Guide to Visiting Zion National Park, Utah

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The way I’d describe Zion National Park is like finding a mountain oasis in the middle of the desert. Tall orange-red, white, and coral sandstone cliffs surround you, but they’re filled with lush green vegetation towards the bottom. Along the river there are shade trees and winding paths and trails to follow.

Nice place for a picnic, right? This is the area around Zion lodge.

The name of the park, Zion, comes from the Hebrew word for sanctuary or refuge, which the early Mormon settlers called it.

How long is best for a visit?

I highly recommend a few days in this park to make the most out of it. At least 2 or 3 would be great especially if you enjoy hiking! That being said, there’s a lot you can see and do if you only have one day as well!

Places to Stay in and around Zion

So you’re visiting and not sure where to stay overnight? Here’s a small guide of the places nearby:

Right inside the park is Zion National Park Lodge. Surrounded by the red cliff walls and beautiful scenery it’s the ideal place to be if you can afford it and a room is available!

Towns on the West side of Zion:

The closest town to the main part park is Springdale, and there are a TON of hotels/motels/B&B’s. But, because it’s so close to the park, you really have to book here early as they fill up fast.

Springdale, Utah
The town of Springdale, Utah

If you’re not able to find anywhere in Springdale to stay, or are looking for a cheaper rate, the town of Hurricane is also not that far off (30min drive) and offers a ton of choices.  We actually stayed in Hurricane as it was more affordable and most places in Springdale were booked.

Lastly, the larger town of St. George (60min away), is also an option if you don’t mind the drive. St. George also has other things to do and see, such as the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which also includes Snow Canyon State Park! There are lots of trails and scenic vistas of the town in the desert cliffs above.

If you’re into something more easy going, the Red Hills Desert Garden is a great place to see the plant life and flowers of the area, as well as some dinosaur tracks even! Speaking of which, St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is also downtown!

Both Hurricane and St. George are also good bases if you plan on exploring the Kolob Canyons section of Zion, which is farther north off Interstate 15(20-30min drive from those towns).

Towns on the East side:

Towns to the East are farther away, but shouldn’t be overlooked especially if you’re planning a visit and driving to Bryce Canyon National Park as well! Check out places in the towns of Glendale, Orderville, and Mount Carmel Junction which are in between both parks.

Getting Around the park

Rule #1 of visiting Zion: Get. There. EARLY!

Overcrowding is a big problem at Zion, and unfortunately on our one full day in the park, we slept in a bit too long ๐Ÿ™ We arrived around 10am, and the main parking lot was packed. And this was in October! We spent 20mins driving around, and could not find a spot. We eventually drove a little further up the road towards the campground. Lo and behold…there was extra parking there!

Even the overflow parking lots outside the park were full by the time we arrived around 10am.

Inside the park itself, the shuttle bus runs from the Visitor’s Center to stops all throughout the canyon about every 10 minutes. You’ll be using this to get around during most of the year!

For updated info on stops and shuttle times, check out the park’s website.

Zion shuttle
The shuttle stops quite frequently throughout the park.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive – Shuttle Stops

  • Zion Canyon Visitor’s Center – Lots of great info here, ranger talks, a big gift shop and store, and the largest parking lot in the park. The Pa’rus, Archeology, and Watchman trails start from here.
  • Zion Human History Museum. Learn about the early settlers and Native Americans who lived here. You can also connect with the Pa’rus trail here.
  • Canyon Junction. This is where Zion Canyon Scenic Drive meets Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the eastern entrance to the park.
  • Court of the Patriarchs.
  • Zion Lodge. The only lodging in the park, it’s pricey, but worth it if you can afford it and find an available room! Also there are dining options here if you’re hungry! You can get a snack at the Cafe during the day, or a fancier meal at the restaurant.
  • The Grotto.
  • Weeping Rock.
  • Big Bend.
  • Temple of Sinawava. If you’re wondering what “Sinawava” means, it is the name of the Coyote spirit from the Paiute culture.
Court of the Patriarchs
This is the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop. Those 3 mountains in the background are the “Patriarchs”.

Hiking Trails in Zion Canyon

There’s a variety of trails in the park, from easy walks on paved paths, to narrow paths on cliffsides–so you can take your pick based on your skill level! What I have listed below are just short overviews, if you’d like a good map on day hikes in Zion, I highly recommend this map by Jake Bramante.

Note: Always check the Park website for Alerts before you plan any hikes! There can be closures do to falling rocks and other weather conditions.

Easy Trails

Pa’rus 3.5 miles round trip. Starting at the Campground next to the Visitor’s Center, this trail is nice and easy, and even paved! It passes by the Zion Human History Museum and ends at Canyon Junction. It follows the Virgin River, and there are a couple bridges to cross along the way. Most of the trail isn’t shaded, so it’s better to do it on a cooler overcast day, or perhaps in the morning or evening. It was late morning in October when we walked on the trail, and because of the heat and sun we decided to get off it at the history museum.

Pa'Rus trail sign in Zion National Park
It may be an easy trail but the views around you are still beautiful!
Virgin River in Zion national park
The Virgin river runs through the park, and is what gives it all the beautiful green life.

Archeology Trail0.4 miles round trip. Starting at Visitor’s Center parking lot, a short trail uphill that takes you to the remains of what was a storage building from the Ancestral Puebloans. You could also visit the Human History museum for more info and artifacts that were found at this site.

The Grotto Trail 1 mile round trip. This trail connects the 2 shuttle stops of Zion Lodge and The Grotto.

Weeping Rock Trail0.4 miles round trip. Located at Weeping Rock shuttle stop. Another short trail that goes uphill on the side of the cliff, it ends in an alcove where water is seemingly “weeping” from the rocks above.

