What are the best things to do in Zion National Park? The list of activities is long, but the number one is definitely hiking. Famous trails, the Narrows and Angels Landing lure visitors from all over the world to explore the park’s spectacular red rock country. Then there is mountain climbing, cycling, and backcountry backpacking, and more. But do not worry, you will find plenty of opportunities to enjoy the park without breaking a sweat. You can access numerous attractions simply by driving around. Regardless of the level of your physical engagement, you will be awed by the striking appeal of the park. Here is a list of things to do in Zion National Park.
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The Best Things to do in Zion National Park
There is magic in the air in Zion National Park. For that reason, most travelers come for repeated visits. I am one of them. After three trips, the park became more familiar but not less attractive. The incredible beauty awaits on every corner, form stunning vistas to lonely trees calling to be captured by a camera or on canvas.
Zion is a dream for anyone with an appreciation for nature. You can experience a lot of it from the road but hit the trails to get in touch with the soul of the park.
Hiking in Zion National Park
Even if you are not a hiker, the majestic colorful mountains and narrow canyons of Zion will lure you to explore the trails. Forty-six trails, ranging from 0.7 to 19 miles and from 3,661 to 7,463 feet above sea level, await your arrival. The park has many famous hikes, with Angels Landing and the Narrows stealing the show.
Other popular walks in the park are easier, one-mile or less in length. They lead to a variety of natural features, from small pools to weeping walls. The Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock Trail, and Lower Emerald Pools trail are three of the main walks. These are all accessed from the shuttle bus and offer big rewards with little effort.
Angels Landing hike is an intense switchback trail with spectacular views from atop of the canyon. It is one of the world’s most renowned hikes and definitely worthy of a bucket list – that is, if you are not afraid of heights! Even if you are, do not cross it off prematurely.
Anyone in an average physical condition can make this uphill trek until the chain part starts. People with acrophobia should not attempt the final stretch but can enjoy the trail all the way to Scout Lookout.
Another famous hike is the unique Narrows trail, which is a long trek through a river nestled between a sheer canyon. When hiking the Narrows, you are essentially exploring a slot canyon, the narrowest section of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, situated on the North Fork of the Virgin River, upstream of the main canyon.
For 13 million years, the Virgin River has carved through the red sandstones of Zion National Park to create some of the most unforgettable scenery in the world. The walls of the canyon, a thousand feet tall, are only twenty feet apart in some places.
The hike requires walking in the river most of the time. Almost anyone can explore the Narrows to some degree, depending on the level of experience and mobility.
Riverside Walk is a scenic 2.2-mile round-trip path, but you don’t need to complete the whole trail to enjoy this area of the park. This paved trail runs along the Virgin River, and it is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
The hike is a collection of short trails that meander lushly-vegetated stream rolling down from the cliffs and forming several interesting pools. You will find several hiking options to reach Emerald Pools, It’s easy to reach the lower pools, more difficult to the middle, and strenuous to the upper pool.
One of the major sites to visit along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is Weeping Rock Trail. This dripping stone overhang offers a close-up look at the hanging gardens that cling to the sheer cliff wall. The amount of water depends on the season and could range from anemic drops to a waterfall.
The trial showcases the enormity of the canyon walls. To reach the rock, it requires a half-mile round-trip walk. This is also a good area for spotting birds and other wildlife.
Zion is a paradise for photographers. It offers beautiful vistas, interesting rock formations, twisted trees, and of course, the sunset! The bridge over the Virgin River near the Canyon Junction shuttle stop is the most popular spot to capture Zion’s sunset. Learn more about Zion photography here.
The Zion Wilderness is a world-renowned destination that offers opportunities for solitude and adventure. With over 90 miles of trails, dozens of designated backpacking sites, multiple at-large camping areas, and 124,406 acres of designated wilderness, Zion National Park offers a variety of unique backpacking opportunities.
The best way to obtain a backpacking permit is to first make an advanced reservation.
Zion is home to 291 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. Find Zion’s birding spots here.
Even though Zion is not a wildlife destination, keep your eyes open and will spot some. You may see turkey, mule deer, lizards, squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, tarantula, and maybe porcupine. You have a good chance to find desert bighorn on the Eastside in the park’s east canyon, beyond the tunnel.
Keep your eyes on the rolling red rock hills and roadside stream beds. Learn more about Zion wildlife here.
During the summer, park rangers offer complimentary short talks at the museum as well as evening programs in the campground amphitheater and Zion Lodge. Topics include geology, plants, animals, human history, and more. All ranger-led programs are free for all ages.
