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When planning a trip to the American Southwest, Zion National Park should be high on your list of destinations. With its awe-inspiring landscapes and abundance of things to see and do, Zion is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the beauty of the West.
Towering umber-colored cliffs, winding slot canyon trails with bucket list backdrops, and sublime views of desert mesas from stomach-churning heights – Zion National Park holds some of southwestern Utah’s most scenic natural wonders.
Situated just a stone’s throw away from the town of Springdale, the 146,000-acre paradise is a land shaped by natural forces. Ice, wind, seismic uplift, and volcanic activity have molded this destination’s unique geography, allowing unusual animal and plant diversity to thrive.
The Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and the Mojave Desert converge here. This 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.
All of your favorite national park activities are here – hiking, horseback riding, 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. Below, we’ll look at the best things to do when visiting Zion National Park, from do-not-miss to off-the-beaten-path.
- Things to Do in Zion National Park
- 1. Face Your Fears on Angel’s Landing
- 2. Walk The Narrows
- 3. Cruise the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
- 4. Spend Time Learning At Zion Human History Museum
- 5. Enjoy an Easy Hike on Weeping Rock Trail
- 6. Find Peace and Quiet on Taylor Creek Trail
- 7. Spend a Night Camping
- 8. See the Beautiful Emerald Pools
- 9. Take in the View from Observation Point
- 10. Snap Some Photos on the Canyon Overlook Trail
- 11. Reach Kolob Arch via the La Verkin Creek Trail
- 12. Go Mountain Biking
- 13. Relax Along the Riverside Walk
- 14. Explore the Pa’rus Trail
- 15. Go Off-Road in an ATV, UTV, or Jeep
- 16. Go Swimming or River Tubing
- 17. Try Your Hand at Canyoneering
- 18. Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
- 19. See Zion National Park From Above – In a Helicopter
- 20. Visit Bryce Canyon National Park
- Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
- How to Get to Zion National Park
- Is Zion National Park worth visiting?
- What is Zion National Park famous for?
- How do you get to Zion National Park?
- Most Significant Landmark – Zion Canyon
- Activity for kids – Weeping Rock Trail
- Activity for adults – Angel’s Landing
- Best Water Activity – The Narrows
- Best Scenic Drive – Zion Canyon Road or Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
- Best Place to Get Off the Beaten Path – Kolob Canyons Area
- Best Tour Experience – Helicopter Tour
Things to Do in Zion National Park
1. Face Your Fears on Angel’s Landing
Address: Angels Landing, Utah 84737, USA
We must start with what is one of the most popular hiking trails in Zion National Park and for good reason. Angels Landing is a 3 to 6-hour, 5-mile round-trip hike that lets you teeter 1,000 feet on the edge of a giant rock, with amazing views of the canyon floor below you. It’s probably the most exhilarating of all trails in Zion Canyon.
The views from the top are incredible, as they are along the way – the hike itself is challenging but rewarding. Portions follow a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs and tight switchbacks. Luckily, there are chain rails along these portions.
Since this is a challenging 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 Angels Landing, is a steep ridge with high drops on both sides.
Due to Angels Landing’s popularity, you need a permit to enjoy this hike, which can be secured on the recreation.gov website. If you can’t get one in time, you can still do the portion of the trail until Scout Lookout, which is also great. You can also opt for a guided hiking experience, permit included, to enjoy the views and not worry about the rest.
By the way – whether you plan to engage in difficult hikes or not, Zion National Park is a place to have travel insurance. In such a remote place that offers many outdoor adventures, you don’t want to be caught without coverage if things go wrong. We like plans offered by VisitorsCoverage and SafetyWing.
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2. Walk The Narrows
Address: The Narrows, Utah 84737, USA
Undoubtedly, the next most popular hike in Zion National Park is The Narrows. It may be more suitable for those who fear heights, as it’s quite the opposite of Angel’s Landing – in The Narrows, you’re at the bottom of a canyon that stretches up to 2,000 feet above.
However, that’s not to say this is a hike for the faint of heart. The entire trail involves walking up sections of the beautiful Virgin River, sometimes through waist-deep water. Proper shoes that can get very wet and keep a grip are necessary, as slippery rocks line the riverbed.
If that’s manageable for you, this is a do-not-miss in Zion. Centuries of water have sculpted magnificent natural scenery along the canyon. The towering vertical walls are seemingly painted with beautiful colors and stripes.
Hiking The Narrows can be as long or as short as you want – experienced trekkers go more than 8 hours and several miles, while most are perfectly satisfied with what they’ve seen well before that.
