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ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
Are you planning a trip to Zion National Park?
Follow this essential guide to Zion National Park to make your trip efficient and memorable!
Zion National Park is a treasure of the American West!
The Zion Canyon was carved over millions of years by the Virgin River and it is approximately 2,000 feet deep.
There are so many incredible hiking opportunities in Zion National Park like famous Angels Landing, the America’s scariest hike, or the legendary Zion Narrows where the Virgin River is your trail. And, if you are not into hiking, then check out Scenic Drive in Zion which is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Zion National Park!
And, to top it off, the California Condor, the largest flying bird in North America and can be found in the wild in Zion National Park.
ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO ZION NATIONAL PARK VACATION
WHERE IS ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah, USA near the town of Springdale, Utah.
Image Source: Map data ©2021 Google
HOW TO GET TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
- BY PLANE
The closest International Airports to Zion National Park that you can fly in are located in Las Vegas (LAS), Nevada and Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah.
There are smaller Regional Airports in St. George (SGU), Utah and Cedar City (CDC), Utah.
- BY CAR
If you fly into any of the airports around Zion National Park, you will have to rent a car and then drive.
Driving from Las Vegas, Nevada – 160 miles, 2 h 30 min
Driving from Salt Lake City, Utah – 308 miles, 4 h 30 min
Driving from Cedar City, Utah – 58 miles, 1 h 5 min
Driving from St. George, Utah – 41 miles, 1 h
BEST TIME TO VISIT ZION NATIONAL PARK TO AVOID THE CROWDS
Hands down, Zion National Park is a great destination to visit at any time of the year.
I have visited Zion so many times at different times of the year and I have to honestly say that it is an awesome place to see no matter what month you visit!
- SPRING AND FALL (April-May and September-October)
Needless to say, April and May and then September and October, are my favorite months to visit Zion National Park. The temperatures are mild with daytime temps in 60s and 70s F. By the same token, you will see less crowds and have some serene experiences on trails and at viewpoints.
- SUMMER (June through September)
Summer is the high season. The number of tourists skyrockets during these months. Needless to say, expect a lot of companionship on the trails and everywhere throughout the park.The temperatures skyrocket as well ranging from high 80s to 100s F.
- WINTER (November through March)
Finally, winter, specifically November through March, is a good time to visit Zion National Park. Above all, you will be able to find some solitude. Snow seldom reaches the canyon floor and that being the case, the scenic drive and some hiking can be enjoyed during that time. Temperatures can range from low 50s to sometimes low 70s F.
However, make sure to check the weather and local snow conditions.
Above all, you need to make sure that the trails you are planning to hike are clear and safe. For example, during winter months trails like Angels Landing can be snowy/icy on the higher sections.
WHERE SHOULD YOU STAY WHILE VISITING ZION NATIONAL PARK
When visiting Zion National Park, you can stay inside the park or near the park.
Hands down, nothing beats staying inside the park!
However, accommodations are very limited and you should make reservations well ahead of your visit.
Here is your guide to Zion National Park best accommodations!
STAYING INSIDE ZION NATIONAL PARK
1. ZION LODGE
Zion Lodge is the only lodge located inside Zion National Park. Reservations must be made well in advance!
Zion Lodge is open year-round.
Several different types of accommodations are offered at the lodge: Cabins starting at $220 per night, Hotel Rooms at $230 per night and Suites at $288 per night.
My recommendation is to get a Cabin. They all have gas log fireplaces, private porches, full baths, microwaves and mini refrigerators. These cabins are within walking distance of the lodge.
2. ZION NATIONAL PARK CAMPING
- SOUTH CAMPGROUND
South Campground is located about 0.5 miles from the South Entrance. It is open from March through October.
South Campground has 117 sites, however reservations need to be made online up to two weeks in advance at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Campsites cost $20 per night.
Image Credit: NPS
- WATCHMAN CAMPGROUND
Watchman Campground is located about 0.25 miles from the South Entrance. Tent and electric campsites are available year-round.
Watchman Campground has 190 sites. Reservations can be made online at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777 six months prior to your arrival.
Electric campsites are $30 per night and tent campsites are $20 per night.
Image Credit: NPS
- LAVA POINT CAMPGROUND
Lava Point Campground is located about 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road.
This campground is typically open May through September, as weather allows.
There are 6 primitive campsites available first come, first serve. The campground has pit toilets and trash cans, but no water. Vehicles longer than 19 feet are not permitted on the road to the campground.
- La Quinta Inn & Suits at Zion Park/Springdale. Prices during summer months start at $389 per night.
- Hampton Inn and Suits Springdale Zion National Park. Prices start at about $318 per night during high season.
