ZION NATIONAL PARK| ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR PLANNING BEST TRIP TO ZION 2023

I love visiting National parks because they are the ultimate place to see nature at its best. Zion National park was especially on my bucket list because unlike other Canyons which are usually dry and barren Zion has rivers and lush greenery.

In my view, Zion has the most unique and breathtaking scenery in the entire world! To understand its beauty, imagine a larger-than-life tall red maze of canyons that are 3000 feet deep, imagine a river flowing in between canyons, imagine waterfalls, lush and colorful hanging gardens on top of cliffs, imagine a place tucked so deep into nature away from city’s light pollution, that you can even see milky way galaxy with naked eyes when you look up in the sky at night.

WHY VISIT ZION NATIONAL PARK?

According to NCPA, out of 63 National parks in the US, zion is 5th most visited national park.

The reason I personally love Zion is that it is one of the most organized National park systems. Zion makes it easy for any national and international tourists to navigate. Here are some more reasons why people love to visit Zion national park:

  • Springdale Shuttle is a city shuttle that has pickups from major hotels/lodges in Springdale to the Zion Visitor Center. Here is the shuttle route.
  • The national park has its own shuttle system that picks visitors up from the visitor center to all trailheads and leaves every 15 minutes. Here is the shuttle route.
  • Zion national park has dedicated trails where you don’t need to fear getting lost and being ended up in other trails.
  • Besides these, the zion visitor center has an information desk with well-informed officers who answer all your questions, a zion website that updates trail conditions every day based on weather conditions, big boards with a huge map of each trail, and information on shuttle stops.
  • Zion has a dramatic and diverse landscape. From Zion Canyon which is up to 3000 feet deep to the virgin river; more than 1000 species of plants from cactus and cotton flowers to pine and fir trees, and unique wildlife.
  • Zion has something for everyone. From kids to adults to elders to the physically disabled. People also come from all over the world to experience the climbing,  canyoneering, biking, and hiking opportunities that the dramatic landscapes of Zion offer.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT ZION NATIONAL PARK:

Location: Utah, USA
Size: 146,597 acres 

Annual Visitors: 4.49 million approx.
Established: National Monument (1909), National Park (1919)
Visitor Centers: Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyon
Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle, $20 per individual (both valid for 7 days); $80 annual pass, other vehicles, group tour options, senior passes, etc.

Airports: McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (most popular with around 2 hours drive), St. George Regional Airport (nearest with 45 minutes drive), Cedar City Regional Airport (1+ hour drive), and Salt Lake City International Airport (4+ hours drive).

Note: The Zion National Park and Springdale town shuttles are free. You do not need a ticket, permit, or reservation to ride.Parking within Zion National Park usually fills up between 8 a.m and 9 a.m. Once the park lots are full, visitors should park in the town of Springdale and ride the town shuttle to the park. Specially in buzy seasons, to avoid parking hassle , I recommed you  to stay in Springdale city and use Sprindale shuttle line which picks you up from major hotels to visitor center. Then use National Park shuttle to get to trial heads. 

WHEN TO VISIT ZION NATIONAL PARK??

Zion is open year-round every day of the year. I would say there is no bad time of year. It mostly depends on your preferences for activities and crowds. Whichever season you choose, just be sure to secure your lodging and activities with advance reservations, like an Angels Landing hiking permit and other backcountry trail permits.

Fall is the best time to visit Zion because spring runoff can make canyon hiking difficult or dangerous and summer temperatures can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Also in summer, there is more crowd due to the summer holidays.

 70% of visitors come to zion between April and September. However, after much research, I went in October which is perfect for fall colors, for river hikes due to the low flow rate, moderate sun shuttles running and the crowd being less.

GETTING AROUND ZION NATIONAL PARK

Depending on what time of year you visit, the best way to get around Zion National Park is the Zion shuttle bus offered by the park. They leave at regular intervals, and you can catch them from outside the park in Springdale from the city shuttle line, or inside the park at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
Another option is renting bicycles from outfitters at the visitor center or other businesses at Springdale outside the park.
There is also a parking lot right at the visitor center. But, keep in mind that parking in Zion National Park can fill up very quickly, so get there early or consider other options like the shuttle or bicycles. If you do travel off-season, when the shuttle is not running then you will need to rent a car. When you do this, taking a self-guided audio-driving tour will be a great way to discover the park.

WHAT TO DO IN ZION NATIONAL PARK?

Zion has something to offer everyone. I and Kisan spend 1 week in Zion and tried many activities. Here are some of our favorite picks.

