The Ultimate Guide To Utah’s Zion National Park
Tucked away in the desert in Southern Utah is one of Mother Nature’s greatest creations — Zion National Park. Preserving up to 230 square miles of red rocks, natural arches, and an expansive canyon, it comes as no surprise that this is one of the
busiest national parks in the entire country. Established in 1919, Zion was Utah’s first national park and over the years, it has become a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers from around the globe.
What Makes Zion National Park Special?
Southern Utah is an expansive desert but sitting in its midst is the unique terrain that we know of today as Zion National Park. The Virgin River is one of the desert’s few water supplies that flows through the area, changing the landscape and creating deep canyons and a path of green, forested areas that are not common as you venture away from the water.
People have explored and lived in the area for thousands of years and in the 1860s, pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built small communities in the region and along the river. The name “Zion” means promised land and the Virgin River provided that much-needed promise in such a dry climate. How To Get To Zion National Park Zion National Park
is open all year. However, there are portions of the park that are closed during the winter including Lava Point Road and Lava Point Overlook. The hours of the visitor centers, nature center, Zion Human History Museum, and other buildings and facilities vary depending on the time of year.
There are multiple entrances to this national park including an entrance near the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, which is located right off Interstate 15. At this entrance, visitors can easily access the park as they come south from Las Vegas and St. George, and north from Salt Lake City and Cedar City.
The East Entrance is located on Highway 9. If you follow Highway 9 to the north, you will reach Bryce Canyon National Park or head south and you can explore Grand Canyon National Park. The South Entrance is one of the most popular and is located just outside of the small town of Springdale. If entering here, you will come to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. The South Entrance is also where you will hop on and off the free park shuttle. This shuttle is an important part of the park as for the majority of the year, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible to shuttle buses. Along this road is where you will find many must-visit destinations including Zion National Park’s Emerald Pools, Court of the Patriarchs, and some of the most popular hiking trails. Each season of the year, Zion National Park releases a schedule with each shuttle stop. You will want to view the shuttle schedule prior to your visit to best plan for your trip. The shuttles are free to use and based on a first-come, first-serve basis. Only service dogs are permitted on the free shuttles. Visitor Centers, Hours, and Fees
A $35 entrance fee is required for each private, non-commercial vehicle that enters this Utah national park. This fee allows access to both Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas. Single motorcycle passes are $30 and walking or cycling guests will pay $20. Passes are valid for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase. Passes can be purchased online or at any of the park’s entrances.
If driving an oversized vehicle (any vehicle that is greater than 7-feet 10-inches wide and/or 11-feet 4-inches wide) through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, you will need to obtain a tunnel permit which costs $15 in addition to the park entrance fee. Your vehicle must also be measured at the entrance station to obtain the permit and you will receive a tunnel escort. The permit is good for two trips through the tunnel within seven days of purchase. Best Time To Visit Zion National Park
While Zion National Park is wonderful to visit any time of the year, we strongly recommend visiting during the fall and winter months. During this time, the crowds significantly decrease, yet the weather is quite mild, allowing you to easily enjoy the entire park.
However, if you do visit during the winter months, be aware that portions of the park may be closed, and various facilities may have limited hours. However, there is nothing quite like freshly fallen snow on the red rocks — it is stunning!
The summer is typically the busiest time to visit this park and you will be required to use the shuttle. Zion also experiences monsoons from mid-July into September. If visiting during this time, the risk of flash floods greatly increases, which can be extremely dangerous, particularly along many hikes in the park. Also, be aware that during the summer, temperatures can rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and you should always be prepared to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Where To Stay In Zion National Park Camping
Zion National Park is home to three campgrounds: Watchman Campground, South Campground, and Lava Point campground. All campgrounds require reservations, and it is strongly recommended that you book far in advance as the campgrounds fill up very quickly.
is the only campground that is open all year. It is located in Zion Canyon and is less than 0.5 miles from the South Entrance. This campground has 95 campsites that offer electrical hookups and 69 tent-only campsites. There are also six group campsites that can accommodate nine to 40 campers. Electric campsites are $30 a night and tent-only campsites are $20 a night.
Just a little further into the park, and also near the South Entrance, is
. This campground is closed during the winter and offers tent, dry RV, and group campsites. All campsites are $20 at South Campground; however, group campsites are $50 per night.
Lava Point Campground
is located off Kolob Terrace Road and is approximately 90 minutes away from the south entrance of Zion Canyon. This campground is typically open from May to September but is dependent on weather. This Lava Point Campground is more of a primitive campground and offers six primitive campsites with pit toilets and no water.
Cabins and Lodges
If you don’t want to rough it at one of the three campgrounds in the park, head to
Zion National Park Lodge
. This is the only lodging inside the park and there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from including cabins, hotel rooms, and suites. This lodging is available year-round, and winter is the best time to stay as you are more likely to receive special winter rates.
Places To Stay Near Zion National Park
If you are willing to sleep outside of the park, the opportunities are endless. There are many campgrounds, glampgrounds, and hotels nearby that provide a cozy and relaxing stay. In fact, we created a list of several
bucket-list-worthy vacation rentals
that are less than 30 miles from Zion National Park that you may want to consider. Just remember that many of these accommodations book quickly so you’ll want to plan ahead.
Things To Do In Zion National Park
Zion National Park is truly breathtaking and is one of the best ways to escape into nature. From hiking between canyon walls to exploring waterfalls, there is so much to do and see in one of the best parks in Utah.
Hiking In Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise. There are dozens of trails throughout the park — some much more difficult than others. There are six main areas in the park where you will find trailheads. These areas include Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyon, Kolob Terrace, East Rim, Southwest Desert, and Zion Wilderness.
