Named by early pioneers, Zion National Park, means a place of refuge and peace. Indeed. It’s a great place to take a break from ordinary life for a few days and find sanctuary in its massive sandstone canyons and cliffs full of beauty, truly a hiker’s paradise!
Here’s our guide to the glorious, must-see Zion National Park…
Want a detailed itinerary of an 8-day trip to see Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks? Join Go to Travel Gal ALL ACCESS to get the itinerary, in additional to all of Lyn’s digital courses on travel, access to live travel webinars and recordings, tons of travel videos, a private podcast feed, packing lists, travel tools and more!
Do “The Mighty 5”
One thing to consider if visiting Zion is to visit five of Utah’s other nearby National Parks: Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. These are called “The Mighty 5.”
While five national parks in five days might seem ambitious, it’s remarkably doable. Go to Travel Gal team member John C. saw The Mighty 5 in less than five days over the holidays.
And the sites and vistas? Wow! Well worth it. Watch this video from Visit Utah for a sampling. Goosebumps… 🙂
Getting to Zion National Park
Southwest Airlines flies into Zion’s nearest airport, McCarran Las Vegas, though it is still a two-and-a-half-hour drive away; however, how fun is it to hang out in Vegas for a few days before or after?!
When you use your Southwest points and Southwest Companion Pass to fly there, you’ll beat the odds indeed 😊, saving a boatload on your trip.
Lyn and her family spent a few days in Vegas, showing it to her kids for the first time, wandering through all the amazing hotels and swimming in Mandalay Bay’s epic water park!
Tip: If time permits while you’re in Las Vegas, drive over and check out Hoover Dam. Read more about that in our above things to do in Las Vegas post.
The next nearest airport accessible by Southwest would be Salt Lake City at four-and-a-half hours away.
Driving in Zion National Park
When you drive into Zion National Park, you’ll be struck by its majesty. Soaring rocks and mesas with unusual patterns and varying shades of red make you feel as though you’ve arrived on another planet. Who knew the U.S. had landscapes like this?
Soon after driving into Zion, Lyn and her family came upon big-horned sheep battling in the road. It caused a back-up, of course, but the sighting was well worth it. You can see more on her family’s video below:
One of the best parts of driving into Zion are the tunnels.
If you plan on driving an RV, which is 11’4″ tall or taller or 7’10” wide or wider, including mirrors, awnings and jacks, you will need a tunnel permit to drive through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Check the link, as there are restricted hours for this as well.
Parking is limited at Zion, and usually fills by 10 a.m. every morning. If you don’t get a spot, or arrive well after this time, head to nearby Springdale, where you can catch a Zion Shuttle Bus (more information below).
The park entrance fee is $35 per car and $30 per motorcycle for a seven-day pass. You can also purchase an annual annual pass for $80 that allows you to visit a gazillion national parks and federal lands for one full year.
Senior citizens can purchase a lifetime senior pass that covers ALL national parks for $80 or instead choose a $20 annual pass. The best part? Everyone in your car ALSO gets in with your senior pass. Nifty… 😉.
Are you an active military member? Grab a FREE annual pass. It’s good for your whole family to visit as many National Parks as you can squeeze into the year. Thank you for your service!
Your whole family can also get into National Parks free if you have a fourth grader, both during their school year and the following summer, as part of the Every Kid in a Park Program.
You can also access Zion National Park FREE in 2020 on the below days, but keep in mind these days will be even MORE BUSY than usual:
|January 20||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day|
|April 18||First day of National Park Week / National Junior Ranger Day|
|August 25||National Park Service Anniversary|
|September 26||National Public Lands Day|
|November 11||Veterans Day|
Zion National Park Weather
This National Park is far enough south that the months of June, July and August have no snow, but in return, the temperatures range from a low of 60 to a high of 100! Wow. You might not want to go then 😉.
For milder temps, try the shoulder seasons, which include April, May, September or October. Lyn’s family visited in April and found cool mornings but afternoons that warmed up quickly into the low 80s. Layers are key!
It’s the wettest in March, which means snow melt through May can make the rivers dangerous, meaning The Narrows (more below) may be off limits. You’ll find lots of wildflowers in bloom April through June.