Check the current Map and Guide, or at visitor centers and bulletin boards throughout the park for times, places, and subjects
From March to October, horseback riding tours take guests for a scenic one-hour ride along the Virgin River, through one of the most beautiful areas of the park. For a more adventurous ride, the three-hour trip will take you around the Sandbench Trail, gradually ascending 500 feet, giving you a spectacular view of the Southern end of Zion National Park.
Visit the Canyon Trail website for more information.
Also, Zion Mountain Ranch offers guided horseback tours for guests of any riding ability. Choose from 1, 2, or 4 hour rides through the mountain surrounding Zion National Park.
Zion is a popular cycling destination. Riding is permitted on all park roadways and on the Pa’rus Trail. All other park trails, off-trail routes, and the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel are closed to bikes. Bike rentals are available through various rental companies throughout the Springdale area.
Zion National Park’s 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs are world-renowned for their big wall climbs. Due to their difficulty, most routes in the park are only recommended for experienced climbers.
Canyoneering is a hazardous sport and should not be taken lightly. A permit is required for all technical trips. With dozens of different canyons to explore, some barely wide enough for a human to squeeze through, the park offers opportunities that range from trips for beginners to experiences requiring advanced technical skills.
The view of the Watchman mountain from Canyon Junction Bridge is one of the most highly photographed views in Zion National Park. Located near the South Visitor Center, this beautiful and easily accessible viewpoint is frequented by many visitors. See other locations for sunset or sunrise here.
Stargazing in Zion
Zion is a great place to re-connect with the night sky, or maybe even get your first view of the Milky Way. The park protects this dark sky resource for future generations by not lighting up the night. That creates an excellent environment for night photography.
Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. Camping is very popular, so an advanced reservation is required.
Call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov if you would like to guarantee a camping spot.
Narrated Tram Rides available in high season May to October.
Trams depart from the bus stop in front of Zion Lodge and travel north to the Temple of Sinawava with a scheduled stop at the Great White Throne. These 60-75 minute rides offer local knowledge, incredible open-air visibility, and personal headsets. It’s the perfect way to enhance your visit and learn more about the park.
Zion is home to several incredible scenic drives, offering an opportunity to enjoy natural beauty from the comfort of your car. Follow this Zion access road map to navigate.
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (Utah 9) descends almost 2,000 feet from the high mesa country at the East Entrance to the South Entrance desert. Shortly after passing through the East Entrance, stop at Checkerboard Messa. The mountain has its own parking area and information plaque, but several other mountainsides in the vicinity also are worth to be explored.
Highlights of the drive include intriguing rock formations, mounds, towers, hoodoos, and hilltops. Layered strata of rusty red, orange, cream, yellow, and brown color the landscape dotted with desert pines, sagebrush, and wildflowers. Learn more about Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and historic tunnel here.
Zion National Park Scenic Drive
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will give you the best overlook of the park. From the west, you get on the byway at the intersection of Hwy 9 and Interstate 15, about 9 miles east of St. George. On the east, the byway ends at Hwy 89, at Mt Carmel Junction. The canyon has an average width of 1/2 mile, with walls 2,000 to 3,000 feet high. The road follows the winding course of the river.
Kolob Canyon Road
This is one of the most spectacular areas of Zion Nationa Park and also one of the least visited. Not to be confused with the Kolob Terrace Road, Kolob Canyon Road is isolated from the rest of the park. This road is accessed off of Interstate 15 just south of Cedar City UT. From Springdale, travel time is 1.25 hours each way. The Kolob Canyons feature gigantic red sandstone walls. See the map here.
My favorite hotels in Zion National Park
Zion Lodge is the only in-park accommodation, so make sure to reserve well in advance! The lodge offers easy access to excellent hiking and other outdoor opportunities. The original lodge burned down in 1966, but the rebuilt structure convincingly recreates the classic look of the old inn.
Zion Mountain Ranch
You will find plenty of great places to stay when visiting Zion National Park, but if you are looking for a unique western experience, I recommend Zion Mountain Ranch. The ranch delivers upscale accommodation and spectacular distance views of Zion. View Mount Carmel Junction hotels here.
Holiday Inn Springdale
Another accommodation worth mentioning is Holliday Inn Express Springdale Zion National Park Area. The hotel is ideally situated just outside of Zion National Park and is tucked among the towering red rock cliffs of Zion Canyon. I loved the outside area with incredible views of the mountains.