Epic Travel Planning Guide for Visiting Zion National Park

As avid outdoor enthusiasts, we love exploring the awe-inspiring natural wonders we see when visiting Zion National Park.

This planning guide includes everything you need to know about traveling to Zion: where to stay, what to pack, shuttle and parking, services available, weather, pet policy, and more!

visiting Zion national park everything you need to know

And of course you want to know all the fun things to do at Zion so you can plan your daily itinerary. Use our Zion National Park travel guide and all the tips below to plan the most amazing vacation!

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WHAT TO PACK FOR ZION NATIONAL PARK

DOWNLOAD: Zion National Park packing list for summer and winter!

Outdoor Gear we recommend! Travel Gear & Hiking Gear

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A Photo Tour of Zion National Park

Take a visual tour through Zion National Park to see the stunning landscapes you’ll see when you visit!

Visiting Zion National Park

Located in the Southwest of Utah, near the towns of Kanab, St. George, and Cedar City, a trip to Zion national park is a truly amazing experience that is not to be missed by anyone who loves the outdoors.

Zion National Park should be on your bucket list. The landscape includes narrow sandstone canyons, high plateaus with spectacular views, and the Virgin River as it flows through the park. The hiking trails at Zion are world-famous and fun to explore.

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. 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 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 at Zion National Park in the town, and you have to pay for that parking.

Here’s a list of places to stay in Springdale.

Zion National Park Vacation Rentals

Vacation rentals near Zion Nation Park include a wide variety of lodging types, including cabins, apartments, private homes and more. These accommodations are usually economical for families or larger groups.

view of Zion near the Mount Carmel Tunnel

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 more enjoyable than others. Check out the best times to visit Zion National Park!

You may want to avoid Zion National Park in the spring when the runoff can make some hiking trails impassable.

Zion National Park in the summer means battling the crowds and high temperatures, both of which can be unbearable.

Zion National Park in the fall is the best time for moderate temperatures and ideal hiking conditions, especially from September through November.

We enjoy going to Zion National Park in the winter when there are fewer crowds, but some trails may close immediately following a snow storm.

Zion Operating Hours and Entry Fees

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.

There are day and multi-day passes available to enter the park. When you visit between April and October (and during the Christmas holiday break), you can also use the free shuttle buses that travel from Springdale (outside the park) 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?)

Zion Weather

The Zion National Park weather 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.

Ranger-led Programs at Zion

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.

Zion National Park Map

zion national park map: zion canyon

Click here to find more printable maps, a hiking guide, and a shuttle map.

BUY AT AMAZON: Zion National Park Guides and Maps

Zion national park guides and maps

Parking at Zion National Park

It’s important to know all the rules and regulations for 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.

You can also 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 Zion National Park Shuttle 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

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 at 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.

Zion National Park Points of Interest

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.

The Narrows is one of the most well known hikes for people visiting Zion National Park

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.

Angel's Landing hiking trail at Zion National Park, Utah.

Weave up the mountain, along the trail’s many switchbacks, and you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views from the summit.

Angels Landing pilot program: On and after April 1, 2022, hikers going to Angels Landing will need a permit. The National Park Service (NPS) will issue permits using online lotteries at Recreation.gov.

Visitors can get a permit by entering seasonal lotteries or a different lottery the day before their planned hikes. It will cost $6 to enter any of the lotteries and successful permit holders will pay a $3 per person fee. These funds will cover costs to manage the lotteries and for additional NPS rangers who will assist visitors and check permits on the trail. Learn when and how to enter the lotteries at go.nps.gov/AngelsLanding.

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.

Canyon Overlook at sunrise at Zion

We think this is a wonderful spot to enjoy the sunrise.

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.

Hiking Trails at Zion

There are so many Zion National Park hikes that it may be hard to choose. There are trails in Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace.

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 check out these Zion hikes without the shuttle! 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

Zion Canyon MODERATE hiking trails

Zion Canyon STRENUOUS hiking trails

Kolob Canyon hiking trails

Kolob Terrace hiking trails

Backpacking at Zion

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 at Zion National Park. 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 at Zion

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. Check the website for all Zion canyoneering information.

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.

Zion National Park along Highway 9

Zion Scenic Drives

There are four Zion National Park scenic drives:

The Zion Canyon road is only accessible via the shuttle most of the year. It’s an amazing 6.5 miles of the most incredible rock formations and hiking trails. There are a few weeks in the winter when you can drive your own car into the canyon.

The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel is a must-drive! The tunnel is 1.1 miles long and the elevation gain is 800 feet. Driving along Highway 9 from Zion Canyon to the east entrance is breathtaking. Take advantage of the pullouts to stop and take photos, or even take a hike.

We enjoy driving the Kolob Terrace road that’s accessed west of Springdale in the town of Virgin. You’ll see a different side of Zion there.

And if you don’t mind driving 40 miles north of Zion Canyon, you can drive the Kolob Canyons section of the park.

ZION PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTS

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.

The Watchman and the Virgin River Photo Spot at Zion

Hop Valley

Best photographed at either sunrise or sunset.

sunset at Zion Kolob Terrace

Tower of the Virgin

Photograph this landmark from behind the Human History Museum at sunrise.

Three Patriarchs

Best photographed early morning or late afternoon.

Three-patriarchs-waterfall-and-bridge-at-Zion-NP-Photo-Jeepers-800

Check out our Zion National Park Photography Guide – it includes all the information you need to take photos at Zion!

take jaw-dropping photos at Zion National Park

Plan Your Vacation To Zion National Park

BUY AT AMAZON: Zion National Park Guides and Maps

Zion national park guides and maps

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