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  • Writer's pictureJalin Coblentz

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Zion National Park

When it comes to a unique mix of views and otherworldly beauty, you'll be hard-pressed to find a nicer area than Zion National Park. While Zion isn't one of the larger national parks in the US, it's easily one of the most unique and beautiful. Everywhere you look, you'll be surrounded by towering red rocks, fast-flowing rivers, and flashes of green plant life.


However, while you can't go wrong with putting Zion National Park on your list of must-see places, it's important to plan your trip out so that you can make the most of your visit. This includes finding a good place to stay, knowing what to bring with you, and having a list of places you want to see and things you want to do.


If you're looking for just such a list, you've come to the right place. We visited Zion National Park in the summer of 2022, and it was one of the best decisions we've ever made. Given the chance, we'd go back in a heartbeat! However, we learned a few things during our visit that we would do differently next time. This article will share what some of those things are, as well as everything else you need to know when visiting Zion National Park.

Zion National Park: The Basics

Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah in the city of Springdale. It's in the bottom left corner of the state, putting it within one hour of both the Arizona and Nevada borders. In fact, Zion is located just 2 ½ hours northeast of Las Vegas and 5 ½ hours northwest of the Grand Canyon. There's only one road going in and out of the park, which means you'll have to navigate it if you want to get from one side of the park to the other.


Zion National Park was first established as a national park in November 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson. It's one of five national parks in Utah. If you're in a hurry and want to simply check national parks off your list, you can actually visit all five of them in a single day, but more on that in a later article.


Zion is famous for its sprawling red cliffs and peaks and for the Virgin River that runs through the heart of the park. There's also a good chance you've heard of The Narrows and Angel's Landing, two of the most famous parks in any national park. Finally, Zion National Park sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet, making it the highest national park in Utah.

Top Things to Do at Zion National Park


Angel's Landing

Angel's Landing is one of the first things that most people think about when they consider Zion National Park. Angel's Landing is one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on your line of thinking) national park hikes in the country.


Angel's Landing alone is a roughly 1-mile out-and-back hike along a treacherous and steep trail. It's so narrow that most of the trail is one-way, which means that you need to step aside for people that you pass along the way. Because parts of the trail are too steep to navigate without assistance, many sections have rope chains that you can use to traverse the terrain.


The reason that Angel's Landing is considered infamous by some is because of how dangerous it is. Since Zion became a national park in the early 1900s, it's estimated that 15 people have died trying to climb Angel's Landing. Additionally, two people perished in 2021, making some feel as though the trail should only be open to experienced hikers and climbers.


At any rate, Angel's Landing remains popular enough that you need to purchase a climbing pass in order to get on the trail. You'll also have to climb a three-and-a-half mile out-and-back trail to get to the base of Angel's Landing. This trail, the Scout Lookout Trail, is one of the steepest in the park and has over 1,000 feet of elevation gain.


Even if you don't climb Angel's Landing, you should definitely consider hiking the Scout Lookout Trail. It offers sweeping, panoramic views of the park, and is the site where many famous Zion photos are taken. Make sure to bring plenty of water, however, because Scout Lookout alone takes around three hours to hike, because of how steep it is.

The Narrows

Apart from Angel's Landing, the Narrows is the second-most famous hike at Zion National Park. The Narrows is a long, unique, arduous hike, most of which takes place in the Virgin River. The Narrows will offer some of the most breathtaking views of Zion, and give you a perspective of how massive and unique the canyons are.


However, be sure to plan accordingly, because the Narrows are often closed due to the danger of flash-flooding. Flash-floods also make the Narrows one of the most dangerous hikes of any National Park in the country. It's estimated that at least four people have drowned while hiking the Narrows, one of which actually occurred the weekend that Kate and I were visiting Zion.


Because of how potentially dangerous the Narrows are, you should always where a life jacket is the water is waste to chest high. You should also only attempt the hike if you're a strong swimmer and part of a larger group.

Other Hikes

While Angel's Landing and the Narrows are the most famous hikes in Zion National Park, they're far from the only ones. Scout Lookout, the Emerald Pools Trail, and the Watchman Trail will offer the best views of the park, while the Pa'rus Trail and Zion Canyon Overlook Trail are some of the easiest for all ages. Regardless of how experienced or fit you are, there's a hike in Zion National Park for everyone.