Weeping Rock trail is a steep but short climb up a trail and stairs. It ends at this balcony like alcove where the water is raining, or weeping from above.

Riverside walk2 miles round trip. Located at the Temple of Sinawava stop, Riverside walk is a beautiful paved trail that follows the Virgin River until the start of the “Narrows”. Tall cliffsides surround you, along with trees and vegetation.

Riverside walk trail in Zion
Riverside walk trail
The end of Riverwalk trail and start of the Narrows in Zion.
This is where the Riverwalk trail ends and the Narrows would begin!

Moderate Trails

Lower & Upper Emerald Pools Trails 2.2 miles round trip if starting and ending at Zion Lodge. These trails wind their way up the canyon a ways till you reach the “Emerald Pools”. These are very popular trails and are often times quite crowded. If you’re not that into hiking you can stop once you get to the Lower Emerald Pool, as the Upper trail is a bit more of a climb–but it’s also a little less crowded!

Emerald Pools trail
The end of the Emerald Pools trail. There were pools of water, and of course a bunch of people, sitting around them.

Kayenta Trail –  2 miles round trip. Connecting the Upper Emerald Pools Trail with The Grotto, this is a beautiful unpaved trail that follows the cliffside and has superb views of the valley! I highly recommend taking this trail if you do the Lower & Upper Emerald trails.

Zion cliffs
A scene of the gorgeous cliffs along the Kayenta Trail
Kayenta Trail in Zion
This was my favorite trail out of the few we did for the day!
The Kayenta Trail follows these cliffs and valley throughout.
The grotto stop
This is where the stop for the Grotto is, across that bridge. It’s also where you’d start or end the Kayenta Trail, and also the start for Angel’s Landing.

Watchman Trail3.3 miles round trip. Starting near the Visitor’s Center and campground, this takes you up the cliffside to a view of the Visitor’s Center below. This trail isn’t the best to do on a hot sunny day due to no to little shade.

Sand Bench Trail Loop3.4 miles round trip. Starting at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop, this is another trail that offers little to no shade. This trail is actually more popularly frequented by horseback riders, which you can book a trip yourself through Canyon Trail Rides!

Difficult Trails

Angels Landing5.4 miles round trip. Starting at The Grotto, this is probably the most popular hike in the park! Also keep in mind there is now a permit/ticket system for hiking Angels Landing due to the crowds. So check on getting one before you go. Get here early to try and avoid a crowded hike to the top, and be sure you’re in really good shape and not afraid of heights! There are 21 switchbacks along the path known as “Walter’s Wiggles” alone, and it’s still up and up from there. There are chains to hang onto in the more dangerous spots where there are shear cliff drop offs on either side of you. The views from the top are worth it if you can make it though! Also be sure to give this hike at least half a day if you’re in good shape, or longer.

Observation Point8 miles round trip. Starting at Weeping Rock shuttle stop, this trail is longer than Angel’s Landing, is less crowded, but still has incredible views! It’s also not quite as scary if you’re worried about not making Angel’s Landing due to the narrow paths.

The Narrows9.4 miles round trip. Located at the end of the Riverside Walk trail, at the Temple of Sinawava stop, the Narrows is a walk through the water of the Virgin River, where on either side of you are tall cliffsides. It’s very important before you do this hike to check the weather and status at the Visitor’s Center, and to be properly prepared with equipment and special water shoes. The water can be waist deep at times. If it rains there can be flooding of the river and let’s just say you probably won’t make it out :S

Hidden Canyon Trail2.4 miles round trip. Starting at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop, this trail winds it’s way up and up, over 1000ft,  until you reach a “hidden canyon” with beautiful surrounding vegetation.

mule deer buck
You might get lucky and spot some wildlife on your trip there! We saw several mule deer in the later afternoon. We were on the trail when we saw this guy, which I zoomed in with a long lens on. After a bit more people showed up and he started looking at us and…well, we didn’t think it wise to stick around as he was starting to look annoyed! Be careful and keep your distance-those horns are sharp!

Kolob Canyon Section of Zion

Close to an hour’s drive away from the main entrance of Zion National Park, is the Kolob Canyon section of the park. It’s just off Interstate 15.

I personally did not have time to visit Kolob Canyon, so I can’t say much about it right here, however it isn’t visited as much as the main Zion Canyon, so if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and explore some less frequented trails, this can make a good day trip for you!

Sunset in zion national park
If you’re able, stick around for the sunset! The glowing light brightens up the cliffs and brings out even more colors in them.

plan your visit to Zion National Park in Utah

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2 thoughts on “Guide to Visiting Zion National Park, Utah”

  1. I am planning a trip to Zion’s and am bringing an 88 year old gentleman who has limited mobility. Are there places that we can drive to that he would enjoy?

    • So for the majority of the year, you are only able to drive to the visitor’s center, and through the park on the Zion-Mount Carmel highway. That is actually a beautiful scenic drive and worth taking even though it does not loop around, you would have to eventually find somewhere to turn around and come back if you’re coming from the west. There are a few pull-offs on the highway through the park, but they do have limited parking.
      If he’s able to take the shuttle, which this year you have to purchase ticket reservations for, then I recommend just riding the shuttle and stopping at Zion Lodge-which has a beautiful green lawn, trees, with the big red rock cliffs towering over you! A cafe is also there where you can get something to eat. There’s also the Grotto picnic area if you bring your own food. If you stay overnight at the lodge then you can drive your car to park there too!
      And again if he can ride the shuttle, each stop is beautiful with the vegetation and views of the red cliffs! There are also some easy walking trails near the visitor’s center, if you can only get that far. The Pa’Rus trail is paved and the sights even on that easy going trail and beautiful!


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