Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is a result of the Virgin River cutting through thousands of feet of layered Navajo sandstone, creating the Zion Canyon. Named for the Hebrew word “refuge,” Zion National Park sees millions of visitors each year, with the numbers only increasing year after year. Travelers cannot get enough of the beautiful Zion Canyon, which they can view wading through its Virgin River or ascending Angels Landing. At night, the stars come out and illuminate the night sky in a breathtaking sight.
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In This Post
- 1 Essential Zion National Park Tips: What to Know Before you Go
- 2 10 Things to do in Zion National Park
- 2.1 Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
- 2.2 Ride The Free Shuttle (+ Shuttle Stops)
- 2.3 Hike Angel’s Landing
- 2.4 The Narrows Riverside Walk
- 2.5 Hike The Narrows
- 2.6 Canyon Overlook Trail
- 2.7 Weeping Rock + The Hanging Gardens of Zion
- 2.8 Join an Organised Activity
- 2.9 Lower Emerald Pool
- 2.10 Checkerboard Mesa
- 2.11 Northgate Peaks
- 2.12 Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Essential Zion National Park Tips: What to Know Before you Go
The Best Time To Visit Zion National Park
Although the park is open to the public 24 hours a day, every day of the year, the best time of the year to visit Zion National Park is between the months of May and November, which is the peak season in the park. This is due to the optimal weather conditions to enjoy the attractions in the park, and the park’s free shuttles are also running.
Zion National Park usually sees the biggest crowds during the months of June through to September, when temperatures are at their highest, and when the free shuttle makes it easy for visitors to get to the various trailheads in the park and other attractions.
During the hotter months, temperatures over 100 degrees are common, so hikes are recommended in the early morning and late evening. The months of May, October, and November can be a good time to visit as well when crowds aren’t as heavy and the weather is slightly milder. Fall colors in October are beautiful, and accommodation may be cheaper during these months as well.
If the weather doesn’t bother you, and you’d like fewer tourists and cheaper accommodation rates, you can also visit during the months of December through to April. Although the park experiences little snow, sometimes the weather may be too cold to enjoy some of the attractions.
The free shuttle also doesn’t operate in December, January, and February, so you’ll have to rely on having a car for getting around the park—but you could enjoy the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive this way, which is usually closed to private vehicles from March to November when the park shuttle is operating.
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
While Zion National Park is one of the smaller national parks in the United States, it’s a must-visit destination for anyone who is in Utah or nearby. It’s the perfect playground for adventurers, with hiking trails to rock climbing, mountain biking, and bouldering. And of course, for those who like to kick back and relax, there is the Emerald Pools, where you can sit and marvel at the glistening water.
There are plenty of places to stay in and around Zion National Park, depending on what you’re looking to do while you’re there. Some spots are ideal for those who are ready to rough it, but some are far more luxurious – it’s all up to you. Here are some of our picks:
- Luxury ($$$) – Springhill Suites by Marriott: located in Springdale, which is the most populated place to stay outside the park, known as the gateway to Zion National Park. Rooms have an urban feel and there are views of the park from the bedroom windows. (If arriving at the East Zion Entrance, we recommend Zion Mountain Ranch or Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort)
- Mid-Range ($$) – Zion Glamping Adventures: located just outside of Hildale and near Zion National Park, this spot offers you the chance to sleep under the stars in complete comfort. Their luxury canvas tents all have real beds and warming heaters, and there is a barbecue area with picnic tables.
- Budget ($) – Econo Lodge Hurricane: a popular and affordable hotel in Hurricane, nearby to Zion National Park. There is a complimentary continental breakfast and free WiFi and parking for guests.
10 Things to do in Zion National Park
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
The Canyon Scenic Drive provides you with the opportunity to see the towering majestic wonders of Zion National Park from the comfort of your own car. The road goes along the valley floor and runs from the visitor center all the way to the Temple of Sinawava, and will also go past many of Zion’s most well-known attractions, including the Great White Throne and Angel’s Landing.
During the warmer months, you can take one of the park’s free shuttle buses as the road is closed to private vehicles, but during the winter you can drive your car through the Zion scenic drive yourself.
Ride The Free Shuttle (+ Shuttle Stops)
As we mentioned above, in the warmer months, the park has a free hop on hop off shuttle bus that stops at some of the main attractions in Zion National Park.
Zions shuttle system has 9 stops which helps alleviate the pressures of peak summer traffic. It offers a convenient way for visitors to reach key spots and places within the park. Operating between April and October the shuttle stops at:
- Zion Canyon Visitor Center (for Watchman Tail, Pa’rus Trail, South Campground & Watchman Campground)
- Zion Human History Museum (for Bridge Mountain Arch, Altar of Sacrifice & the Museum)
- Canyon Junction (for the end of the Pa’rus Trail & the spot where the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive ad Route 9 intersect)
- Court of the Patriarchs (for Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint & Sand Bench Trail)
- Zion Lodge (for Emerald Pools Trailhead)
- The Grotto (for Kayenta Trail, Angels Landing & West Rim Trail)
- Weeping Rock (Cable Mountain, Deertrap Mountain, East Rim Trail, Hidden Canyon, Observation Point & (of course) Weeping Rock)
- Big Bend (for views of Great White Throne & Angels Landing)
- Temple of Sinawava (for The Narrows & Riverside Walk)
Hike Angel’s Landing
Angel’s Landing is a spot for the most avid hikers and climbers and hiking it is one of the top activities in Zion National Park. With the expansive views of the entire Zion Canyon from the summit of Angel’s Landing – it is certainly worth the trip, even for those who do not consider themselves pro hikers.