- ZION CANYON CAMPGROUND AND RV RESORT
Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort is located right outside the park’s south gate in Springdale and within walking distance of the Zion National Park Visitor Center. There are 133 powered RV spots and 47 tent sites. Campground amenities include laundry facilities, showers, bathrooms, BBQ grills, and fire pits. Standard tent site costs $59 per day, and RV site costs $69 per day.
- ZION RIVER RESORT RV PARK AND CAMPGROUND
Zion River Resort RV Park and Campground is located 13.5 miles (about 19-minute drive) from Zion National Park. This RV and Campground resort has pretty much everything you need for camping: full hookups, tent sites, showers, laundry facilities, wifi, heated pool and spa. It also offers a shuttle to Zion National Park. Check for current prices here.
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WHAT ARE THE OPENING HOURS OF ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. However, some facilities reduce the opening hours during winter.
WHAT IS THE ENTRY FEE FOR ZION NATIONAL PARK
All visitors to Zion National Park need to purchase a recreational use pass.
You can purchase the weekly pass at the entrance to the park.
Weekly passes are non-transferable and are valid for 7 consecutive days including the date of purchase and cost $35 per vehicle.
If you are visiting several national parks during your vacation (or during the entire year), you should consider purchasing an annual pass.
The cost of the annual pass is $80. However, the annual pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, such as national parks, national wildlife refugees, national forests and grasslands.
You can purchase the pass online at America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass
HOW TO GET AROUND IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
If you are visiting Zion National Park between the months of March through November, then using the shuttle is mandatory. No private vehicles are allowed inside the park. By the same token, shuttle is free. Your park entrance ticket covers the cost of the shuttle.
Here is your guide to Zion National Park shuttle:
ZION SHUTTLE ROUTES
- The first shuttle route is located inside the park. It runs from the visitor center up the Zion Scenic Drive to destinations like the Zion Lodge and trailheads, including Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, and Temple of Sinawava where hikers depart for the Zion Narrows.
Image Credit: NPS
- The second shuttle route is located in the Town of Springdale. It stops at 9 locations in town and picks up and drops off visitors at the park’s pedestrian/bike entrance.
WHAT TIME ZONE IS ZION NATIONAL PARK
Depending where you are traveling to or from keep in mind that Utah is in the Mountain Time Zone.
California and Nevada are in the Pacific Time Zone (which is one hour earlier than Utah).
Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone, however it does not observe daylight savings time.
IS THERE CELL PHONE RECEPTION IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Do not rely on cell phone coverage when hiking in Zion National Park. While you can get reception in the town of Springdale and at the Zion Lodge.
You are unlikely to get service on many of Zion’s trails, in any canyons, or most locations deep in the backcountry.
I usually download google offline maps and use them to help me navigate the places without cell phone reception.
COOL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ZION BEFORE YOU VISIT
- To start with, the United States Congress established Zion National Park on November 19, 1919. A separate Zion National Monument, the Kolob Canyons area, was proclaimed on January 22, 1937, and was incorporated into the park on July 11, 1956.
- Secondly, Zion National Park covers an area of 229 square miles.
- Next, the park is named after the Hebrew word, “Zion.” This word translates as “a place of peace and relaxation.”
- The world’s longest tunnel is located in Zion National Park. It is known as Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. It is 1.1 miles long. It was opened and dedicated on July 4, 1930.
- More importantly, Zion National Park is home to one of the most endangered species, the California condor.
WHAT SHOULD YOU NOT MISS IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Here are my Zion National Park tips and my four absolute must-do things that you should not miss if you are visiting Zion National Park:
- Explore the sights along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
- HIKE! There are so many easy and short hikes, or challenging trails that will take you to some breathtaking lookouts
- Go horseback riding (you will love it!)
- Go for a BIKE ride. Hands down! If you are not into hiking, then go for a bike ride. It is the best thing to do in Zion National Park.
Here is my guide to Zion National Park favorite stops and walks along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive:
- COURT OF THE PATRIARCHS
Court of the Patriarchs are three neighboring sandstone peaks are named after fathers from the Old Testament.
From left to right, or south to north, you can see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And, in front of Jacob, is Mount Moroni.
By the way, Court of the Patriarchs is one of the most inspiring landmarks in Zion National Park and one of my favorite photography locations in Zion.
- LOWER EMERALD POOLS
Lower Emerald Pools Trail is a classic short and easy hike ( about 1.2 miles round trip) that starts right at the Zion Lodge and takes you to Lower Emerald Pools.
The trail is paved with very little elevation change and it is an absolute delight for the entire family!
You get to hike under cascading waterfalls that form several pools.
If you love taking pictures, then this is a perfect photography location in Zion to head out to!
3. GO HORSEBACK RIDING IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Go horseback riding in Zion National Park. You will love it!
