Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Recently, I took a road trip through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and while we had lots of places on our list to explore, Zion was definitely the one I was looking for the most.
Did it meet my expectations? Nope. It exceeded. Here you will find everything you need to know about this majestic national park so that you can make the most of your next visit.
About Zion National Park
Zion is Utah's very first national park (out of five, and I will tell you all about them). It's unique. The park is open every day of the year and it offers many activities such as hiking, camping, stargazing, rock climbing and more.
As far as weather, well, temperatures can vary with changes in elevation, and day/night temperatures may differ by over 30°F! Each season has its pros and cons, but I visited Zion during fall (October) and the weather was just perfect for me, very cold at night and early mornings, but warm and sunny during the day.
Always revert to the NPS (National Park Service) website for the latest conditions and alerts. There are several factors, including weather, that may affect park and trail closures, and you can find the latest information HERE. It's important to plan ahead and be prepared.
I started my journey to Utah's Mighty Five in Las Vegas. Yes, Zion is only about two and half hours from Vegas. If you live in Southern California, as I do, it's a good first stop before heading to the park.
Here's the complete address for Zion:
Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.
State Route 9
Very important: You'll be surprised to learn that Zion, though very diverse in terms of landscapes, is a relatively small park. It has a shuttle system that was established to reduce traffic and parking problems, and of course, protect vegetation as much as possible. When the shuttle is in operation, private vehicles are not allowed to enter the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Advanced tickets (non-refundable ticket fee is $1 and you'll need one ticket per person per day) are required for the Zion shuttle - and do note - be ready to be in front of the computer to secure your tickets by 9 am MT the day before the day you plan to visit Zion as tickets sell out within a couple of minutes. A portion of tickets is released 2 weeks in advance, the rest is made available one day in advance. If you don't get a ticket by then, there is a possibility of boarding a shuttle in the late afternoon, between 1 pm and 3 pm, on a first-come, first-served basis, but boarding is not guaranteed.
Note that parking is limited inside Zion, and pretty much all parking lots fill early in the morning. For more information on the shuttle system - please click here.
If Zion is the only national park you're visiting in the short term, then go with the regular entrance pass. However, if you live in the US, and/or you're planning on visiting more than one national park, then I highly recommend that you purchase the Interagency Annual Pass. See all rates below:
Weekly Passes Weekly passes are non-transferable and are valid for 7 consecutive days including the date of purchase. Weekly passes may be upgraded to annual passes within 7 days of purchase.
Private Vehicle: $35. Valid for 7 days. Admits private, non-commercial vehicle (15 passenger capacity or less) and all occupants to Zion National Park, including both the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas.
Motorcycle: $30. Valid for 7 days. Admits one non-commercial motorcycle to Zion National Park, including both the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas.
Per Person: $20. Valid for 7 days. Admits one individual with no car to Zion National Park, including both the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon areas. Typically used for bicyclists, hikers, and pedestrians. Youth 15 and under are admitted free.
Non-Commercial Organized Groups: Valid for 7 days. Organized groups such as Scouts, Rotary, Clubs, Youth Groups, Churches, Reunions, etc. that do not qualify for an Academic Fee Waiver are charged as follows: $35.00 Non-commercial vehicles with a vehicle capacity of 15 or less. $20.00 per person Non-commercial vehicles with a capacity of 16 or greater. Fees will not exceed the commercial fee for the same-sized vehicle. Youth 15 and under are free. Individuals or families with any valid Annual or Lifetime pass may use their pass for entry at the per person rate. Pass and photo ID must be present upon entry.
Annual Passes Interagency Annual Pass - $80.00. Admission to all Federal fee areas for one year from the date of purchase (this is the pass that I bought for this trip as we were going to visit multiple parks). Zion Annual Pass - $70.00. Admission to Zion National Park for one year from the date of purchase.
Where to Stay
We rented a camper van for this trip, and since it was all last minute, we did not make plans ahead of time, which is definitely not me - I usually research my trips way in advance.
It turned out that we didn't have a place to sleep/park the van on any of the days, and while there were some campgrounds and RV parks available, we chose to stick to BLM land and really get to experience wild camping as much as possible. We used an app called IOutlander and it saved our trip! We found several amazing locations to park, none of them very crowded, and all safe.