Canyoneering

If you want something a little more in-depth and exciting than hiking, Zion also offers a number of cnayoneering opportunities. Canyoneering involves hiking, rock scrambling, light climbing, and other methods of traversing through canyons. It's sort of like hiking with a bit of parkour mixed in. However, because canyoneering is slightly more dangerous than hiking, you'll need to secure a permit at the rangers office.

Rock Climbing

For decades, Zion National Park has been a hotspot for rock climbers around the world. Many of the cliffs and canyons are over 2,000 feet high, and a number of them are available for rock climbing purposes. Once again, because rock climbing is dangerous, you'll have to secure a permit, and you should only climb if you know what you're doing.

Biking

Biking is a great way to get a close-up view of Zion National Park as well as some exercise in the process. The Pa'rus Trail and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are the two most popular cycling destinations in Zion. However, all of the dirt and hiking trails aside from Pa'rus are closed off to bikes. You also can't ride your bike through the Zion Mount-Carmel Tunnel, so you'll have to catch a ride through or turn around.

Birding

In addition to the hiking, biking, and canyoneering fun you can have at Zion National Park, birding is also a popular activity. There are nearly 300 different bird species to be found in the park at various times of the year, making it a top national park birding destination.

Best Time to Visit Zion

Because of how popular Zion National Park is, it's always going to be packed when you visit. However, the summer and fall months from May through October tend to be the busiest. That said, there's a slight lull during the rainy season because many parts of the park are closed due to flooding. The rainy season varies from year to year, but it's typically from July through August.


Although Zion is very busy throughout the year, it's still worth the visit. The park is spread out enough and has a solid shuttle system, so navigation isn't too packed. However, there's only one road running through Zion, which means that you're never going to be without a small wait time or crowd.

Where to Stay While Visiting Zion

If you're planning to visit Zion National Park for a while, you're going to need a place to stay. Over the years, Zion has become extremely popular, which has led to a boom in lodging options. In general, you have the option of staying inside Zion National Park or just outside the park in the adjoining town of Springdale, just south of the Zion entrance.

Inside Zion National Park

If you want to stay close to the action and be able to wake up and start exploring immediately, staying at a campground inside the park is the best option. There are three campgrounds within Zion.


  • Watchman Campground


The Watchman Campground is located just inside the main entrance and is the most popular campground inside the park. Every spot has enough space for up to two tents or an RV, and some spots can accommodate larger RVs. It's important to reserve your spot well in advance, however, because the campground fills up quickly.


While campsites don't have individual water and electric hookups, there are community bathrooms and water spigots.


  • South Campground


The South Campground is also a great option, but it's closed indefinitely for repairs and renovations.


  • Lava Point Campground


Lava Point Campground is the smallest and most primitive camping option at Zion. It's at the far north end of the national park, over an hour from the main South Entrance. There are also only six campsites available and they can handle tents and vehicles shorter than 20 feet. You also won't find any electricity, water, or other amenities aside from pit toilets at this campground.


  • Zion Lodge


In addition to the campgrounds inside Zion, visitors also have the option of staying at the Zion Lodge. This is the only lodge inside the park and offers the option of cabins, hotel suites, and hotel rooms. There's also a restaurant inside the lodge and it's easily the most luxurious place to stay inside Zion.

Outside Zion National Park

Because camping and lodging options are limited inside Zion National Park, most people opt to stay in the nearby towns of Springdale or Virgin. Both towns offer great lodging options, but Springdale is the preferred town because of its proximity to the South Entrance. Here are some of the top places to stay outside of Zion.


  • Hotels

In recent years, Springdale has seen a huge boom in popularity and tourism, leading to the construction of numerous motels and lodges. The Red Rock Inn Bed and Breakfast Cottages, Best Western, Desert Pearl Inn, Bumbleberry Inn, and Hampton are some of the top options. Virgin, Utah, also has a Fairfield Inn and Suites, another Best Western, and The Dwellings, among others.