Because of the broad range of temperatures, this park has a longer season than most, which, hopefully, means that it’s a lot less crowded too!
Getting Around Zion
The best, and sometimes only, way to get around Zion (when the shuttle is running, no private vehicles are allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive) is by shuttle bus.
Free shuttles leave frequently from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Shuttle buses run from early spring through late fall and allow you to hop on and hop off at any of the stops, which is especially helpful if you’re hiking.
Depending on the time of year, the wait time can be as short as seven minutes and as long as 15 minutes. Shuttles also have room for two bicycles.
The system has two loops:
- The nine-stop loop in Springdale takes you to the pedestrian entrance at the park where you can get your park guide and map.
- The second loop runs from the visitor center to the Temple of Sinawava with nine stops total and is an 80- to 90-minute round trip ride.
Some tips when taking these shuttles:
- Don’t forget to bring your park pass or receipt to get into the park if you came from outside the park in Springdale!
- Make sure you know the time of departure of the last shuttle of the day, and don’t miss it!
Where to Stay
Zion National Park Lodge
The ONLY in-park lodge, Zion National Park Lodge, built in 1924, is close to the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. Their accommodations include hotel or suite rooms in the lodge, as well as 28 cabins within walking distance.
Checking for the summer of 2020, rooms were actually available about 6 weeks ahead, so don’t rule it out without checking first.
The rates for 2020 are about $260/night for a room.
The main lodge features a grill, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s a seasonal cafe and a gift shop.
Even if you aren’t able to book a room here, it’s a great place to recuperate with a meal or snack before continuing your outdoor activities!
Because parking is limited and lots are usually full by midday, the National Park Services suggest Springdale, Utah as a convenient place to stay.
Major hotel sites list around 30 hotels in that town alone, and that doesn’t include other options such as B&Bs, private rooms, cabins and glamping.
The advantages to staying in Springdale? Proximity to Zion and the ability to get into the park using public transportation.
Kanab is a bit further away, but is a town filled with character! This is where Lyn and her family called home during their visit to Zion.
Fans of Westerns will love Kanab, where more than 100 movies and TV shows have been filmed. Check out the Little Hollywood Movie Museum on West Center Street to see some movie sets. You’ll also find Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, which offers free tours and opportunities to volunteer.
And in case you didn’t get enough hiking in Zion, Kanab has its own Trails System accessible from town or check out the local-favorite Peek-a-Boo slot canyon, which you can do without the hoards you’re more likely to find in Zion.
Kanab is also conveniently located close to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which you should definitely check out when in the area. You can “sand surf,” which is SO cool!
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Lyn’s family stayed at this Holiday Inn Express, and since it was so cheap, upgraded to a suite with two bedrooms. The property is very nice, has laundry for washing your dirty hiking clothes, and offers an excellent hot filling breakfast to fuel you for a day of hikes!
Mt. Carmel, Utah
Also close to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and east of Zion is Mt. Carmel.
You’ll find plenty of outfitters here, even more slot canyons to hike, as well as Maynard Dixon Gallery, highlighting this famous artist’s work.
When you stay in Mt. Carmel, you enter Zion from its beautiful east side along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway through the historic tunnel. Your jaw will drop, we promise!
Zion Mountain Ranch
Also east of Zion National Park is Zion Mountain Ranch, which gives you the opportunity to stay on the same property as a herd of buffalo!
Choose from private cabins or large lodges for your overnight stay that will feel truly “western.”
Even if you choose not to stay here, Lyn recommends heading over to the restaurant for dinner one evening.
Things to Do in Zion National Park
Zion National Park Hikes
Here are some hikes to consider on your visit to Zion.
Upper Emerald Pool Trail
This is an easy hike, taking you a little over a mile on a paved trail and should take only about one hour. It’s perfect for all ages with a great payoff: pools of water and a 30-foot waterfall.
Plus, if you have kids that like rocks, like Lyn’s son above, they can hop rocks to their heart’s content!
Angels Landing via West Rim Trail
This is a strenuous and — scary! — 5.5 mile trek with an elevation gain of almost 1,500 feet, the second-highest of Zion’s 18 listed hikes.
If you do this trail to completion, you go along a portion with steep drop-offs on either side with only chains to hang on to. Not for the faint of heart or kids or anyone with a fear of heights! There’s also a section of many switch-backs famously called “Walter’s Wiggles.”