The concessionary horseback ride provider in Zion National Park is Canyon Trail Rides.
They offer 1-hour Virgin River Ride (4 departure times per day) during which you follow the Virgin River for about one mile to the Court of the Patriarchs and then return back to the corral.
If you are up for a longer ride, then try 3-hour ride (2 departure times per day) along Sand Bench Trail.
They operate from March through October.
4. GO FOR A BIKE RIDE IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park allows bicycles in the park!
Check out the Pa’rus Trail. It is an awesome bike path that follows the Virgin River with several bridge crossings. And, it is great for the entire family with very little elevation change.
The Pa’rus Trailhead is located at the Visitor Center. It goes 1.75 and ends at the Canyon Junction.
However, you may continue on the main road in the canyon, which goes for 6 miles. The main road ends at Temple of Sinawava, which is shuttle stop number 9.
Another option is to take a shuttle to Temple of Sinawava. You simply put your bike on the shuttle bike rack and ride to the Temple of Sinawava. From the Temple of Sinawava you will riding downhill most of the way down canyon. However, I need to mention that there is significant uphill grade between Weeping Rock and the Grotto.
In addition, one of the things to keep in mind is that the shuttle buses are not allowed to pass moving bicycles. When a shuttle bus approaches, you need pull over and allow the bus to pass.
Finally, if you need to rent a bike, then you can do it in Springdale, Utah. Zion Cycles, located in Springdale has all kinds of bikes that you can rent. Another option is to rent your bike at Zion Lodge, which is located about half way up the canyon road.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU SPEND IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
My recommendation is to spend a minimum of one day in Zion National Park (preferably, a day and a half!).
What to do in Zion National Park in one day?
Here is my recommended itinerary for Zion National Park:
1 . ANGELS LANDING HIKE
My recommendation is to start the day with hiking Zion’s famous Angels Landing!
However, keep in mind that it is a strenuous hike and it is definitely not for people with the fear of heights. The last section of the trail is on the narrow spine of the mountain. You will have to use chains to help you up.
So, prepare and plan accordingly. Check out my post and find out all the details, and take a good look the pictures of the last section of the hike where you will need to use the chains!
2. LOWER EMERALD POOLS HIKE
After hiking Angels Landing, you will need to slow down a bit to get your energy back.
Lower Emerald Pools hike needs to be on your itinerary! You will love it! It is a short and easy trail that will take you to along and under several waterfalls and to a couple of pools.
3. CANYON JUNCTION BRIDGE
Finish off the day by going directly to Canyon Junction Bridge (shuttle stop number three). It is the one of best photography locations in Zion National Park to capture the Watchman Mountain with the Virgin River flowing below. Hands down, it is the most iconic view of Zion National Park.
And, it is especially spectacular at sunset!
4. THE ZION NARROWS HIKE
It is hard to pack all the best sights and hikes into one day. That is why I am recommending you spend at least a day and a half in Zion National Park. So, start off your second day with hiking the Zion Narrows.
Honestly, you should not leave Zion National Park without hiking the Zion Narrows! The Zion Narrows is a legendary hike! The Virgin River is your trail.
I have to add that some advance planning is necessary, if you decide to hike the Zion Narrows.
Most of the hikers go about 1.75 miles up the stream to a section called Wall Street. Honestly, the views along the way are off the charts!
BEST PHOTO SPOTS IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is a photographer’s dream!
The one spot that you absolutely cannot miss is the Observation Point.
Observation Point is a top best photo spot in the entire Zion National Park! However, it requires some hiking along Observation Point Trail. If you are up for a strenuous hike, then you will be rewarded with the most stunning 360-degree views.
What I like about Observation Point Trail is that it is not as busy as the Angels Landing Trail. You will get to enjoy some peaceful moments on this trail, plus you will not have to wait in line to take some photos. Above all, the view tops all the views in Zion National Park!
Take a look at the picture right above: to your right is the West Rim Trail and the inspiring Angels Landing. A little farther down canyon you can see the Three Patriarchs. On the left is the East Rim, Cable Mountain, Great White Throne. Far down canyon, you can see the Watchman. And, right below you is the valley with the Virgin River going around the Organ and the Angels Landing and forming the Big Bend.
Canyon Overlook is the best viewpoint in Zion National Park to photograph the Zion Canyon with the switchbacks below the west end of the Mount Carmel Tunnel, West Temple, the Towers of the Virgins, the Streaked Wall, and the Beehives.
The Canyon Overlook Trailhead is located on Mount Carmel Highway 9, right by the east entrance to the Mount Carmel Tunnel. There is no shuttle service available is this area, so you will need to use your vehicle.
The parking area is located on the south side of the road, and the trailhead is across the street, on the north side of the road.
