As avid outdoor enthusiasts, Dave and I love exploring awe-inspiring natural wonders like Zion National Park. Located in the Southwest of Utah, near the towns of Kanab, St. George, and Cedar City, visiting Zion National is a truly amazing experience that is not to be missed by anyone who loves the outdoors.
On your trip to Zion National Park will you see narrow sandstone canyons, high plateaus with spectacular views, and the Virgin River as it flows through the park.
If you’re planning a visit to Zion, then read our extensive Zion National Park guide. Filled with secret tips to help you plan the perfect Zion National Park vacation, this Zion planning guide includes:
- Zion National Park basics
- How to get to Zion
- Things to do at Zion National Park
- What to pack for a trip to Zion
- Where to stay near Zion
We hope you can use our expert Zion National Park travel tips to make your first time to Zion National Park a truly memorable visit.
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Visiting Zion National Park – The Basics
Best Time to Visit Zion
While there isn’t a bad time to explore Zion, some seasons make visiting Zion National Park more enjoyable than others. You may want to avoid spring when the runoff can make some hiking trails impassable. During the summer you’ll need to battle the crowds and high temperatures, both of which can be unbearable. The best time for moderate temperatures and ideal hiking conditions is the fall, from September through November. We enjoy going in the winter when there are fewer crowds, but some trails may close immediately following a snow storm.
Zion Operating Hours
Zion National Park is open to visitors twenty-four hours day, every day of the year. You will want to check the website because some services and facilities do close or reduce hours during parts of the year.
Entry Fees to Zion National Park
If you’re planning on visiting Zion National Park for the day, the park fee is $25 for four-wheel vehicles and $12 per person for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
However, if you’re planning on visiting the park for more than a day, you can save money by purchasing a 7-day entrance pass for $25.
Plus, if you visit between April and October, you can also use the free shuttle buses that travel through Zion Canyon to help you get around.
BUDGET TRAVEL TIP: If you plan on visiting other Utah National Parks, or any other US National Park during the year, we always recommend getting the US National Park pass. (Did you know when you buy the National Parks Pass from REI, they donate 10% to the National Park Foundation?)
The weather at Zion National Park is incredibly varied. During the summer season, temperatures can rise to well over a 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, hikers should avoid hiking during the middle of the day and opt instead to visit the park either early in the morning or late in the evening.
During the winter, conditions in the park are often cold and wet, with highs between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and lows beneath freezing. And while roads are typically plowed daily, trails still may be closed due to treacherous snow and ice conditions. Pack the right cold weather gear so you can explore the park and still stay warm and dry.
The spring and fall seasons typically have the most moderate weather, with warm and sunny days during the months of April, May, September, and October. Temperature highs are typically between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with occasional cold snaps and rainy days possible.
Also note that during the spring, water levels in the canyons can rise as a result of snow melt. Therefore, many hiking will be flooded and off limits to visitors.
That’s why, autumn is typically best time to visit Zion National Park. The days are clear, the nights are mild, and the water levels are low, making this the perfect time to hike through Zion National Park. You can also enjoy the fall colors as the leaves begin to change and reach their peak by the end of October.
Pet Regulations at Zion National Park
To protect other wildlife in the park, and ensure that other visitors enjoy their park visit, guests must keep their pets on leashes that are less than six feet long when on the Pa’rus Trail, which is the only trail open to pets.
Pets are also not allowed on shuttle buses, with the exception of designated service animals, or within Zion National Park public buildings. All pet waste must also be picked up immediately and disposed of in proper trash receptacles.
Since temperatures in Zion National Park can quickly rise to dangerous levels, leaving a pet in a vehicle, unattended, is strictly prohibited when elevated temperatures can damage the animal’s health.
However, pets are permitted along public roads and in parking areas, as well as on campgrounds, in picnic areas, and on the grounds of Zion Lodge. Within the park’s campgrounds, pets also may be left unattended given that environmental conditions are safe and the animal is not making an excessive amount of noise.
Zion National Park Services
Although plastic water bottles are not sold in the park, reusable water bottles are available for purchase at the gift shops in the Visitor Center, Park Museum, at Zion Lodge and at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center.
