A Travel Guide to Zion National Park
Zion is a southwestern, Utah beauty and one of the most popular National Parks in the United States. It’s home to some of the most beautiful landscape, thrilling hikes, and the largest crowds you may ever experience at a US National Park. Use this guide to help you carefully plan your visit; make sure you can hit all of your planned hikes and sights in your allotted time in Zion National Park with my help!
Where Should I Stay Near Zion National Park?
Camping in Zion Canyon
South Campground and Watchman Campground are in Zion Canyon at the south entrance near Springdale and often fill up by midday. All campsites are drive-up and allow a maximum of two vehicles and only one RV or trailer is allowed, but each campground has overflow parking for excess vehicles. Each campsite allows a maximum of six people and three tents so be sure to plan accordingly; hammocks are allowed as long as t are hung the footprint of the campsite. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire pit with the attached grill but very little shade to protect you from the desert sun! I would suggest an Ez-Up if that’s doable for your adventures; for ours, it was not so we planned to be hiking during the middle of the day, laying down by the Virgin River, or in town grabbing a snack. Comfort stations provide flush toilets, cold running drinkable water, and trash containers, but no showers or electrical outlets. I’ll be honest what I say South Campground was probably my least favorite during my stay in Utah but it was by no means unlivable. You can make reservations here.
Campgrounds Outside of Zion Canyon
The Lava Point Campground is about an hour from Zion Canyon’s South entrance on Kolob Terrace Road. Lava Point Campground is within the National Park jurisdiction. There are 6 primitive campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. These sites have pit toilets and trash cans, but no water. Vehicles longer than 19 feet are not permitted on the road to the campground. There is no charge for camping.
If you’re looking for a camping experience near Zion National Park, Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort is a popular spot! You may also find free primitive camping opportunities on BLM land.
Hotels Near Zion National Park
Zion National Park Lodge is a stunning, albeit limited, location inside the ‘walls’ of the park! However, just outside of Zion’s South entrance in Springdale there are a number of lodging options! We stayed at the Majestic View Lodge which is the farthest hotel from the entrance that still participates in the shuttle system.
We chose this hotel over others because:
– the rooms and the view from them is absolutely stunning
– it was away from the crowds of the park and the main drag of town
– it had a pool to beat that summer desert heat
– once we split it three ways, it was really affordable
We spent our last two days (of a 17-day camping trip) at this hotel in Springdale which was a real treat. We were able to do laundry, relax by the pool, and sit in the air conditioning. Honestly, watching a movie at night was a true luxury after 17 days of driving around the desert.
How Do I Get Around Zion National Park?
How Does the Zion Shuttle System Work?
Within the Canyon, your driving is very limited. Due to large crowds, Zion established a shuttle service in 2000 to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon. Parking is limited inside Zion, and all parking lots commonly fill early in the day (like by 8:30 AM). To avoid parking hassles it is easiest to park in the town of Springdale and ride the free Springdale Shuttle to the park’s Pedestrian Entrance.
There are two shuttle loops. The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to stops at nine locations on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive; many of the hikes that you might want to experience are accessible via one of the many trail heads found along this route.
The Springdale Shuttle has nine stops in the town of Springdale and will take you to the park’s Pedestrian Entrance near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like! Riding the shuttle is free.
Amazing Hiking Trails in Zion National Park.
Zion is home to a wide range of hiking opportunities ranging from short family-friendly hikes to longer strenuous day hikes and 2 to 3-day backpacking trips. If you’re looking for the best day pack around to carry your gear through Zion National Park, look no further than Gregory Packs. My go-to bag for day trips and overnights!
The Best Hikes in Zion Canyon
TRAIL: Weeping Rock
DESCRIPTION: This very short, easy hike will lead you on a paved path to a refreshing weeping canyon overhang. It is wheelchair accessible, although the path has a few steep inclines. After .4 miles, you will find yourself at a lush hanging garden that is continually moist due to constant water flow from the canyons above.
TRAIL: Pa’rus Trail
DESCRIPTION: A non-strenuous, 100% paved, leisurely walk along the Zion canyon floor. The one trail in the park that allows bicycles and dogs, as well as wheelchair access, which allows for everyone to enjoy all the sights down this path, including several zig-zagging bridges that cross the Virgin River, and multiple places with river access if you care to get your feet wet!