Note that rangers will close this hike when the river’s water flow exceeds 150 cubic feet per second, and you can check in at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to see if that’s the case. If it sounds too good to pass up but a bit intimidating, book a guided trip through The Narrows with an expert.
3. Cruise the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
If you’re not one to muscle through steep trails or scramble over rocks, simply enjoying the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive can be one of the best things to do in Zion National Park. Being away from the elements and in the safety of your car makes taking the park’s most popular route one of the most kid-friendly things to do in Zion National Park.
The 54-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive starts past the Springdale entrance and continues north to Mount Carmel, curving along the Virgin River and through Zion Canyon. This is the most popular section of the park and contains access to its most popular hikes and viewpoints, making it an incredible drive.
You can only self-drive the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from December to February – to avoid overcrowding on the narrow road during peak season, as it is closed to private traffic. Instead, you can take the shuttle bus that runs the entirety of it, frequently stopping at popular attractions. It’s also possible to walk or bike the road.
You’ll catch great views of Angel’s Landing from the road, find beautiful spots along the river, see the Zion National Park Lodge, and more before the road ends at the starting point of The Narrows. To bring your camera goes without saying. Consider downloading a Zion National Park self-driving tour for an inexpensive guided experience.
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4. Spend Time Learning At Zion Human History Museum
Address: Zion National Park Rd, Springdale, UT 84767, United States
The Human History Museum is a great place to learn about the history of Zion National Park, including the people who called it home long before the days of national parks and the people who have made it what it is today. The museum is found at the first stop of the shuttle bus into Zion Canyon and is a nice stop for anyone interested in this beautiful place’s past.
The permanent collection includes documents, photos, artifacts, and the stories of Native Americans, ranging from the Southern Paiute people from thousands of years ago to those who made contact with the first pioneers. The Mormon people of the 1800s who settled in southern Utah also played a huge role in the area and have a place in the museum’s stories.
Water, and its way of shaping the landscape of Zion, is another theme, as are the flora and fauna of the park. The displays of the museum are well-done and informative, and if nothing else, it’s an entertaining break from the heat or cold of the outside.
5. Enjoy an Easy Hike on Weeping Rock Trail
Address: Weeping Rock Trail, Utah 84767, USA
Weeping Rock is another of the most popular destinations in Zion National Park, thanks to its unique nature and easy access. An excellent hike for when your kids are tagging along, the Weeping Rock Trail is one of the park’s shortest hiking trails at just under half a mile, although it is a bit steep.
The hike culminates with a view of a giant Navajo sandstone wall with cracks that release natural spring water from underground. Although much of Zion is a desert, this place is full of life, as plants grow from the source in a hanging garden on the wall. It’s a fascinating phenomenon and a very photogenic one.
Water flows from the rock in dripping streams or full waterfalls, depending on the season. Therefore, you might get lucky enough to feel some cold mist or drips on your body after hiking. You can dip your feet into the cool spring water flowing into the Virgin River.
6. Find Peace and Quiet on Taylor Creek Trail
Address: Taylor Creek Trail, Utah 84757, USA
Visitors to Zion who want to get off the beaten path will head northwest of Zion Canyon to the Kolob Canyons, a more remote section of the park containing 150,000 acres of canyons, waterfalls, and red rocks. And while there aren’t many official trails in the Kolob Canyons, the Taylor Creek Trail is one of the most well-known.
The hike goes along a “finger canyon” with a small river cutting through it, although it’s not nearly intense as The Narrows, and your feet won’t even get very wet. This 5-mile trail will have you weaving around boulders at the bottom of the canyon in between, admiring the oranges and pinks on the sandstone that the sun illuminates.
The main draw is the Double Arch Alcove at the trail’s end. Seeping water ‘paints’ the cave’s walls with black and white – a truly unique sight.
You also pass two historic cabins, the Larson Cabin and Fife Cabin, from before Kolob’s addition to Zion National Park. Overall, it’s a great moderate hike available year-round to those with the time to explore a part of the park less traveled.
7. Spend a Night Camping
Thanks to its scenic, well-maintained campgrounds, camping is one of the best things to do in Zion National Park with kids. The park is home to three campgrounds: the South Campground and the Watchman Campground, both located on opposite ends of the Zion Visitor Center located near the main entrance and the Lava Point Campground, in the more remote Kolob Terrace Road.
