Towering umber-colored cliffs, winding hiking trails with bucket list-backdrops, and sublime views of desert mesas from stomach-churning heights – Zion National Park holds some of Utah’s most scenic natural wonders. But more than just eye candy, there’s a treasure trove of things to do in Zion National Park.
Of course, your run-of-the-mill national park activities are here – hiking, climbing, and canyoneering (we’ll get more into these later) – but really, Zion has plenty more in store for adventurers looking to tread the road less traveled.
If you’re planning the perfect Zion adventure, get ready for a jam-packed itinerary. Here’s everything you need to know about Zion National Park and what to do in this sun-bleached paradise.
Table of Contents
- What is Zion National Park?
- Why is Zion National Park so famous?
- How to get to Zion National Park
- Best time to visit Zion National Park
- The 8 Best Things to do in Zion National Park
- 1. Hiking
- 2. Take a scenic drive
- 3. Camping
- 4. Biking
- 5. Canyoneering
- 6. Kayaking
- 7. ATV riding
- 8. Swimming and river tubing
What is Zion National Park?
Situated in southwestern Utah and just a stone’s throw away from the town of Springdale, the 146,569-acre paradise is a land shaped by natural forces.
As with most national parks, the purpose of establishing Zion National Park in 1919 was to preserve these natural wonders, safeguard its wilderness character, and protect the history behind it.
Ice, wind, seismic uplift, and volcanic activity have molded this destination’s unique geography, allowing unusual animal and plant diversity to thrive. More than anything else, however, it is the mighty Virgin River of which the canyon is most at mercy of.
This roaring river perpetually claws its way through the park’s winding canyons, digging deeper and making it wider each year.
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Why is Zion National Park so famous?
The secret is in the diversity of its geological wonders – the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and the Mojave Desert all converge here. The combination creates a slew of unique geological formations, including mesas, peaks, canyons, and hoodoos, all serving as playgrounds for travelers just itching to scale the next height.
Zion National Park wildlife is thriving, thanks to the park’s geographical diversity, which developed unique conditions that nurture all sorts of life. More than 80% of the park is pure wilderness; around 289 species of birds, 32 reptiles, and 75 mammals consider this national park their home.
With that said, it doesn’t take more than a few steps from the visitor center to be entirely surrounded by pure nature.
While travelers flock to the park for all sorts of excursions, the main draw has always been the Zion Canyon, a deep gorge carved by the Virgin River and the epicenter of all the exciting things to do in Zion National Park.
But there’s more to Zion National Park than this. Curious travelers who venture farther may discover hidden gems, like the majestic Kolob Canyons and the secluded Pine Creek waterfall.
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How to get to Zion National Park
Zion National Park sits in the southwest corner of Utah, just an hour to the east of Saint George. This city has all the modern comforts you need, making it a great launching point for Zion National Park.
Most travelers, however, choose to fly in from the budget-friendly McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, located just three hours west of the park’s main entrance.
Those who choose to fly into Salt Lake City may take a connecting flight to Saint George or Cedar City, which are 49 miles and 60 miles from the park respectively.
(TIP: Leave the crowds and chaos of an airport in the very best lounges, where you can enjoy peace and comfort, log onto free wifi, and get complimentary refreshments care of Priority Pass.)
Travelers journeying on two wheels will most likely come from Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Cedar City, or Saint George. Travel is easy, and directions are clear from these cities, and you’ll likely jump on Interstate 15 in these cases. The entrance to the Zion International Park sits on a beautiful stretch of SR-9.
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Best time to visit Zion National Park
Crowds are at their thinnest during winter, all thanks to the park’s low temperatures ranging from 50 to 30 degrees and regular precipitation. Those who are brave enough to endure the cold are rewarded with a splendid scenery of bright red cliffs and white snow.
During winter, most of the high-elevation roads, including a part of the Kolob Terrace Road and Kolob Canyons Road, close. The Zion Canyon, however, is still open.
Most visitors come flocking back to Zion in March when spring arrives, and temperatures rise to around 40 to 60 degrees. During spring, melted snow feeds the hungry soil, prompting vibrant wildflowers to sprout.
Since increasing temperatures and melting snow causes a high flow rate for the Virgin River, The Narrows, one of the most popular areas of the canyon, is closed to hikers.