  • Campgrounds


There are also many campgrounds and RV resorts outside of Zion in both Springdale and Virgin. Zion River RV Resort and Campground, Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort, Zion West RV Park, and many more. During our visit to Zion, we stayed at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort.


This campground and RV resort is within easy walking distance of the South Entrance and is smack-dab in the middle of the town. You can walk to restaurants, shops, and grocery stores, and the campground offers all the amenities you could hope for. There are two beautiful bathrooms/shower houses, a pool, a laundromat, and much more.

Getting Into and Moving Around the Park

Due to the high volume of visitors that Zion sees each year, the roadways inside the park are mostly restricted to park shuttles. The only exception is Highway 9, also known as the Zion Scenic Drive, which runs from the South Entrance in Springdale to the East Entrance at Kolob Terrace Road. If you decide to drive this road, it's important to note that there's a long, shallow tunnel that isn't accessible to vehicles taller than 13 feet or longer than 40 feet.


However, if you want to go on any roads aside from the Zion Scene Drive, you'll have to take one of the many shuttles going through the park. While the Zion Scenic Drive will get you to some of the major parts of the park, it won't take you to Kolob Canyon, The Narrows, Angels Landing, and other must-sees. Riding the shuttle is free

Things to Bring With You to Zion National Park

The nice thing about visiting Zion National Park is that you don't need to bring a whole lot with you. No matter where you stay at Zion, you'll never be too far from food, gas, and shopping. This is especially true if you stay in the towns of Virgin or Springdale, which are both packed with tourist attractions and things to do.

Zion National Park Fees and Permits

As with all national parks, Zion National Park isn't free. Here's a quick rundown of some of the fees you can expect to pay to get into Zion.


  • $35 entrance fee for cars, trucks, and vans, and the pass is good for 7 days

  • $30 entrance fee for motorcycles, also good for 7 days

  • $20 entrance fee per person if you enter Zion on foot, good for 7 days

  • For more information about entrance fees, visit the Zion National Park website.


Personally, we recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful Park Pass. This is an annual pass that gives you free access to every national park in the country. By visiting just three national parks, your pass will have paid for itself.

Additional Tips and Tricks While Visiting Zion National Park

You're sure to have fun and make memories regardless of when you visit Zion National Park. However, Zion is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It also happens to be on the smaller side with a limited number of entrances, trails, and things to do. Therefore, it's important to at least somewhat plan your visit so that you can make the most of your time. To help you with that problem, here are a few additional tips and tricks for visiting Zion National Park.


  • If you're planning to hike Scout Lookout but aren't sure if you want to hike Angel's Landing, purchase a hiking permit anyways. You can't purchase permits at the top of the trail, and you also can't use someone else's permit if they change their minds and decide not to take on Angel's Landing.

  • If you visit Zion National Park during the rainy season, there's a good chance the Narrows will be closed due to flooding.

  • Despite its small size, Zion sees more visitor per year than most other national parks. This uptick in visitors in a small area is leading to excessive road and trail damage. As a result, many parts of Zion are closed periodically throughout the year for maintenance.

  • The earlier you hit the hiking trails, the less crowded and more enjoyable they will be.

  • In the last decade, more than 40 people have perished at Zion National Park due to drowning, dehydration, and falls during hiking or rock climbing. Therefore, safety is paramount when visiting the park.

  • The best place to stay during your visit to Zion is in the town of Springdale. It has the most lodging and dining options, and offers the closest proximity to the main Zion entrance.

  • Familiarize yourself with the shuttle service because it's the only way to get to several crucial parts of the park.

  • In the same way that you want to hit the trails early, the shuttle lines are also shorter in the early morning.

  • Zion is a great place to start or finish your tour of the Utah Five, Utah's five national parks.

Final Thoughts About Zion National Park

Of all the national parks we've visited, Zion National Park easily ranks in the top three. Zion offers incredible views and features that you simply can't see or experience anywhere else. It's the perfect place for hikers, adventurers, and photographers to congregate and experience nature in an incredible way. Therefore, regardless of your interests or how outdoorsy you are, Zion National Park is definitely worth the visit.


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