Zion National Park Travel Guide

October 29, 2021

Zion National Park Travel Guide

Recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, Zion National Park is one of the earliest areas of the United States set apart for nature preservation and public enjoyment. The red-rocked canyons provide some of the most scenic areas of the country.  

While Zion might be best known for its hiking trails, there is a variety of activities for people who want to photograph wildlife and geologic formations, discover more than 1000 species of plant life, learn about the people and history of the region. 

Get to Know Zion National Park

Region: Rocky Mountain 
State: Utah 
URL https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm 
Webcams: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm  
Established: November 19, 1919 
President: Woodrow Wilson 
By the numbers: 

  • 4 million+ visitors per year (2019)
  • 2.2 million+ acres
  • Lat. 44.3936, Long -110.55633
  • 5 park entrances
  • 10 visitor centers
  • Highest elevation 11,358 ft.
  • Lowest elevation 5,282 ft.

the main entrance to Zion National Park

Entrances 

There are three main entrances into Zion National Park, plus numerous side roads that give you access. 

  1. East Entrance - If you are coming from any location to the east, take Route 89 to the small town of Mt. Carmel Junction, then head west on Route 9. After roughly 12 miles, you will reach the eastern border of Zion National Park.
  2. South Entrance - Take I-15 north just past St. George, Utah, get off at Exit 16, and follow Route 9 east. Follow Route 9 for 20 miles until you arrive in Springdale, the gateway to Zion National Park. 
  3. Kolob Canyons Entrance - On I-15 take Exit 40 toward Kolob Canyon. Take a left (coming from the North) or right (coming from the South) onto Kolob Canyon Rd and drive for about 5 miles.

Visitor Centers

There are 2 Visitor Centers in the park plus the Park Museum. 

Zion Canyon Visitor Center - Is located just inside the South Entrance of the park near Springdale. Opens at 8 am and depending on the season closes from 5 pm to 8 pm. 

Kolob Canyon Visitor Center - Located in the Western corner of the park. Just off of I-15’s exit 40. This visitor center is open at 8 am and depending on the season will close at 4:30 or 5 pm. 

Zion National Park Museum -  Open 10 am to 5 pm with longer hours in the summer and is generally closed November through February. There are permanent and temporary exhibits displaying the history of the park with a video that runs every half hour. 

Phone: 435-772-3256  Recorded park information is available 24 hours a day. Phones are answered 9 am to 4 pm Mountain Daylight Time. 

Journal about Your Unique Experiences in Zion National Park with a National Parks Bucket Journal

Memories are best made with adventure! All 63 US National Parks are full of unique experiences, dramatic views and natural wonders you simply have to see to believe. 

With a National Parks Bucket Journal, you will never forget the trips you take, the adventures you have, and the people you share it with. A bucket journal makes recording your trip's highlights, and planning your next adventure that much easier! 

Entrance Fees

Passes are good for entry for 7 days from the date of purchase. 

  • $35 non-commercial vehicle
  • $30 motorcycle
  • $20 on foot, bicycle
  • $35 non-commercial organized groups. Youth 15 and under are free.
  • Free Access for Veterans and Gold Star Families

Park Hours and Access

Zion National Park is open daily, 24 hours a day, year-round, although activities and services are limited at night and at certain times of the year. Check the NPS website for details about the season you will be visiting and check online for the park newspaper available for the current season. https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/news/newspaper.htm  

Open all year? Yes. The busiest times to visit Zion National Park are from March through September, and the busiest month overall is in July.

Closest Airports

If you are not close enough to drive to Zion National Park try flying into one of several airports and then renting a car and driving to the park.

  • McCarran Airport [LAS] - 172 miles, 2 hrs 40 min
  • Salt Lake City Airport [SLC] - 312 miles, 4 hrs 19 mins

Or try a regional airport, limited commercial flights from either major airport. Both accept flights from Delta, United, and American Airlines.