Water filling stations can be also found at shuttle stop one near the visitor center, at shuttle stop two near the Zion Human History Museum, at shuttle stop five near Zion Lodge, at shuttle stop six near the Grotto, at shuttle stop nine near the Temple of Sinawava, and at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center.
Free WIFI can also be found within Zion Canyon Visitor Center and at the Human History Museum.
Zion Lodge is home to the Red Rock Grill Dining Room, which is open year round, as well as the Castle Dome Cafe, which is open seasonally.
And while there are no grocery stores, gas stations, or medical facilities within the park itself, all such services can be found within the nearby town of Springdale.
Parking at Zion National Park
Visitors can park only in designated parking spaces and should avoid parking along roadways, on vegetation, and in a way that blocks traffic. If a parking lot is full, do not wait for a spot to open up. Instead, move on and look for parking elsewhere. Anyone who fails to park in designated spots will be subject to a fine and may have their vehicle towed.
Between February and late November, parking lots are usually full by 8 or 9 am. When this happens you should park in Springdale, just outside the park entrance. Use the free shuttle that takes you to Zion. Be aware though that you must pay for parking in Springdale and that a park entrance pass does not include town parking, and vice versa.
The park’s seasonal shuttle system begins operations during the weekends starting mid-February. Around the first part of March, the shuttle runs daily between Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale. While the shuttle is in operation, no vehicles are permitted on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The shuttle also runs during the Christmas holiday so check the website if you’ll be visiting Zion during that time.
Throughout the high season, buses run from the early morning and into the late evening, with departures about every seven minutes. There are two separate shuttle routes that guests can take when visiting Zion National Park. The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to nine different stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Springdale Shuttle has nine stops in the town of Springdale and will take you to the pedestrian entrance near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
When the shuttle service is not in use, Zion National Park can still experience overcrowding. When this happens, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will close to the public once all parking lots are full. Therefore, be prepared and make alternative arrangements if you’re planning a Zion National Park itinerary between December and February.
Take the Zion Pledge
The Zion National Park Pledge is a way for you to help protect yourself and the park. If you love the outdoors like we do, please share your #ZionPledge story on social media to bring awareness of doing our part to Leave No Trace. We urge everyone to be responsible national park guests by planning ahead, traveling and camping only on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly, minimizing campfire impact, leaving what you find where you find it, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Flash Floods at Zion National Park
If you’ll be hiking in Zion National Park, you need to be educated about flash flooding, which is a sudden rise in the depth and speed of rivers, streams, and washes. Typically, flash floods are the result of heavy rains, which can uplift and carry heavy debris, like tree trunks and large boulders, down river.
While infrequent, flash floods are unpredictable, can occur under sunny skies, and are most dangerous within slot canyons. There have been recent deaths in the park due to flash floods. It’s usually the result of blunt force trauma, since there is no way to outrun a flash flood.
To ensure your safety while hiking through Zion National Park, check the weather forecast, stop by the visitor center for up to date weather information, be aware of changing weather and associated cloud build up, heed park warnings, avoid areas that are susceptible to flooding, create a plan in case you do encounter a flash flood, and leave an itinerary with a park employee so that they can alert officials if you do go missing.
If you do encounter a flash flood, react quickly and immediately get to the safety of higher ground. Whatever you do though, do not attempt to enter the water. Instead, wait until the flood passes because believe it or not, just six inches of water can cause you to lose balance.
GETTING TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
From Las Vegas, Nevada take I-15 north until you reach Exit 16 in Utah for State Hwy 9 toward Hurricane/Zion National Park. The drive should take 2 hours and 30 minutes and cover 262 miles.
From Salt Lake City, Utah take I-15 south then take exit 27 for UT-17 toward Toquerville/Hurricane. Turn left onto UT-9 which takes you to Zion National Park. The whole journey should take 4 hours and 30 minutes and cover 308 miles.
THINGS TO DO AT ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion National Park Points of Interest
Arguably one of the most beautiful parks in the entire United States national park system, Zion National Park is brimming with exquisite natural wonders that are just waiting to be discovered. Between the towering red rocks, the majestic Virgin River, the labyrinth of intricate canyons, and the sea of picturesque evergreens, there are no shortage of things to do in Zion National Park.
Therefore, to help you create the perfect Zion National Park itinerary, listed below are all of the top attractions that you could see, do or photograph during your trip to Zion National Park.