TRAIL: Emerald Pools
DESCRIPTION: Enjoy a paved incline and a rather busy trail to the Lower Emerald Pool. Beyond Lower Emerald pools the trail is dirt, more rugged, and rock covered. Waterfalls, beautiful alcoves, and natural pools can be seen all around. Colossal cliffs surround the end of this trail on three sides in front of you creating a natural amphitheater. Enjoy a unique perspective with many majestic views of Zion Canyon. Be aware of frequent trail closures due to rock slides and inclimate weather.
TRAIL: Canyon Overlook Trail
DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate
DESCRIPTION: Considered one of Zion National Park’s essential hikes, one mile of an exciting and scenic trail brings you to an overlook of Zion Canyon. The hike begins as a steep incline for less than a quarter of a mile before leveling out and including awesome obstacles including an awesome, hidden cave. There are railings in steep sections which I think helps make this a family-friendly hike while also providing a sense of risk and excitement. When you reach the overlook you can watch cars travel the Zion-Mount Caramel Highway wind their way up the canyonside until they disappear into the tunnel.
TRAIL: Watchman Trail
DESCRIPTION: After a long day we decided to head up the watchman trail. At 3 miles round-trip and never overly steep or strenuous, I’d consider this a family-friendly trail. A gradual incline up a visually appealing trail is met with only one small section of switchbacks; because we had a little kid kicking/throwing small rocks over the edge, I suggest hiking with caution in this section. Often overlooked by visitors with their sights on the more famous trails in the park, you shouldn’t run into too many other hikers. We stayed to enjoy dinner up here -made in a jet boil- and watched the sunset before hiking the loop the follow the edge of the watchman’s bench and hiking back down.
TRAIL: Hidden Canyon
DESCRIPTION: This trail begins at the Weeping Rock Trailhead; we decided to hit this side trail on our return from Observation Point and we were so glad we did! A great trail for those who enjoy a little uncertainty. Steep drop-offs, chains, rock scrambling, and hidden ‘arches’ are available to all who are willing to search for them!
TRAIL: The Narrows (Day Hike to Big Springs)
DESCRIPTION: Start from the Temple of Sinawava first thing in the morning for hiking the Narrows; the first ¾ of a mile becomes swamped with families and small children enjoying the virgin river by mid-morning. Your hike to Big Springs can be as leisurely or strenuous as you’d like it to be. Definitely come prepared to get wet, there are a few spots that were chest height on me and I’m 5’9. Not to mention, you’re bound to take a spill or two if the current is decent! We stopped at what we affectionately named ‘jump rock’ to, you guessed it, jump off large boulders into the freezing water of the Virgin River below before continuing on to Big Springs.
This magical spot is lush with small waterfalls coming right out of the canyon walls; we met a lot of overnight hikers here hiking from the top-down seeing as it is the mandatory turn around spot for day hikers. On our way back we took a side trip up Orderville Canyon which provided a bit of extra adventure involving some rock scrambling and swimming. Don’t press your limits here and be sure to always make the decisions that are best for YOUR safety. No talk about The Narrows would be complete without mentioning that chance for flash flooding! Check the board in the visitor’s center each day for information regarding the safety of your hike.
TRAIL: Angel’s Landing
DESCRIPTION: Certainly one of the busiest hikes in the park but not for the faint of heart. At 5 miles roundtrip, after surviving Walters Wiggles -21 tight switchbacks- you will find yourself at Scout Lookout, where the narrow, steep ledges and chains begin. Please take extra caution on this hike; travelers have died here for various reasons. Be sure to fill up your water and use the restroom at the Grotto before you begin your adventure!
TRAIL: Observation Point
DESCRIPTION: Angels landing was closed due to rock fall on our travels. A ranger in the visitor center suggested Observation Point as their favorite hike in the park; a better view than Angels Landing by far but a different trail experience overall. We hopped on the VERY FIRST shuttle to stop number 7 and began our climb. You literally gain elevation for about 3.5 straight miles until the final half-mile leading across the top of the canyon to the viewpoint. A really neat section of the hike that is slightly more horizontal than vertical is echo canyon; cooler temperatures due to the canyon walls towering around you are really awesome scenery. Be the first people/group of people to the viewpoint and you won’t regret the stunning views of the sun shedding its first light on the canyon.
Hikes in Zion National Park Outside of the Canyon
Although Zion Canyon is the ‘main attraction’ when it comes to Zion National Park it is NOT the only place to hike within the park. Hikes such as the semi-technical Subway Route, Kolob Arch, Northgate Peaks Trail, Middle Fork Taylor Creek, and Timber Creek Overlook. You will find these areas less congested and equally as beautiful!