The rock is 1,000 feet above the valley floor – which gives you incredible views, but be warned, the final stretch up to Angel’s Landing, called the Hogsback, is a rocky ridge that has sheer drops on either side, with only a chain handrail keeping you on.
Although intimidating, you’ll be rewarded with the most stunning views if you decide to climb all the way to the top – and after which you can certainly say you have ticked hiking in Zion National Park off your bucket list.
The Narrows Riverside Walk
This is your chance to see the Narrows without actually hiking the Narrows. You can start at the Temple of Sinawava, where you’ll see the walls of the canyon closing in on the sides of the Virgin River.
If you head on down the sidewalk, you can play around in the water, or just marvel at the scenery around you. At the end of the walk, you’ll see people heading up the river – those are the ones who are actually hiking the Narrows. If you don’t feel like doing that, you can turn around and take in the view on the way back.
Hike The Narrows
Although one of the most famous trails in Zion National Park, you should be warned that The Narrows is not a trail as such – it’s more a river. But if you don’t mind hiking through water knee-deep and walking over rocks, it isn’t too difficult of a hike.
One of the most beautiful trails in Zion, around every bend through the slot canyon there is something new to see, whether it is a tree, waterfall, or hidden pool. If you make it all the way to Big Spring, you’ll see the stunning pool there.
One of the popular day hikes, the ability to do it is very dependent on the time of the year you do it and the water levels. Make sure you double-check before you head out on the hike. The best time of year to hike The Narrows is the late spring and summer when water levels aren’t at risk of being too high.
Also, if you are not wanting to do the hike alone, there are a few guided, small group tours available that you can join.
Canyon Overlook Trail
This is possibly one of the most perfect, expansive shots of the valley. The Canyon Overlook Trail takes you to a lookout point that has been popular with photographers, but be careful of the cliff edges. Aside from that, this is a fairly easy one-mile hike that will be easily completed by any fitness level. You can find the trailhead at the east entrance of the Mount Carmel Tunnel.
Weeping Rock + The Hanging Gardens of Zion
This spot doesn’t really count as a hike – it’s a major stop on the free shuttle that runs through Zion Canyon in the summer months, so it’s very accessible. The trail will lead you to an unusual sandstone cliff that is covered in tiny rivulets of water (giving it its name).
The “tears” of this rock wall feeds the ferns and mosses that grow on its face – known as the Hanging Gardens of Zion. You’ll also see the Great White Throne towering overhead.
Join an Organised Activity
If it’s your first visit to Zion National Park and hiking isn’t your go-to activity, you may be wondering what there is to do in the Park. But never fear – even if hiking isn’t your thing, there are lots of other things to do in Zion National Park to keep you entertained.
Our favorites include taking a guided tour through the Slot Canyons of East Zion, UTV tours & horseback riding, Canyoneering and even day trips to other Utah National Parks such as Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands!
Lower Emerald Pool
Across the street from Zion Lodge is where you’ll find a paved trail that will take you to the oasis that is Emerald Pool. It’s easy to reach the lower pool, where water from the Middle Emerald Pool above drips down the sandstone into the Lower Emerald Pool. When there are higher levels of rainfall during the spring, you may see it turned into an actual waterfall.
It’s also just a great spot to relax and cool off in the heat of the summer, and via the Emerald Pool Trail is easily accessible to anyone.
Checkerboard Mesa is probably Zion’s most famous attraction and is easily accessible by car. It isn’t on the free shuttle route, so you’ll have to drive over to the rock formation, but it’s located just inside the East Entrance to the park.
The rock is a sandstone butte covered in crosshatches caused by layers of windblown sand, and this is where its name is originated. It is also covered in vertical cracks caused by stress and erosion on the stone surface. It’s truly an amazing photo opportunity.
If you start at the Wildcat Canyon trailhead near the town of Virgin, you will see a sign towards Northgate Peaks after approximately a mile. At the end of the trail, you will have to head up a small hill of rocks, but you’ll be rewarded with a vast southern view of Zion National Park Utah, with the twin peaks in front of you. So rewarding.
Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is an excellent way to enter the park, cutting through 10 miles of Zion National Park and connecting the South and East entrances of the park. It’s also a great way to see the beauty of the park from the comfort of your car, taking you over bridges, along switchbacks, and through a tunnel that cuts through the deep stone mountain. It’s truly one of the most beautiful drives you can take in the park.
Zion National Park’s steep red cliffs will stay in your memories forever, like a scene taken straight from a movie. With plenty of hikes and trails for adventurers and plenty of accommodations that will allow for those who love to relax to truly sit back, you’ll have a great time no matter what you enjoy doing. In fact, we’re sure you’ll be back to see more of Utahs National Parks before you know it.
We hope this guide to 10 Best Things to do in Zion National Park for First-Timers has been a huge help planning your trip, and if you know of anyone else that needs a little bit of inspiration or assistance in planning their trip to Zion National Park, please be sure to share on social media: Facebook, Flipboard, Twitter or grab one of the images from below for Pinterest. And remember – sharing is charing (and we thank you in advance!)
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Vicki is the Lawyer turned Content Creator, Editor-in-Chief and all round Boss Lady at MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld.
She has lived and worked in 7 different countries and started the site to show everyone that it is possible to travel whilst holding down a full time job (because not everyone can – or wants to – quit and walk away from it all).
Her style of travel has always been to get the best out of a destination as a time poor traveler making the most of limited vacation days and all without breaking the bank; BUT she does know where to save and where to splurge to have the most incredible travel experiences – such as luxury hotels and over-water bungalows, safaris, spas and more(!) – where the situation calls for it.