The first two are the most popular thanks to their location within Zion Canyon and with easy access to the amenities of Springdale. South Campground has 117 tent sites (three are wheelchair accessible), while the Watchman Campground has 69. Watchman is open year-round, while South Campground closes for the winter, and travelers are required to pay a small fee to stay here.
Lava Point Campground is about an hour from the others, near the park’s highest point, with much less visitor traffic. However, it’s free to camp here, and the views of the valley below are one-of-a-kind.
Camping is an amazing choice for a place like Zion National Park, as you’ll not only wake up within the beautiful canyons and among the pristine nature, but you’ll also get to see the night sky above them. It’s so magnificent that the campgrounds are usually fully booked for the busy half of the year, and stargazing tours are becoming increasingly popular.
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8. See the Beautiful Emerald Pools
Address: Emerald Pools Trail, Hurricane, UT 84737, United States
This is another place where water continues to work its wonders on the landscape of the desert, creating beautiful scenery and refreshing relief in between some trails. The Emerald Pools are a short walk from Zion Canyon’s main road and offer different options for different difficulties. You can also take the shuttle bus stop #5 from Zion Lodge to get to the start of the paved trail.
Lower Emerald Pool is the first you’ll come across after a short paved path that wheelchairs and strollers can navigate. Pools are formed at the bottom of canyon walls that streams run over, creating another weeping wall or possible waterfall in certain seasons. Spring is an excellent time for this area, not just for more water but for the beautiful colors of the plants and flowers along the way.
Middle and Upper Emerald Pools can be accessed by continuing the hike, but it becomes much steeper and without paved surfaces, so don’t take these on if you’re not experienced. These pools are just as stunning in their color and beauty, arguably more so than the lower ones.
9. Take in the View from Observation Point
Address: Observation Point, Utah 84767, USA
There are few ways to get higher in the sky at Zion National Park than hiking to Observation Point. This spot sits 6,500 feet above sea level on Mount Baldy and around 2,200 feet from the valley floor – needless to say, it will be a strenuous hike for those interested.
The hike is 8 miles long and requires around 2,300 feet of climbing on the East Rim Trail. It’s a bit easier to take the 7-mile-long East Mesa Trail, though, as you’ll end up in the same place with less work. Expect to take around 6 hours to do the whole thing.
From the top, you have panoramic views of all of Zion Canyon, Angel’s Landing, the Virgin River, and much beyond. Due to the difficulty and duration of this hike, plan to start early to avoid intense heat and bring more water than you think you’ll need.
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10. Snap Some Photos on the Canyon Overlook Trail
Address: Canyon Overlook Trail, Hurricane, UT 84737, USA
Canyon Overlook Trail is relatively short, but the views from the top are incredible. If you are a photographer, this Zion Canyon trail is definitely a place to go. It’s also one of the few official trails in the Upper East Canyon area and is not accessible via the shuttle bus, so plan to drive for this hike.
It starts just east of the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, where you’ll find some steps uphill that might make you worry – but it flattens out shortly after. Along the way, you’ll get views into the Pine Creek slot canyon that cuts through the rock below and some nice stopping points in nooks and edges. This trail is also known for its sightings of bighorn sheep for those who want to spot wildlife.
Depending on your speed, it only takes 30 minutes to an hour to reach the endpoint, where there’s a plaque pointing out all the points of interest below. It’s a relatively easy hike appropriate for active families, though also one of the most popular – beware of crowds during the high season.
11. Reach Kolob Arch via the La Verkin Creek Trail
Address: New Harmony, UT 84757, United States
Kolob Arch is the world’s second-longest natural arch, after Landscape Arch, and is located in the Kolob Canyons section of beautiful Zion National Park. The 7-mile hiking trail to see it is strenuous, but it offers stunning views of waterfalls, towering cliffs, and wildlife such as deer and coyotes.
Hikers first descend into the Timber Creek drainage area, follow it around Gregory Butte, and continue up the La Verkin Creek drainage. The viewpoint for Kolob Arch is about 150 feet above the floor, so there’s a bit of climbing to see it. The view of this arch is very different from those in Arches National Park – Kolob is more rugged and surrounded by other rock formations rather than towering into the blue sky.
While this hike is already a pretty intense, technical hikers can take it a step further by making it a circular route and exiting through Icebox Canyon – but that requires rappelling equipment and more than basic knowledge. Therefore, it’s probably best to come back out the way you came and enjoy the end of the day elsewhere in the Kolob Canyons area; the Timber Creek Overlook Trail is another quick-but-moderate hike in the area that takes less than an hour.