The Narrows – One of the most iconic hikes in the park, this trek takes you through some of the steep canyons that the Virgin River snakes through. Before exploring the Narrows, be sure to bring the proper gear since much of this 10 mile hike involves wading through the Virgin River.
Angel’s Landing – Not for young children, or anyone who is afraid of heights, this strenuous 5.4 mile hike will have you slinking along narrow rock ledges and scrambling up steep hills with sharp drop offs on either side. Weave up the mountain, along the trail’s many switchbacks, and you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views from the summit.
Emerald Pool Trail – Enjoy a nice, leisurely, hour long hike to the Lower Emerald Pool. You can also continue on, towards the Upper Emerald Pool and the Kayenta Trails, and enjoy some lovely views of a lush landscape that is dotted with enchanting waterfalls.
Canyon Overlook Trail – An easy one mile hike through the park. Arrive early since the parking lot fills up fast. We think this is a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunrise.
Driving the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway – Starting from the Mount Carmel side of Route 9, this 12 mile drive will have you winding through stunning red sandstone formations, with seas of evergreen peeking through, that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Along the way, be sure to stop at Checkerboard Mesa and marvel at this enormous, gray rock that is adorned with a perfect checkerboard pattern. This stretch of road is a good place to see bighorn sheep too!
The Riverside Walk – Get off at the Sinawava shuttle stop and enjoy an easy 2.2 mile walk along the Virgin River. Take time to enjoy the fantastic mountain views as you peacefully stroll along the trail.
Weeping Rock – The slow drip of water through this rock formation creates picturesque hanging gardens that are strewn along the entire rock face.
Hiking Trails at Zion
Zion Canyon is by far the most popular hiking spot, and includes trails that are great for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level hikers. You will also find many trails are perfect for hiking with kids in Zion.
However, if you want get away from the crowds in the park, Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace have some fantastic hiking trails to explore. Wilderness permits are required for some trails in these more remote areas so do your research.
Zion Canyon EASY hiking trails:
- Pa’rus Trail
- Archeology Trail
- Lower Emerald Pool Trail
- Grotto Trail
- Weeping Rock Trail
- Riverside Walk Trail
Zion Canyon MODERATE hiking trails:
Zion Canyon STRENUOUS hiking trails:
Kolob Canyon hiking trails:
Kolob Terrace hiking trails:
Zion National Park Backpacking
With 90 miles of trails, 3 designated camping ares, and an assortment of backpacking sites to choose from, Zion National Park is the perfect destination for anyone interested in backpacking.
However, prior planning is an essential part of any successful backpacking trip. That’s why you should first consider the ability level of your group, as well as how much time you have to complete the hike, before you depart into the wilderness.
If you do plan an overnight backpacking trip, you must procure a permit to do so. Permits can be obtained up to three months in advance, or at either of the park’s visitor centers the day before you depart. Please be aware that wilderness permits for some areas are booked up almost as soon as reservation become available, which is on the 5th of every month, so plan accordingly.
Canyoneering in Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a premiere destination for canyoneering which combines skills like route finding, rappelling, swimming, and hiking.
Because this park has a plethora of canyons to explore, permits are required for any and all technical canyoneering trips.
For beginners, the lower end of the Narrows, above the Temple of Sinawaya, is a great place to explore slot canyons and try canyoneering for the first time. For visitors with a bit more experience, the Subway and Orderville Canyon are both challenging canyoneering routes that will put your outdoor skills to the test.
Top Photography Spots in Zion National Park
Being one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States, Zion is a popular travel destination for photographers from all across the globe. And while the geography of the park is stunning, it can be difficult to know where the best photography locations are and at what time of day you should photograph these amazing places, especially since the main canyon is only accessible by shuttle for part of the year.
Here’s a list of our favorite photography spots and our recommendations on the best time of day to photograph there.
Watchman – Best photographed at sunset.
Hop Valley – Best photographed at either sunrise or sunset.
Tower of the Virgin – Photograph this landmark from behind the Human History Museum at sunrise.
Hoodoo City – The geologic formations can be photographed at either sunrise or sunset.
Three Patriarchs – Best photographed early morning.
Free ranger-led programs are offered at Zion National Park between mid-April and mid-October. Programs are designed to help visitors understand and appreciate the park more, and cover a range of topics like geology, botany, wildlife, and human history.