Hiking:

Zion has some of the most unique trails in the world!! There are some easy short and flat trails, long trails that have you climb sandstone mountains, trails that have river crossings, trails that wind through deep narrow canyons slots, and much more. Most Zion Canyon hikes are accessible only by the park shuttle from March through November and require stopping at the appropriate shuttle stop. Here is the map of each trail and its shuttle stop.

Here are my top hiking picks:

Easy Hiking Trails:

Emerald Pools trail:

Emerald Pools trail follows a beautiful small stream that collects in a series of “pools”.  It’s a 1.2-mile round trip to the Lower Pool, a 2-mile roundtrip visit to the Middle and Lower Pools; 2.5-mile round trip hike to all three. It took me around 1.5 hours to hike all 3 pools at a relaxed pace.

Canyon Overlook:

If you are not planning to check out Angel’s landing or Scout lookout then this trail is a must because it provides the best combination of easy access to magnificent views that you can find in the park. It takes an hour or less to complete a round-trip hike to the Canyon Overlook.

Riverside Walk :

I really love this trail as it offers great views of the Virgin River surrounded by lush green trees and hanging gardens on the canyon cliffs. This hike is family-friendly and also wheelchair accessible. It’s roughly 2 miles long (round trip) and may take 1-2 hours to complete. Riverwalk trail has several spots which allow easy access down to the Virgin River and is perfect if you want to get your feet wet on a hot day. This trail continues down further as a more strenuous hike of 10 miles called Narrows described below.

Other easy stroll hiking trails include Pa’rus Trail and Watchman Trail which are perfect for cycling and sunset respectively. The Weeping rock trail with an eroded bowl-shaped cliff with groundwater seeping out is another popular trial but it was closed during our visit.


Adventurous Hiking Trails:

There are a lot of challenging trails that range from 2.5 miles to 9.4 miles and have elevation gains of up to 2,148 ft. 

Angels Landing via West Rim Trail:

Angels landing is considered to be one of the scariest trails to hike in the US but also one of the most popular trails in Zion National park. Please be aware that there are some sections of exposure and people have died hiking this trail. I am scared of heights but I was able to do it and actually enjoy it. Things that helped me complete this trail are sticking with the trail route, wearing shoes with good grip, taking rest in between, and having good weather with no wind or rain.

Angels Landing is a strenuous 5-mile roundtrip hike that can be actually divided into 2 parts:

  • West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout: 2-mile route. Most people return back from this point.
  • Angels Landing Trail0.7-mile route at end of scout lookout.
Note:From 1 April 2022, reservations will be required to get on Angel’s Landing. You need to pay + 3 dollars per person or 6 dollars (covers for up to 6 people) .See this page .

The Narrows via Riverside Walk (aka bottom-up):

Narrows is a unique hike that you must try at least once in your life.

It is a long strenuous 8 miles hike that needs you to walk 80% of the time in the water but you can return back at any point and cover any miles. Some popular lookout points along narrows are floating rock, wall street, boulder pair, big springs, etc. Most people just want to keep it light and experience Narrows return back after Wall Street. We went in October and the water was mostly knee-high. But in summer, I heard it can get up to chest high or more which requires swimming.

Pro Tip: Make sure you hike narrows in good weather. Check this website for any flood waring.  Also check water flow(cfs) to make sure water current is not too high. You can  also see all these ratings for Narrow's vigin river at zion outfitters. Make sure to have good gear  or rent it at zion outfitters right at visitor center. For more info on Narrows check this website .

Observation Point :

There are two trails to get to Observation Point. The main one is via East Rim Trail which is currently closed. Another alternative is via East Mesa Trail. The hike starts out wooded, transitions to a sandy high desert, and ends at the rocky overlook facing Angel’s Landing and the West Rim. You can get the map from the visitor center and get more info on this alternative route to the observation point. You will need to drive to the trailhead for the east mesa route.

There are other backpacking and technical trails which needs permit like the Narrow top-down, Subway, and West Rim Trail down from Lava Point.

There are also some more technical trails that require swimming, canyoneering, climbing, and/or rappelling. Here is the complete list for technical hiking. These trails give more wilderness experience and require permits.

Biking:

Cost: E-bike 79$, normal adult bike 29-39$, kids bike 19 -29$

I would say definitely keep cycling through zion on your bucket list if you have time. Cycling is another popular activity in Zion National Park and also an alternative to shuttle buses for accessing the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You can do biking as a separate activity but if you want you can also stop and hike. Each of the trailheads in Zion is equipped with a bike rack where you can lock your bike and leave it.

There are 3 main options for biking through Zion Canyon.