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12. Go Mountain Biking
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 on the Scenic Drive instead of being limited at shuttle stops.
Zion Outfitter can provide a bike rental just minutes from the visitor center, where the biking path starts. The best route is through Zion Canyon, where most viewpoints and trails can be accessed.
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 cannot pass moving bicycles, so you’ll have to pull over to let them move ahead.
13. Relax Along the Riverside Walk
Address: Riverside Walk, Springdale, UT 84767, United States
Riverside Walk is a paved trail that follows the Virgin River and is another of the most popular trails in Zion National Park, thanks to its beginner-friendliness. The trail is just over a mile long, easy walk with gentle grades.
This is the last stop on the Zion Shuttle Bus and begins next to the Temple of Sinawava. The relatively flat path goes along rock walls filled with lush vegetation to which the river gives life.
On the other side, waterfalls can be spotted flowing onto the canyon floor, especially during spring. Numerous spurs from the trail offer the opportunity to go to the river’s banks for a closer look or to get your feet wet.
Riverside Walk is a great choice for those who want to hike without “hiking” and for a break from the sun – the narrow canyon is nice and shady. It’s also great for bird watchers and wildlife lovers, as mule deer frequent the canyon.
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14. Explore the Pa’rus Trail
Address: Hurricane, UT 84737, United States
Combining the previous two things – bike-riding and easy hiking – you get the Pa’rus Trail, one of the newest in the park. At 1.7 miles one-way and with a wide and paved surface, it’s a great option for a morning or evening stroll, jog, or bike ride.
This is especially true if you’re camping at the South Campground, as this is the starting point. The path heads north along the Virgin River’s banks and stays pretty close to it, giving you a more remote experience than you would get on the road. Wildflowers and mule deer make for beautiful complements to the river views.
A spur trail leads to the Zion Human History Museum before the trail zigzags a bit further, finishing near the Canyon Junction Bridge – one of the most famous spots in the park to enjoy the sunset from. That makes for another reason to do this hike in the early evening, and you’ll avoid the daytime heat.
As mentioned above, bikers actually must use the Pa’rus Trail in this part of the park. This is also the only pet-friendly trail in Zion, as long as you have a leash.
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15. Go Off-Road in an ATV, UTV, or Jeep
One of the favorite activities of locals in this part of Utah is off-roading – with miles and miles of landscape ideal for it, you can see why. You’ll find various scenic riding areas at nearby Utah state parks, including Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Goblin Valley, Sand Hollow, and some places permitted in East Zion.
One popular experience is a UTV adventure to Slot Canyon, one of the most famous in the state. You’ll climb rocks and beat trails in a private-access area of the desert before reaching the crimson, narrow canyon that hides ancient Native American inscriptions. This was one of the coolest things I did when visiting Zion National Park.
You can add even more horsepower by opting for a Jeep tour, like this adventure, to a sunset viewpoint. Besides the incredible multi-color sunset over the red rocks, you’ll see canyons and lookouts that few visitors visit on this side of the park.
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16. Go Swimming or River Tubing
Zion National Park is home to a lot of hiking, but don’t forget that water carved out all that natural beauty. And where there’s water, there’s usually a swimming hole or two, and there are definitely places to get wet at Zion.
Families flock to the Virgin River to leisurely float through the canyon on a tube during summer. Tubing Zion organizes the floats, which last around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Splash, suntan, and take in the red rock views from the comfort of your floatie – now that’s a nice alternative to hiking.
Visitors who’d rather get further in the water can head to the Pine Creek Waterfall, an off-the-beaten-path swimming hole formed by a small waterfall. It’s a short, quarter-mile hike up a creek before you find this refreshing natural pool.
Jumping in is the perfect escape from the summer sun, but beware of flash flooding – do not come here if it has just rained or is about to rain.
17. Try Your Hand at Canyoneering
Canyoneering is exactly what it sounds like – rock climbing, rappelling, swimming, problem-solving, hiking, and more to traverse canyons. With an abundance of canyons, large, small, easy, and impossible, Zion National Park is the ideal place for such a sport. Basic spots don’t even require ropes or special equipment.
Visitors who want to go canyoneering in Zion require a permit, which can be difficult. Most of The Narrows is a canyoneering expedition that doesn’t require technical gear, and visitors don’t have much of a problem getting the paperwork for this route. Experienced technical canyoneering visitors can go for more complicated passages like The Subway or Orderville Canyon.