Ranger-led activities include programs for adult, youth and families with children. There are a variety of ranger-led activities like 2-mile hikes, 30 minute talks at the Zion Human History Museum, evening lectures, ride with a ranger shuttle tours, 45-minute youth programs at the nature center, and nature center drop-in programs.
WHAT TO PACK FOR ZION NATIONAL PARK
To get the most out of visiting this park, we want to help you know what to pack for Zion National Park.
Hiking Shoes & Socks
Avoid injuries from improper footwear when hiking. Don’t wear smooth-soled shoes and opt instead for the sturdy shoes with ample tread. Our feet LOVE our Merrell Moab hiking shoes or Oboz hiking shoes worn with Darn Tough socks.
Hydration and Food
Southern Utah is a desert climate at high altitude. You should drink at least one gallon of water per day, and always carry water with you during all hiking activities (water is available at the Zion National Park Visitor Center and shuttle stops 1, 2, 5, 6 and 9). We use Camelbak hydration packs or carry Hydroflask bottles in our packs. Also eat plenty of healthy snacks and food.
Remember it’s just as easy to become dehydrated in the cold as it is in the heat so carry plenty of water during the winter, and not just during the summer.
Lip Balm and Lotion
Summers in the park mean soaring temperatures, unrelenting sunlight, and low humidity. To keep cool, wear light colored, loose fitting clothing that does not absorb sunlight. Also avoid sun burn by wearing a wide brimmed hat and by generously applying sunscreen to any parts of your body that are exposed to the sun.
During the winter, be sure to wear the right clothing to stay dry and warm.
National Parks Pass
Before you visit Arches National Park be sure to pack your The America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
Other items we recommend for visiting Zion:
- US National Parks packing list
- Darn Tough socks
- Fleece jacket
- Buff headbands
- Hand sanitizer
- Flashlight or headlamp
- First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Camera gear
WHERE TO STAY NEAR ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion Lodging, Campgrounds and Reservations
The Zion Lodge is located three miles north along the Zion Canyon scenic drive. It has motel rooms, cabins, and suites as well as a gift shop and post office. However, rooms do fill up quickly so reservations are highly recommended.
For more rustic accommodations, Zion National Park offers guests several campgrounds to choose from: the Watchman Campground, the South Campground, and the Lava Point Campground.
The Watchman Campground is just a quarter of a mile from the south entrance of Zion. This campsite has 176 regular sites and 8 specialized sites with both tent and electric campsites that are available to guests year round. Electric campsites cost $30 per night while tent campsites cost $20 per night. Reservations for campsites here can be made up to six months in advance, between the months of March and October, and are highly recommended since this campground is fully booked throughout the high season.
The South Campground is located just a half mile from the south entrance of Zion. It has 117 campsites, $20 per night for individual campsites and $50 per night for group sites, that can be reserved no more than two weeks before your visit. Flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, firepits and a dump station are provided here. Four group sites are available that can accommodate RVs and tents. There are no hook-ups in this campground. Generators can be used during specific hours.
The Lava Point Campground is perfect for anyone wanting to get away from the crowds and enjoy the Zion Wilderness area in the Kolob Terrace area. It’s open May through September, sits 25 miles north of the town of Virgin, and takes about an hour and twenty minutes to drive to from the south entrance of Zion Canyon. With just 6 campsites, that all operate on a first come first serve basis, the only amenities here are pit toilets and trash cans since running water is not available.
Zion National Park Hotels
We recommend staying in the town of Springdale, Utah that borders the park. You can park at the hotel for free and take the free shuttles around town. During the busy season it may be hard to find parking in the town, and you have to pay for that parking.
Here’s a list of places to stay in Springdale.
Holiday Inn Express Springdale – Zion National Park Area – One of our favorite places to stay – clean and comfortable!
Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park – Another favorite hotel that we recommend!
Visit TripAdvisor to check reviews and prices on all Springdale/Zion lodging.
Zion National Park Vacation Rentals
Vacation rentals include a wide variety of lodging types, including cabins, apartments, private homes and more. These accommodations are usually economical for families or larger groups.
Whew… this is a lot of information! All these Zion National Park travel tips should help you plan a memorable vacation to one of the top national parks in the US.