Pa’ Rus Trail, Zion Canyon Round-Trip, Zion Canyon One-Way. I would recommend Zion Canyon One-Way for a relaxed and pleasant ride. You will take your bike onto the shuttle all the way up to the top of the canyon at the temple of Sinnawava (stop 9 ) and coast down gradually to the visitor center. It’s about 7.5 miles and should take around 2-4 hours. During this ride, you will pass all of Zion Canyon’s major landmarks. Pa’Rus trail is mostly flat ( great for families with small kids) or and Zion Canyon Round-trip is 16 miles long with both uphill and downhill

A popular place to rent a bike is zion outfitter which is right next to the visitor center.

Horse Riding:

Cost:50$ per person for 60 minutes, 100$ per person for 3 hours

This was one of the major highlights of the zion trip for me. I definitely recommend it.

I booked it a day before a trip over a phone call. But during peak season, make sure to book a few days in advance. The location is shuttle stop #5 zion lodge and follows a sign for anything that says ” horse “. You will get to a ranch where you pay the fee and get saddled up by cowboys. The ride was really adventurous and fun with a river crossing, uphills, downhills, and all that surrounded by forests and canyons in all directions.

Pro Tip:It took me a while to figure this out. So make a note that,  Canyon trail rides is the only horse ride experience thats inside zion national park and its cheap . Other horse riding experinces you find online are outside national park where you need to drive to and its usually more expensive.

Star grazing:

Cost: Free for naked eyes, 20$ to 100$ experiences available with a telescope

Have you ever seen a Milky way galaxy before?

If not, zion might be the one where you get your first glimpse of the Milky way as it was for me. Not just this, I also saw tons of failing starts. Stargazing is definitely one of the highlights of my zion trip.

Zion is tucked away deep into nature away from city light pollution which makes it perfect for stargazing. When the sky is clear, you can even see the Milkyway galaxy with your naked eyes. You can check the astronomical viewing forecast and find the best time to view the night sky.

You can also book a more advanced star-grazing experience that uses the powerful telescope for a more detailed view. It can range from 30 to 100$.

Pro Tip: Download some star grazing app like NightSky to locate constellation and falling stars.

Spa and Yoga:

Cost: 100 to 200$

You will notice many hotels in zion offer spas and messages. I stayed at Flanigan’s inn and tried their Deep Canyon couple message. The message used essential oils infused with CBD that helped me with deep relaxation after back-to-back long hikes in Angle’s Landing and Narrows.

I also had an epic YOGA experience! I am not a yoga person but doing yoga on top of a hill surrounded by beautiful zion canyons 360 degrees sounded promising. The yoga session had deep breathing exercises and flow sound healing with gongs. At end of the session, I felt refreshed and in tune with nature. Make sure you check with your hotel about any such activities as they are usually free.

Scenic Drive:

Cost: Zion national park has an entrance fee but the drive is free

Zion scenic drive is a 54 miles long scenic byway that runs between zion’s main canyon and mt Carmel. You can access it from the east or west side. During the drive, you will also see a famous Utah attraction, called Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel was constructed in 1920.

But one thing to be aware of is that Zion National Park part of Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles when zion shuttle buses are operating.  Zion Shuttle operates daily from March through November and on weekends in February.

If you are visiting in the months of March through November, then you can use the shuttle all the way up to the last stop 9 and you can see part of the scenic drive-through bus itself.

SUGGESTED TOURS

For all those adventure seekers here are my top picks. Jeep riding, star grazing with telescopes, zion full-day adventure tours, helicopter tours, rock climbing, canyoneering tours, riding ATVs on the sand, and riding horse with a river crossing.

PLACES TO VISIT NEAR ZION NATIONAL PARK

  • Ride UTVs and ATVs at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park(30 minutes drive).
  • Explore the most unique canyon shapes at Bryce Canyon National Park (2 hours drive).
  • Visit a part of the biggest canyon in the US, the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (2.5 hours drive).
  • Visit bright red formations of the Valley /canyons in Valley of Fire State Park (2 hours drive).
  • Vegas (2 hours 45 minutes drive)
  • Several other national parks like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National parks, etc. are 2 to 5 hours away from zion.

WHAT TO PACK FOR ZION NATIONAL PARK

I hope you had a good time going through this article. Please share your love with likes, comments, and feedback. Feel free to share your experience of zion and things you like/dislike about it in the comments below.

Zion and its shuttle stop

Angel landing lottery

Zion camping availability and reservation

Zion city shuttle: Springdale

Sunset and Star grazing in zion

Horse riding inside zion with a river crossing

Zion outfitter for Narrows hike rentals, bike rentals, and buying other gears

10$ all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at Spotted Dog cafe (open from February to November)

Zion pet policy

Not driving ? Shuttle to and from zion to vegas airport

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