Beginners who want to try the sport with a guide can book a canyoneering experience near Zion to try their hand at the ropes. This half-day adventure just outside the park won’t require you to get permits or know anything about rappelling in advance but still puts you on a canyon course that you’d never imagine being able to tackle.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Zion National Park
18. Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Address: Zion – Mount Carmel HwyUtah, USA
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is definitely not the only one in the park. The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway connects the canyon to the park’s east entrance and is such an engineering landmark that it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. From Zion Canyon, this road climbs the canyon more than 1,000 feet via many switchbacks, on which there are plenty of opportunities to pull off, take a break, and take photos.
After the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, with its many windows, the road winds through the Checkerboard Mesa. These sandstone hills have an interesting crack pattern that resembles a checkerboard and are awesome for cool photography.
The eastern part of the park is packed full of more hiking trails to viewpoints and slot canyons and is definitely worth a visit. This Jeep tour to some of the most difficult-to-reach parts of this site will take you high above Checkerboard Mesa and the rest of the area’s sights.
19. See Zion National Park From Above – In a Helicopter
We’ve covered hiking, biking, swimming, UTVing, and almost every other way to see Zion. But one angle just might beat them all – from a helicopter, high above the dramatic cliffs and carved canyons.
This is a really popular way to see it all, and helicopter tours take several forms in the area, combining other southern Utah gems with the sights of Zion. This 55-mile tour hits places like Kolob Canyon and Smith Mesa, along with the Canaan Mountain Wilderness Area, exposing places and covering ground in a quick trip that you’d never be able to see from the ground.
Helicopter tours can be pretty rough on a budget. Luckily, local companies offer shorter 10 or 20-minute scenic rides at a lower cost. While you won’t cover as much ground as a longer tour, it’s easy to see the best of Zion from above in that time frame.
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20. Visit Bryce Canyon National Park
Address: Utah, United States
When you’ve come all this way, it’s best to see multiple Utah national parks – each special and unique. The closest one to Zion is Bryce Canyon National Park, located around 2 hours to the north. While that may seem within day trip distance, Bryce Canyon National Park deserves all the time you can give it, so consider staying a night or two.
The park entrance is just past the tow of Bryce, from where you’ll drive in on the one main road of the park. It’s another fantastic route for a scenic drive above deep canyons and towering hoodoos, plus it has many stopping points for hikes and lookouts to discover.
Specifically, hit the trails at Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Lower Inspiration Point, and, the most famous, Bryce Point. You could also book a guided hiking adventure if you’re not confident or want someone to show you the best of the best; horseback riding tours are another fun way to see the park.
Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
Crowds are at their thinnest during winter, all thanks to the park’s low temperatures of 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and regular precipitation. Those brave enough to endure the cold are rewarded with splendid scenery of bright red cliffs and white snow.
Most high-elevation roads close in winter, including a part of the Kolob Terrace Road and Kolob Canyons Road. The Zion Canyon, however, is still open.
When spring arrives, most visitors return to Zion in March, 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 cause a high flow rate for the River, The Narrows, one of the most popular areas of Zion 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 Narrows, as it is much cooler than other regions of the park during summer. Be aware that the rainy season begins in mid-July and 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 visit all of the great Utah national parks, especially if you aim to spend some time away from the crowds.
How to Get to Zion National Park
Zion National Park sits in the southwest corner of Utah, just an hour east of St. George, and is close to Las Vegas. 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 fly into Salt Lake City may take a connecting flight to Saint George or Cedar City, 49 miles and 60 miles from the park, respectively.
Travelers journeying by car will likely come from Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Cedar City, or Saint George, Utah. Travel is easy, directions are clear from these cities, and you’ll likely jump on Interstate 15 in these cases. The entrance to Zion National Park sits on a beautiful stretch of SR-9.
Is Zion National Park worth visiting?
Yes, Zion National Park is definitely worth visiting. It’s one of the country’s most beautiful and popular national parks, with plenty of things to see for travelers.
What is Zion National Park famous for?
Zion National Park is famous for its red rock canyon landscape, lush vegetation, tall trees and waterfalls, and relative isolation. It is located in Utah and is one of the most popular National Parks in the United States.
How do you get to Zion National Park?
Zion National Park sits in the southwest corner of Utah, just an hour east of Saint George. 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 fly into Salt Lake City may take a connecting flight to Saint George or Cedar City, 49 miles and 60 miles from the park, respectively.
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- About the Author
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Woodrow is a travel writer who wants to do and see just about everything. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and is currently living in France and exploring Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term “upgrade engineering” referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves SCUBA diving, fishing, and all things aviation.