Many of the more popular hikes are found in Zion Canyon including Angels Landing, The Narrows, and the Emerald Pools. If you are searching for a few easy hikes in Zion Canyon, consider the Lower Emerald Pool Trail, Pa’rus Trail, Grotto Trail, and Riverside Walk, an easy paved trail.
There are more than half a dozen trails in Zion Canyon that are considered moderately challenging. These hikes range from one mile round trip to nearly eight miles in length. The Middle and Upper Emerald Pool Trails in Zion National Park are some of the most popular trails that fall in this category, along with the Canyon Overlook Trail. This trail is only one mile round trip but there are some rocky and uneven portions of the trail as well as long drop-offs. The
Canyon Overlook Trail
takes you to one of the most spectacular views in the park and unforgettable vistas.
When it comes to the more difficult trails in Zion National park,
is at the top. This trail is not for children and those who are frightened by heights. You will climb more than 1,500 feet and hike more than five miles round trip. Angels Landing is also considered one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the entire country.
is another strenuous hike in Zion but is certainly bucket-list-worthy and considered one of the best slot canyon hikes in the world. This trail is nearly 10 miles round trip and you will walk upstream through rough, flowing water. Before embarking on this trail, you must be aware of the weather and the
potential for flash floods
. However, the views all along the hike and in the slot canyon are absolutely incredible.
In each of the other park areas, you will find multiple day hikes that are just waiting to be explored. Before you embark on any trailhead, be aware of the weather, particularly during the summer months. If you are planning overnight trips, you must acquire a wilderness permit.
Zion National Park Photography
Zion National Park offers hundreds of viewpoints that are perfect for landscape photography.
, for example, is one of the best photography locations in Zion. Here, you will capture remarkable views of the main canyon and it is the perfect location for capturing a sunrise or sunset at Zion National Park.
The Temple of Sinawava is one of the more popular destinations in the park and perfect for landscape photography. This area consists of the park’s natural amphitheater, the Virgin River, waterfalls, and more. Some of our other favorite locations for landscape photography in Zion National Park include the Towers of the Virgin, Court of the Patriarchs, Weeping Rock, Angels Landing, and Observation Point. However, be aware that Angels Landing and Observation Point both require a bit of hiking to reach each viewpoint. Also, you will need a permit to hike Angel’s Landing.
Zion National Park Fishing
If you love to throw in a line, fishing in the Virgin River is allowed with a current Utah State fishing license. However, fishing is not one of the more popular activities in this national park and that’s because there is not much fish to catch. However, there are multiple reservoirs near Zion National Park where you will be more successful including Kolob Reservoir, Blue Springs Reservoir, Gunlock Reservoir, Sand Hollow Reservoir, and many others.
Kayaking In Zion National Park
One unique way to experience and explore Zion National Park is on the water. However, in this national park in Utah, there are many limitations to what you can and cannot do on the river. Any use of watercraft in the Virgin River requires a permit. This permit is free and can be obtained at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Permits are only issued when the river is flowing in excess of 150 cubic feet per second and inner tubes are not allowed at all in the park.
Kayaking through The Narrows also requires a permit. For permits to be issued, the flow of the Virgin River within the park must remain between 150 and 600 cubic feet per second for a minimum of 24 consecutive hours. Additionally, all kayakers must be highly experienced as you may encounter class V whitewater on your journey. Zion National Park Wildlife
As you explore, keep your eyes out for all types of wildlife that call this park home. There are more than 68 species of mammals found in this area including mule deer, foxes, squirrels, and bighorn sheep. During the day, you are most likely to see squirrels or mule deer and at night, you may come across a fox, coyote, or even a ringtail cat.
Keep in mind that you are more likely to see animals in the less-trafficked areas of the park. However, if you do encounter any wildlife in the park, remember that the animals are wild and you should not touch them or pet them. Animals may carry diseases and be quite dangerous. Plants in Zion National Park
Just as Zion’s wildlife varies, so do the various plant species that live in the park. You will see all types of trees from ponderosa pine to aspens, as well as flowers like sego lilies, which add pops of color to the landscape. Zion National Park is a desert and you will find cacti and various plants that thrive in drought climates.
No matter if you are a nature lover, avid hiker, or just want someplace new to explore, Zion National Park is an extraordinary getaway destination. For more information on this national park in southern Utah, including everything you need to know about your trip and permits, visit the National Park Service’s
. We also recommend downloading a
map of the park
to take with you as service may not be available in certain areas of the park.
Need To Know Information About Zion National Park
Accessibility: With paved trails, shuttle buses, visitor centers, and more, Zion is a highly accessible national park. Even in wilderness areas, wheelchairs and powered-driven mobility devices are allowed. A large-print park brochure is also available with large text and images.
Service animals are permitted anywhere in the park, including trails, buildings, and shuttles, as long as they are on a leash. Pets that remain on a leash are allowed on public roads, parking areas, and campgrounds within the park. However, they are not allowed on any trails, park shuttles, inside public buildings, or in wilderness areas. Pet Friendly:
Parking: Zion National Park is extremely limited in parking, particularly throughout the park. Vehicles that park illegally and not in a designated parking space will receive a citation and may be towed. However, parking should not be an issue on Scenic Drive throughout the majority of the year as visitors will be required to ride the shuttle.
Seasonal Access: This national park is open year-round, however, there are some areas of the park that are closed for the winter including Lava Point Road, Lava Point Overlook, and Lava Point Campground. From early spring to late fall, you will be required to use the free shuttle to access the park. The shuttle is not in operation most days in the winter.
Cost: A $35 entrance fee is required for each private, non-commercial vehicle that enters the park. The pass is good for seven consecutive days from the date of purchase.
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Address: Zion National Park, UT, Springdale, UT 84737, USA