Zion National Park is a breathtaking scenic destination in the heart of southwestern Utah. The great thing about Zion is that it’s relatively smaller than other nearby national parks, making it easy to visit on shorter itineraries. If you’re in Las Vegas and looking to for something other than The Strip, Zion is only a 3-hour drive away. Taking a road trip from Las Vegas is a great way to include Zion in your plans. Whether you’re into hiking or not, there’s something here to suit everyone.
Introduction to Zion National Park
Start your visit at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, located at the south entrance of the park. This is where you’ll find the info desk, get maps, and register for ranger-led programs. The park rangers helped us make the most of our short visit by helping us choose the best hiking trail. Take the Zion shuttle from here to get to other areas of the park.
Zion Shuttle Service
Take the free shuttle bus along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to get to farther sections of the park. You can hop on and off, and the average wait time for a shuttle is no longer than 15 minutes.
There is also a shuttle in town that picks up and drops off passengers in Springdale.
Parking was a bit of a nightmare since there is limited available parking and few people leave during the day. We circled around for almost 30 minutes before finding a spot on the main road. It’s best to park in Springdale and ride the free shuttle to the park entrance.
The entrance fee to Zion National Park is $30 per vehicle, which is valid for seven days. Since we had visited the Grand Canyon North Rim earlier, we had already purchased the US National Parks Annual Pass for $80 and that covered us for Zion.
Zion National Park is home to many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish. If you’re lucky, you might see the mule deer, peregrine falcon, or the Zion snail, found only in Zion Canyon.
Where To Stay
There are a lot of options for lodging in Springdale, but many places get filled up really quickly so plan ahead. We really wanted to stay in the park at the Zion Lodge, but you really need to reserve ahead of time for that one. Along Zion Park Boulevard, the one major road through Springdale, are many other accommodation options. For a mountain lodge vibe, there’s Flanigans, Cliffrose Lodge, and Majestic View. For budget friendly options, there’s a Quality Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Hampton Inn.
The majestic mountains can be seen from everywhere so it doesn’t really matter which hotel you choose for scenic views.
Hiking in Zion National Park
Self-Guided Hikes in Less Than 3 Hours
Let’s be real – I’m not a serious hiker and neither are my friends. We came to this realization when we noticed everyone else heading through the gates of Zion National Park suited up in legit hiking shoes, hiking pants (I didn’t even know those existed), and drumroll…trekking poles 😐 But we didn’t let our inexperience bother us! We were at Zion to sightsee and any hike we did was a bonus.
Riding the park shuttle is the best way to see the grandeur of the park in a limited amount of time. A round trip ride through the park takes about 80 minutes. If you want to get off to take pictures, some of the most scenic shuttle stops are Big Bend, The Grotto, Zion Lodge, and Court of the Patriarchs.
There are a number of easy hikes, and some of them even have paved trails. The easy hikes include Pa’rus Trail, Lower Emerald Pool Trail, The Grotto Trail, Archeology Trail, and Riverside Walk (that’s the one we did).
Self-Guided Hikes in More Than 3 Hours
There are a variety of trails suited for every ability level from easy, moderate, to strenuous. Some moderate trails include Emerald Pool Trail and Kayenta Trail. Of the strenuous trails, Angels Landing offers an awesome view from 1400 ft. The final ascent is a climb along a steep and narrow ridge to the summit, and it’s not for the faint of heart! I’m way too chicken shit for that one.
The Narrows is another strenuous trail offering grand views of the canyons from below. This trail has you literally wading in the Virgin River.
If you have time, also try out one of the Ranger-led programs described below.
These are more like walks. Most ranger-led hikes are around 2 hours and range in easy to moderate in ability level. If you want to learn about the natural and cultural history as you’re exploring, these hikes would be perfect. Plus, all ranger-led hikes are free and for all ages.
Non-Hiking Things To Do in Zion National Park
Zion Human History Museum
Inside the museum, you can explore the history of Zion Canyon through films, and rotating art exhibits featuring regional artists.
If you’re not into hiking, you could cycle along the park roadway and on Pa’rus Trail. All other park trails are off-limits to bicycles.
For guided horseback rides, there is the 1-hour relaxing ride or the more adventurous 3-hour ride.
Ranger-led programs at Zion are a great way to enhance your visit to the park. The programs are updated frequently so check the Visitor Center for times and meeting places. We didn’t have time to participate, but there are ranger-led walks, bus tours, and talks on topics such as wildlife, plants, history, and geology.
The Grotto is a shaded picnic area among cottonwood trees. Chill here for views of the Virgin River and Angels Landing.
Have you been to Zion National Park? What was your favourite part of your visit?