Zion National Park is in southwestern Utah near the city of Springdale. It is 160 miles from Las Vegas, 308 miles from Salt Lake City, 72 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park and 41 miles from St. George. If you’re flying to Zion, you have four options for airports, depending on how far you want to drive. These include McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (three-hour drive to park), the St. George Regional Airport (one-hour drive to park), Salt Lake City International Airport (four-hour drive to park) or Cedar City Regional Airport (one-hour drive to park).
The best option for lodging for your Zion National Park vacation is Springdale. It’s close to the park and offers something for every budget. If you don’t mind driving a bit farther, consider accommodations in Mount Carmel, Kanab and St. George. Or, stay in the park itself at the Zion Lodge.
The high season (read: crowded) in Zion is March to October. There will be long lines to get into the parking lots, so you’ll want to plan for early-morning departures if you have a particular destination or hike in mind. (There is free shuttle service from Springdale that helps you avoid the parking issue.) Consider biking to the park as another option to driving. For a quieter visit to Zion National Park, consider visiting between November and February. It’s colder, so you’ll want to pack accordingly, but it’s still just as beautiful.
If you want to get specific, let’s break it down by the seasons in Zion National Park. Springtime – March, April and May – is gorgeous, but you’ll experience both warm, sunny weather and sudden rainstorms. The temperature swings can be up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit between noon and midnight. Summer time is hot, regularly above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect monsoon weather between July and September, including thunderstorms and heavy rain. Fall is gorgeous – if you can, time your trip for October and November, the best months to visit Zion National Park. Monsoon season is over and the temperatures are falling. Winter in Zion is cold and wet – but beautiful. This all being said, whenever you visit, pack clothing for a variety of weather conditions and plan on layering.
Start off any trip to Zion National Park with a stop at the visitor center. Get your bearings, talk to park rangers, check out the bookstore, grab some maps and then head farther into the park to explore. Don’t miss the Zion park museum, a half-mile north of the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at the South Entrance. There are interesting displays and a video that educate visitors on the history of the park.
So, how many days do you need in Zion National Park? Plan on at least two or three days. This will give you time to hike the most popular trails, like Angels Landing and the Narrows, and tack on some shorter, easier ones as well, such as Riverside Walk and Canyon Overlook.
By car. However, remember that with the park’s rising popularity, parking becomes increasingly scarce, so consider arriving very early in the day or taking the shuttle. The Springdale-Zion shuttle is free and drops you at the pedestrian/bike park entrance. However, you still have farther to go to get into the heart of Zion. This is where the in-park shuttle buses come into play. The Zion shuttle buses run from the visitors center up Zion Scenic Drive to Zion Lodge, many of the trailheads (including Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail and Temple of Sinawava, the departure point for the Narrows). Reserve spots on this shuttle bus network in advance online.
Highway 9 from I-15 to Mt. Carmel Junction is considered the “Zion Scenic Drive.” It’s 54 miles long and you’ll want to plan on 1.5 hours to cover the entire distance. Drive it yourself or catch the free shuttle bus for the portion that runs through the park. This major access road winds its way past the park visitor center, the museum, through Zion Canyon, through the park’s mile-long tunnel, through the Checkerboard Mesa and on to Mt. Carmel Junction. Along the way, you’ll parallel the Virgin River in spots and cut through Hurricane, Virgin, Rockville and Springdale (before entering the park). Look out for bighorn ship along the way. Be sure to stop at Grafton ghost town, near the town of Rockville – there’s a famous site here that you may recognize from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Before we launch into all the amazing activities that could entertain you for a week, let’s review what you can do in one day in Zion National Park. Start your day with the sunrise at Canyon Overlook, followed by a stop at the visitor center. Hop on the shuttle bus for a ride to Zion Canyon and take a short hike. In the afternoon, drive to Kolob Canyon and hike some more! At day’s end, take in a gorgeous sunset and gaze at the stars above, so brilliant thanks to the lack of light pollution.
Hopefully, you have carved out more than one day for your vacation in Zion National Park. Here’s what not to miss:
If you’re a trekker, you’re asking, “What are the best hikes in Zion National Park?” And, we have the answers. Favorites include:
Observation Point: Your reward for this 8-mile (roundtrip) hike is a 6,521-foot perch on the top of Mount Baldy. From here, you’ll get a staggering view of most of Zion National Park’s top attractions, including Angels Landing and Echo Canyon.
Watchman Trail: You won’t climb the Watchman Spire (which stands 6,545 feet tall), but instead get a great view of it from this 3-mile (roundtrip) hiking trail. The trail itself only gains 400 feet in elevation, making it a favorite of beginner hikers. The trailhead is conveniently close to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
The Narrows: Plan to get wet on the Narrows hike, during which you’ll wade through a cold river up to your ankles (and sometimes your waist). One of the world’s best slot canyon hikes and the most popular hike in Zion National Park, it is tons of fun and accessible to all hiking abilities. Instead of a dirt trail, your route is the Virgin River itself.
So much! Before, after or in between the great hiking you’ll do in Zion National Park, try to fit in some of these other outdoor adventures.
ATV Adventures: While ATVs are not allowed within the boundaries of Zion National Park, you can ride on trails on private and public land right outside the park. Favorite 4×4 areas include Sand Hollow and Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
Horseback Riding: Saddle up for a trail ride by horseback and get up close and personal to the natural wonders of Zion National Park. Look out for wildlife along the varied terrain – you’ll have a better chance of seeing it this way as opposed to by car or shuttle bus. During the high season, you can take a horseback riding tour in Zion Canyon, while you can go year-round right outside the park.
Don’t stop at Zion National Park. From here, it’s easy to take on these rewarding destinations.
Snow Canyon State Park: Seen “The Martian”? You’ll feel like Matt Damon abandoned on Mars when you visit this otherworldly landscape. Pink and white cliffs, slickrock and black lava rock can be seen from the 15 hiking trails, bike path or horseback riding trails. Explore as you wish and consider staying in the year-round campground so you can view the sandstone cliffs as the sun sets.
Finally, Should I Visit Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park?
As for what you can do in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, the activities are fairly similar. If you want to spend time canyoneering and rappelling, spend more time in Zion. Both parks offer limitless hiking. Outside the parks, you’ll find mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing, ATVing and more – even skiing and snowboarding in the winter outside Bryce Canyon. So the answer to “Should I spend more time in Zion or Bryce” is strictly personal. We say, do both! Even if you’re really short on time, it is possible to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in one day – they’re just a 1.5-hour drive apart from each other.