So, why list this as a best hike? It’s the most often talked about hike in Zion, and if you make it to the summit, you’ll be rewarded with outstanding views. Plus, you’ll be pretty impressed with your courage 😃 . If you want to skip the scariest parts, you can go just that far and call it done.
Ask a ranger if you’re unsure if you should do this hike. Or just go on YouTube. Watching a video of the Angels Landing hike will help you make a prudent decision.
Lyn’s family did the Hidden Canyons hike below, which has drop-offs only on one side, again with chains to hang on to. She saw many people of all ages, pregnant and even with kids on their shoulders navigating this hike, and her family lived to tell the tale. You can see portions of it in the video above.
The Narrows is the other most popular hike in Zion, as this one literally takes you through a river inside a slot canyon, considered the “grandfather of all slot canyons” for its magnificence and grandeur.
While often closed during the spring due to the height of the water, those who get to hike the Narrows will wade through the knee-deep Virgin River with 2,000-foot high rock walls to either side of you. If you thought hiking was hard, try hiking through a river!! It’s described as feeling like “walking on slippery bowling balls.”
There are two versions of this hike one going from the bottom of the river up, or you can do the full 16-mile overnight version if you dare.
Hidden Canyons Trail
Lyn’s family opted for this hike as their main hike for the day. This is a 2.5-mile hike that takes about three hours and has a mix of the best of Zion from a steep incline to start to the sheer drop-offs as you navigate along rock cliffs to a super fun portion at the top where there’s lots of rocks to climb through, over and under (Lyn’s kids’ favorite part!).
Again, if you’re afraid of heights, this one probably isn’t for you. Lyn is, but she managed the hike, though she says she was fearful the whole time that her younger, less-cautious son would fall off. He didn’t 😉.
A great activity in Zion is what’s called rock “scrambling.” This just means climbing over, under, through and around rocks; it’s not actually rock “climbing,” as in scaling a rock. It can be quite challenging at times and test your brain power to figure out the best way through.
Lyn’s boys absolutely loved the rock scrambling (see video at the top of the post), which you can also find in abundance at Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Zion is home to abundant wildlife, and Lyn and her family were welcomed into the park shortly after driving in with desert bighorn sheep butting heads in the road. So cool! These are most frequently seen on the east side of the park.
Other animals include mule deer, lizards, the desert tortoise and lots of birds.
Zion offers horseback riding tours starting at the corral near the Emerald Pools Trailhead.
Cami’s husband has a star-gazing app on his phone, which they like to use when visiting National Parks.
When outside city limits, you’ll be among some of the darkest skies you’ve never seen. Once your eyes adjust, star formations will soon appear overhead and you’ll be able to identify, wherever you are in the world (even Australia), what you are seeing just by pointing your phone at them. How cool is that?!
Where to Eat in and Around Zion
Here are some options for dining in Zion National Park and in the surrounding towns.
- National Park Lodge
- Cordwood, Zion Mountain Ranch
- Rocking V Cafe, Kanab
- Sego Restaurant, Kanab
- Escobars Mexican, Kanab
What to Bring
Because there’s a lot of water in Zion, you may want to bring waterproof shoes for hiking or even waders if you’re going to be hiking The Narrows, which literally takes you through a river.
Do you recall the mention above of temps soaring up to 100 degrees? You’ll need to pack sunscreen, a hat and some sunglasses to ward off those damaging rays.
But because it can be cool in the morning, be sure to bring layers. When Lyn visited, they started off wearing jackets (shown above) and were sweating to death by the afternoon when it reached the low 80s.
If you decide to participate in evening ranger talks, bring along a flashlight or headlamp. The new LED flashlights are incredibly bright and very useful.
Like to stop at picnic tables or creekside for an impromptu picnic? Bring a small throw blanket or tablecloth to ensure that only it will get dirty and not you and your food.
Remember all the rock scrambling? You’re definitely going to want a first-aid kit for those inevitable scrapes and cuts that result as you climb over and through rocks 😉. A little Neosporin wouldn’t hurt either!
Want more National Park tips? Check out our post on 7 Top Tips for Visiting Our National Parks.
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