If you're looking to camp inside Zion, the park has three campgrounds:
- Watchman Campground: open year-round with reservations from early March to late November and first-come, first-serve during the rest of the year;
- South Campground: open seasonally with reservations from early March to late October;
- Lava Point Campground: open seasonally but currently closed.
Lastly, Zion Lodge is the only "in-park" lodging available. Needless to say, advance reservations are a must. You can find more information and rates on their website.
There are also lots of lodging options just outside the park in the town of Springdale, UT. The little town is equipped with everything you need to get prepared for adventuring in Zion and beyond. It was one of my favorite stops along the trip.
As far as food, we did bring our own in the van, but the two places we stopped for grab and go were great: FeelLove Coffee in the morning for some amazing lattes and the burger from Zion Lodge for lunch!
Hiking in Zion National Park
Zion might be small in size, but there's no shortage of things to see and do here. I highly recommend checking out the latest Park Newspaper for current trail status, as well as park closures and alerts.
I spent 2 days in Zion, and it was a good amount of time to get to see most of the places on my list, but definitely not enough to explore a lot of the hikes the park offers. Remember, you'll be hiking most of the time, so there's only so much the body can take at a time. Here are some recommendations of what to do at Zion:
Canyon Overlook Trail
Shuttle Location: No shuttle needed, drive to trailhead and park on street. Parking is extremely limited, so I recommend taking this hike early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Pets: No Trailhead Location: Located near the east entrance of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Distance (roundtrip): 1.0 mi / 1.6 km
Elevation Change: 163 ft / 50 m Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour Description: My favorite and highly recommended hike with rewarding breathtaking views of Zion Canyon! Note that this one is considered moderate, not easy, as it features some rocky and uneven spots. I did see lots of children on this trail, but I would be careful about bringing kids.
Angels Landing via West Rim Trail
Shuttle Stop to Start from: #6 The Grotto Pets: No Trailhead Location: Across the road from the shuttle stop and then across the footbridge. Distance (roundtrip): 5.4 mi / 8.7 km Elevation Change: 1,488 ft / 453 m Estimated Hiking Time: 4 hours Description: One of the Zion's postcards and most famous hikes, this is definitely not recommended for young children or anyone fearful of heights. This is Jumanji level hard and the last section is along a steep, narrow ridge and you need to hold to chains to get to the summit. People have died here, so don't take it for granted.
The Narrows via Riverside Walk
Shuttle Stop to Start from: #9 Temple of Sinawava Pets: No Trailhead Location: Adjacent to shuttle stop and restrooms. Distance (roundtrip): up to 9.4 mi / 15.1 km Elevation Change: 334 ft / 102 m Estimated Hiking Time: up to 8 hours Description: One of the main reasons people visit Zion National Park. It is often crowded and can be dangerous as travel is rough and slippery in cold, fast-flowing water. This route is known as the bottom-up Narrows and does not require a permit. Hike in as far as you like, then hike back the way you came. This is one of the most famous hikes around here and extremely hard. Note that at least 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. Obtain additional information prior to starting this hike. Use appropriate equipment and clothing to help protect you. Before your hike, always check the weather and flash flood potential!
Shuttle Stop to Start from: #1 Visitor Center or #3 Canyon Junction Pets: Yes Trailhead Location: Up canyon from the Visitor Center and across the bridge adjacent to the South Campground. This trail can also be accessed from the Canyon Junction shuttle stop. Distance (roundtrip): 3.5 mi / 5.6 km Elevation Change: 50 ft / 15 m Estimated Hiking Time: 2 hours Description: An easy-breezy walk through a paved trail that you can also bike. This trail is handicap accessible, but wheelchairs may need assistance, and your furry friend can tag along. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Visitor Center.
Lower Emerald Pool Trail
Shuttle Stop to Start from: #5 Zion Lodge Pets: No Trailhead Location: Across the road from the Zion Lodge. Distance (roundtrip): 1.2 mi / 1.9 km Elevation Change: 69 ft / 21 m Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour Description: We took this trail by mistake, but I did love the views from the trail. A paved trail that leads to the Lower Emerald Pool and waterfalls (it connects to the Kayenta, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools trails, for a longer, moderate hike). Swimming is prohibited! Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Zion Lodge.
Regardless of the time of year that you get to visit Zion, it will be an unforgettable trip!
I hope you enjoy these tips and please do share your recommendations with me as well.
Download a checklist of National Parks in the US, all divided by state! How many can you cross off this list?
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Thank you so much for reading!