Zion National Park, in the southwestern part of Utah, easily falls into the 5 most visited national parks in the United States. The park’s biggest draws are the red rock formations, its trails, canyoneering opportunities, slot canyon hikes, & breathtaking views. Read on for a complete Zion National Park travel guide!
Zion became a National Park in 1919. Before that, and after the tourism potential of the area had been realized, it was known as Mukuntuweap National Monument.
The construction of the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway enhanced the accessibility to the region. Later, in 1956, the Kolob Canyons area that lies to the Northwest of Zion Canyon was added to the National Park.
What to see and do
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Zion National Park. There are umpteen number of trails & at all difficulty levels. There are wheelchair-friendly hikes, flat & easy trails, moderate ones, and very strenuous & perilous ones, too. You can hike on the canyon floor, through slot canyons, to pools & watering rocks, and even on a narrow ridge. Some of the more popular hikes here are the Par’us Trail, Riverside Walk, Canyon Overlook Trail, Watchman Trail, Angel’s Landing, & the walks through the Narrows.
As for the scenic drives you can do here, there’s the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, & the drives to the Kolob Canyons area. While one shows you the canyon from the level of the river, another takes you to higher elevations, and the others take you to more red rock formations & scenic views.
Talking about views, the most famous sights of Zion National Park include the Court of the Patriarchs, Altar of Sacrifice, Checkerboard Mesa, Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, Towers of the Virgin, Angel’s Landing, & The Pulpit.
Another place in the park you might want to pay a visit to is the Human History Museum where you’ll learn about the people who lived here & the history of the area.
Other things to do in Zion National Park depend on what you enjoy more. Biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, & horseback riding can all be done here.
This national park is also a perfect place to go stargazing on clear nights and a place to watch sunrises, as well.
For more examples of what to do in Zion that are not included in this Zion National Park travel guide, check out my post: Top 10 Things to do in Zion National Park.
If you need a meal or want to quickly pick up some food while you’re at the park, you can go to Zion Canyon Lodge, which has Red Rock Grille & Castle Dome Cafe.
Otherwise, the town of Springdale near the southern entrance of the park has many cafes & restaurants serving different types of cuisines.
For other restaurants in the area that you have to check out & aren’t included in this Zion National Park travel guide, check out my post: Best Restaurants Around Zion National Park.
For your shopping needs, you can try the gift shop in Zion Lodge or go into town to find just about anything you’ll need. Springdale has several stores selling all kinds of souvenirs.
If you need ideas for gifts from Zion, look out for Native American jewelry, art, pottery, and also pieces of local rocks. Springdale is where you can also pick up things like t-shirts, hats, water bottles, hiking gear, & fridge magnets.
Zion National Park gets its name from Zion Canyon, which was carved by the Virgin River. Towards the north, the canyon gets very narrow and is in fact, called the Narrows. This part is one of the biggest attractions in the park.
There are other canyons, box canyons, mesas, sandstone towers, slot canyons, & arches sculpted by the forces of nature that make up the geological features of Zion National Park.
This national park in Utah is bordered by well-known geographical attractions like the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, & the Mojave Desert.
If you’d like to stay in the park, there’s the Zion Lodge. Just make sure to make your bookings much in advance. Yet another way to spend a night or two inside the park is by camping in it.
This national park has 3 campgrounds — Watchman Campground, South Campground, and Lava Point Campground. When you plan your trip, you might want to check on the campground closures, should there be any.
If plans of staying inside the park don’t work out, you can always look at the many options you have in Springdale. The town south of the park has quite good facilities in terms of accommodation. You’ll find hotels, motels, & inns there. You could also look at the options you have in Mt. Carmel Junction on the eastern side of the park.
To drive into Zion National Park you can take Utah’s State Route 9. It passes right through the park and towards Mt. Carmel, east of the park.
If you’re visiting in the peak season between mid-spring and fall, you could make use of the free shuttle services into the park from several points in Springdale.
In the park there’s a ticketed shuttle service you’ll have to use to travel through the canyon floor in the tourist season. However, you can drive around on your own when exploring the Kolob Canyons area or if you want to drive on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.
If you’re traveling in large vehicles you might need permits to go on the Zion-Mt. Carmel route. Extra-large RVs may not be able to pass through the tunnel on the route. Bikes, which are another way to go around the park will not be allowed to pass through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, either.
If you’re flying into the area, the regional airports around Zion National Park are in St. George, UT & Cedar City, UT. The closest international airports are in Las Vegas, NV & Salt Lake City, UT.
Best time to visit
Zion National Park gets most of its visitors between April & November. It’s around then that the park’s shuttles are also in operation.
Fall might be the best time to visit because that’s when the weather’s most conducive for hiking. Around this time, it’s not as hot as it is in the summer. And the water in the slot canyons will not be as much as you’d see in spring so it’ll be a good time to wade through the Narrows or the Subway.
If you want to visit when there are fewer tourists around, or would prefer to drive through the length of the park, you can visit in winter. However, certain roads & trails might be closed depending on the snowfall in the park.
Being in a geologically rich region, destinations near Zion National Park include Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, & Canyonlands National Park.
Even attractions like Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, & Monument Valley are not very far from here. And the North Rim of Grand Canyon is just a little over a 100 miles southeast of Zion National Park.