

So you went on a hike, but what are the best places for photography? Let’s talk about them!

Canyon Junction Bridge

Canyon Junction Bridge is an iconic photography spot in Zion National Park. Getting to this spot can be a bit tricky because it requires you to park on the roadside. However, if you can manage to find a parking spot, the view is worth it! It’s best to go here for sunset. 

Hop Valley

If you like towering canyon walls, Hop Valley might be for you! It’s a 6mi hike round trip, but you don’t need to walk the entire trail to get a good image. It’s an excellent place for Zion images during either sunrise or sunset. 

Canyon Overlook

Canyon Overlook is not just a fun hike, it’s an excellent photography spot! For your best bet at getting amazing images, opt to hike Canyon Overlook for sunset! 

Kolob Terrace Road

Kolob Terrace Road has soooooo many photo spots you won’t want to miss! They look the best during sunrise or sunset and offer some fantastic, open views of Zion National Park.

Angels Landing

If you go to Zion National Park, you MUST hike Angels Landing and get some iconic images! Angels Landing is best during sunset or sunrise, but getting to the trailhead is difficult because the shuttles stop running. Some folks ride bikes to and from the trailhead to get the best light for their images!

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

Things to do Near Zion National Park

Done with exploring Zion National Park and want to explore the surrounding areas? Let’s talk about what you can do!

Sand Hollow State Park

Sand Hollow is one of the best state parks to see a crystal clear oasis in the desert! You can spend your day by the waterfront, taking a stroll or driving, and ATV!

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a great place to visit after you’re done with Zion National Park! It’s a beautiful landscape with unique colored dunes! Some folks choose to go sledding here or go on one of the park’s nature walks!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is a 2hr drive from Zion National Park and is SO worth the trip! Bryce Canyon is full of massive rock formations that are bright orange and make you feel like you’re on another planet! 

Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park is another excellent option of places to visit around Zion! The parks are only 2hrs away from each other, and would make for a great road trip! Valley of Fire is full of unearthly-like landscapes that’ll make your jaw drop!

Tips for Visiting Zion National Park

Let’s get into some of my best tips for visiting Zion National Park

Be Patient

This goes without saying, but Zion National Park is extremely popular, and there will be crowds- you simply can’t avoid it. Your best bet for enjoying the park is to go expecting crowds and do what you can despite the traffic!

Go Early and Stay Late

Want to get some time away from crowds? You’re going to have to wait them out or arrive before they do! Some Zion National Park trails can be enjoyed early, so you might as well make the most use out of that time! Not to mention, parking at the park is extremely difficult with crowds!

Dress in Layers

Zion National Park can be warm in the summer and cold at night! Below I have included a packing list for you to consider before you go!

Stay in Springdale if Possible

While Springdale might be more expensive than the alternative Kanab, it is much closer to Zion National Park! You will also have the opportunity to leave your care in your Springdale hotel parking lot and take the shuttle to the park entrance. 

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  1. Mari says:

    Another great blog. Great mindframe to have when travelling. We are convinced, single-handedly by you guys, to do a national park tour on our next overseas destination.

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!