Summer is the best time to visit some of the park’s higher elevations, including the Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons areas. It’s also the perfect season to hike the Narrow, as it is much cooler than other regions of the park during summer.
Be aware, though, that the monsoon season begins in mid-July until mid-September, and a perfectly sunny day can end in a flash flood.
Fall is the last window where heat seekers can visit before temperatures start to fall again by October. In September, aspens and cottonwoods erupt in various colors, offering a spectacular display for visitors.
Fall is a great time to look for things to do in Zion National Park, especially if you’re aiming to spend some time away from the crowds.
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The 8 Best Things to do in Zion National Park
If you’re looking to know why Zion National Park is the most visited park in Utah, here’s your answer. Zion’s diverse geographical landscape makes it the perfect playground for hikers of various skill levels. Here are some of Zion’s most popular trails. (Pro tip: For a hassle-free hiking experience, get an expert guide!)
Probably the most exhilarating of all trails in Zion is Angel’s Landing, a 3 to 6-hour 5-mile hike that lets you teeter 1,000 feet on the edge of a giant rock, with amazing views of the valley floor below you.
Since this is a strenuous day hike, it isn’t recommended for children, people who are out of shape, or those who aren’t quick and balanced on their feet.
Hogsback, the final stretch leading to Angel’s Landing, is a steep ridge with high drips on both sides. While it seems dangerous, cling for dear life to the handrails provided, and you’ll be rewarded with absolutely breathtaking views of the valley.
One of the park’s most famous hikes, The Narrows, is the slimmest section in Zion Canyon that hikers may access on both ends. Approaching through the East Rim Trail is the most popular, as it includes trekking through the stunning Virgin River as it passes through the slot canyon.
Water depths vary depending on the area, from ankle to waist level, so suit up accordingly. The farther you venture in this hike, the more breathtaking the sceneries become. This is a strenuous 9.4-mile hike that lasts for approximately 8 hours, so if you fall short on endurance, think twice.
The Weeping Rock Trail
An excellent hike for when your kids are tagging along, the Weeping Rock trail is one of the park’s shortest trails, just under half a mile.
The steep journey ends in a watery alcove embraced by verdant greenery that offers shade from the sun. Stop by the river near the trail’s starting point and allow your kids to splash around in the water.
This is a great and safe hike if you’re suddenly caught in unexpected rain.
Lower Emerald Pool Trail
While it’s one of the shortest hikes in Zion, traversing this trail is one of the most popular things to do in Zion National Park.
This hike is less than a mile long but very rewarding, as it offers scenic views of the Zion National Park Emerald Pools and the verdant vegetation surrounding it.
It’s an excellent hike for families (you can even consider bringing a baby stroller here in there if you don’t mind maneuvering some slightly rocky areas).
Taylor Creek Trail
While there aren’t many trails in the Kolob section of Zion National Park, the Taylor Creek Trail is one of the most well-known. This 2.5-mile trail will have you passing by riverbeds, boulders, canyons, historical cabins, multi-colored sandstone.
The main draw here is the Double Arch Alcove, located at the trail’s end. Seeping water ‘paints’ the cave’s walls with black and white – a truly unique sight to see.
Kolob Arch via the La Verkin Creek Trail
This 14-mile, 8-hour hike is one of the most popular among overnight campers, backpackers, and hikers who don’t mind doing a bit of rock scrambling. The La Verkin Creek Trail offers spectacular views of the forest, desert, and mountain terrain, and while it’s definitely lengthy, the pass is straightforward and uncomplicated. Only a maximum of 12 people is allowed to hike here as a group.
For the most jaw-dropping views, the Zion National Park Observation Point is the best place to hike. While the views are incredibly rewarding, the journey here is challenging.
The hike here is 8-miles long and requires around 2,300 feet of climbing. You can reach the observation point by hiking the East Rim Trail or the East Mesa Trail.
The former is shorter, with a distance of only 7 miles.
2. Take a scenic drive
If you’re not one to muscle your way through steep trails or scramble over rocks, taking a scenic drive can be one of the best things to do in Zion National Park.
Being away from the elements at the safety of your car makes taking the scenic drive one of the most kid-friendly things to do in Zion National Park.
The 57-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive starts at the intersection of Highway 15 and Highway 9 and then heading east towards Mount Carmel Junction.