The hike from the trailhead to the Canyon Overlook is about 1-mile one-way. It is a moderate hike with some sharp however short inclines.
If you like taking pictures, then check out my post Best Photography Locations in Zion National Park, plus it ha a bunch of useful tip on how to take great landscape and nighttime photos in Zion National Park.
WHAT TO PACK FOR ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is a photographer’s dream! If you are like me, you will be taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. The scenery is just breathtaking and constantly changing. I have Nikon COOLPIX P1000 Digital Camera that I bought a couple of years ago and I really like it.
2. Spare battery for camera
Make sure to have a spare battery for your camera. I think there is nothing more frustrating like knowing that you still have half a day ahead of you, yet your camera’s battery is gone.
If you are taking photos during the golden hour (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) when the light is softer, a tripod is essential for long exposure shots. Also, I like a tripod since it gives me more stability when taking closeups of wildlife.
If your camera does not have a good zoom, then binoculars is a must. I know that luck will be on your side and you will see some wildlife and what to treat to see them up close.
5. Appropriate footwear
I hope you make stops along the Scenic Drive in Zion and take a couple of short walks. If so, then make sure you have appropriate footwear. Trail shoes are great; hiking boots are even better since they offer more support.
6. Plenty of water
If you are visiting during summer, then make sure you have plenty of water with you. It does get hot in the Zion Canyon! Without enough water your body’s muscles and organs simply cannot perform as well.
Food will help keep up energy and morale! There are a couple of places to stop and have lunch inside Zion National Park. Also, another great idea is to pack some lunch and have a picnic.
8. Rain gear and extra clothing
The weatherman is not always right. Be prepared for unannounced rain or a cold spell. Dress in layers. It will allow you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat.
9. First aid kit
Always have a first-aid kits. Accidents happen and it is good to be prepared!
10. Sunscreen and sunglasses
Especially in the summer time , you will need sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
You need something you can carry all your valuables (phone, wallet) comfortably. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in.
9. Trash Bag
This will make sure that the trail will stay beautiful for generations to come. A zip-lock bag is a great option as well for keeping the trash you pick up along the trail separate from the rest of your gear.
PLACES TO EXPLORE NEAR ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park is located close by some of the most incredible spots in the United States!
- BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Bryce Canyon National Park is located about 75 miles (1 hour and 40 minutes) from Zion National Park. A national parks road trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon is one of my favorite things to do!
- GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Grand Canyon National park is located 98 miles (about 2-hour drive) from Zion National Park. It is another great road trip that you should add to your bucket list of places to see. Grand Canyon is simply just that – GRAND! If you have not visited Grand Canyon National Park, you need to go.
Check out some of the my post about Grand Canyon to get inspired:
- HORSESHOE BEND
Horseshoe Bend is located about 107 miles (about 2-hour drive) from Zion National Park. And, honestly, it is really hard to put into words the sheer breathtaking quality the bend provides. The views are spectacular!
- ANTELOPE CANYON
Antelope Canyon is located about 112 miles (about 2-hour drive) from Zion National Park. And, Antelope Canyon has been on my list of places to visit for the longest time. I have seen pictures of the Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons and I knew that I have to see both go them. They are truly spectacular!I You have to see it to believe it: flowing red canyon walls, twisted rocks, beams of light shining through, falling sands. Yes, it is all true!
Check out some of my posts to see the pictures and get inspired:
INTREPID SCOUT’S POINTERS FOR WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT ZION NATIONAL PARK
- Be Prepared for Crowds
Zion National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. 4.5 million people visited Zion National Park in 2019. With that being the case, be prepared for crowds everywhere.
- Use the Shuttle Service
Zion National Park Shuttle is the best and most efficient way to get to all the trailheads and sights.
- Park Your Vehicle in Springdale, Utah and then Take the Shuttle
Parking is very limited inside Zion National Park and private vehicles are not allowed past the Canyon Junction, if the shuttle is operating. Park your vehicle in Springdale and then take the shuttle. There are nine shuttle stops in Springdale.
- Arrive early
Shuttle starts operating at 6 am. Be the first one in the line to board the shuttle. You will be able to experience some solitude on the trails and not wait in line to take a picture.
- Do not miss Scenic Drive in Zion!
Zion Scenic Drive is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the Zion Canyon.
A trip to Zion is perfect paired with a side trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, or Canyonlands, Capitol Reef National Parks.
Check out my post: Zion to Bryce Canyon: 3-Day Adventure (with Maps and Photos)
Did you know that Utah has five national parks known as ‘The Mighty 5‘. Have you visited any of them? Which is your favorite Utah National Park? Let me know in the comments below which one you think is one of the best Utah national parks.
- Arches National Park
- Bryce National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park, and
- Zion National Park
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