Be prepared for stunning views, as it will take you through the park’s famous landmarks and past the Virgin River, rewarding you with breathtaking views at the comfort of your own vehicle.
Do note, however, that the roads are only open from December to February. Between March to November, the section that passes through the park are off-limits to cars.
The portion that runs through Zion National park will require you to pay the park’s $30 entrance fee (good for seven days).
If you’re looking for a convenient, ready-made experience in an air-conditioned tour vehicle, check out Viator’s Zion Scenic Drive offerings.
With scenic, well-maintained campgrounds, camping is one of the best things to do in Zion National Park with kids. The park is home to two sizeable campgrounds, the South Campground and the Watchman Campground, and both are located on opposite ends of the visitor center located near the main entrance.
The South Campground has 117 sites (three are wheelchair accessible), while the Watchman Campground has seven accessible sites (6 of which are for groups). Travelers are required to pay a small fee to access the campgrounds.
For some Zion National Park RV camping, inquire at establishments like the Zion River Resort, which offers RV sites complete with full hookups, free WiFi, cable television, and picnic tables.
Check out RV rentals from RVshare if you’re looking to bring your own RV!
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Glamping in Zion National Park
Are you looking for a more sophisticated wilderness experience?
Accommodations like Under Canvas allow you ‘glamorously’ camp in deluxe tents, complete with upscale amenities like on-site dining, organic bath products, and complimentary camp activities.
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Exploring Zion National Park on two wheels can be both rewarding and challenging. Taking in the desert sights while feeling the wind rush past you can be a thrilling experience!
Biking also allows you to skip the shuttle lines and enjoy the views at any point in the Scenic Drive, instead of being limited at shuttle stops.
A couple of things to keep in mind: The roads in Zion National Park are often busy with pedestrians, shuttle buses, and large vehicles, so cyclists need to be aware of their surroundings.
If you intend to ride from the South Entrance, you’ll have to use the Pa’rus Trail instead of the main road. Shuttles in Zion National Park are not allowed to pass moving bicycles, so you’ll have to pull over to let them move ahead.
If you’re arriving on a vehicle, consider A Zion National Park bike rental at Zion Outfitter, located just minutes away from the visitor center where the biking path starts.
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With easily scalable canyons, canyoneering is one of the best things to do in Zion National Park.
The park is the perfect playground for beginners, but even so, you’ll have to be well-practiced in downclimbing, ropework, and rappelling.
Travelers are advised to check the weather before descending a canyon, as they may be trapped in a flash flood (this is especially true in places where it can be challenging to reach high ground, such as slot canyons).
Some of the most popular canyoneering spots include the Left Fork route, a vibrantly-colored oblong tunnel that is generally considered the best for beginners, and the Mystery Canyon, which descends five miles down, the go-to spot for experienced canyoners.
Travelers who plan to go canyoneering must secure a permit, which can be difficult to secure if you don’t plan carefully. Due to being a popular spot for canyoners, permits are often booked three months in advance.
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Zion National Park kayaking depends on the flow rate of the Virgin River.
During the spring months, when the flow rate is high, travelers with advanced whitewater skills can secure a wilderness permit and brave the Virgin River if they don’t mind going at it alone as there are no outfitters in the area.
Near the Temple of Sinawa, rapids can range from Class I to II, with the waves becoming wilder the closer you get to the visitor center.
7. ATV riding
While ATVs are not allowed within the park premises, travelers looking for adrenaline-pumping experiences can ride an ATV along the spectacular trails on public and private lands located close to the park.
You’ll find various scenic riding areas at nearby Utah state parks, including Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Sand Hollow. With Zion National Park’s multicolored cliffs as the backdrop and soft sands at your feet, the ATV experience here is truly unique.
Consider ATV rentals Zion National Park from outfitters like these top-rated rentals, which offer guided ATV and Jeep-UTV tours near Zion National Park.
8. Swimming and river tubing
If you’re looking for Zion National Park swimming, there are plenty of opportunities here. The park is home to the Virgin River, one of the principal carvers of the canyon. During summer, families flock to the river to take a dip or go river-tubing.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path escapade, head to the Pine Creek Waterfall (no permit required) near the Pine Creek Bridge.
The location is open all year round, but be cautious. Pine Creek is a known flash flood zone, and travelers are advised not to approach the area when it is raining or about to rain.
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