  • Cedar City Airport [CDC] - 60 miles, 1 hrs 6 mins
  • St. George Airport [SGU] - 47 miles, 1 hrs 9 mins

a starry night in zion national park

Things To Do

There are so many outdoor activities inside the park, be sure to take time and appreciate the wildlife around you. There are countless opportunities to photograph the beauty around you as well.

This rocky terrain presents many opportunities for rock climbing, canyoneering, hiking, and backpacking. Cool off in the water with a rafting trip down the Santa Clara or Virgin rivers or find one of the great swimming holes along the Virgin River. Enjoy reconnecting with nature as you go camping or stargazing. There are also biking opportunities and ranger-led programs.

Check out some other nearby sites to visit like The Grand Canyon, Parashant National Monument, Kaibab National Forest, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Dixie National Forest, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, or Quail Creek and Sand Hollow State Parks.

How Much Time Do You Need to Explore Zion National Park?

We recommend spending three days getting acquainted with all the hiking opportunities Zion has to offer. 

If you have one day in the summer, be sure to take in Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, and the Pa’rus Trail.

Take the shuttle to the last stop #8 Temple of Sinawava and take Riverside Walk Trail until you get to the Narrows. Head back to the trailhead, catch the shuttle and enjoy the scenery back to the Visitor Center. This will give you an all-around, spectacular view of Zion NP. 

Try this three-day itinerary from Utah.com 

My Bucket Journals Recommends

These are our favorite things to do in Zion National Park 

  • Visit the Human History Museum
  • Walk or Bike the Pa’rus Trail
  • Tale a Ranger-led walk on the Grotto Trail
  • Sunset at Kolob Canyons Viewpoint
  • Go stargazing, Zion is an International Dark Sky Park!
  • Hike Archaeology Trail
  • Drive Mt Carmel Highway

man in a hiking train in zion national park

Hike the Trails 

There are five areas to explore in Zion National Park, each with a selection of easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes. Hiking the trails of Zion National Park can provide lasting memories, but this environment can be harsh and unforgiving. Most Zion Canyon hikes are accessible only by the park shuttle from March through November and require stopping at the appropriate shuttle stop. Be sure to check the shuttle schedule prior to starting your trip and arrive early to find parking. All available parking fills quickly during the peak summer season.

We’ve highlighted the 9 most popular trails in this guide and provided links to the National Park website so you can search the others.

Zion Canyon Trails

Pa’rus Trail - Shuttle stop #1 or #3, pets are welcome. The round trip distance is 3.5  miles and will take about 2 hours. A paved trail that follows the Virgin River from the South Campground to Canyon Junction. This trail is handicap accessible, but wheelchairs may need assistance. Trailside exhibits. This is the only trail in Zion National Park that allows both pets (on a leash up to 6 feet) and bicycles. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Visitor Center. {Easy} 

Lower Emerald Pool Trail - Shuttle stop #5. The trailhead is across the road from the Zion Lodge. The round trip distance is 1.2 miles and will take about an hour. Paved trail leads to the Lower Emerald Pool and waterfalls. Swimming is prohibited in the Emerald Pools. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Zion Lodge. {Easy} 

Grotto Trail - Shuttle stop #5 or #6. The trailhead is behind the shuttle stop at the Zion Lodge or can be accessed from the Grotto behind the historic stone building. The round trip distance is 1 mile and will take about 30 minutes. The trail connects the Zion Lodge to the Grotto and is near the road most of the way. This trail is a great place to view wildlife. Restrooms are available at both the Lodge and the Grotto. {Easy} 

Riverside Walk - Shuttle stop #9. The trailhead is adjacent to the restrooms and water refill station. The round trip distance is 2.2 miles and will take about 1.5 hours. Paved trail follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon. Trailside exhibits. The first 0.4 miles of the trail is accessible but past that point, there are several steep slopes. Deep sand may be present on the pavement after heavy rain. Some wheelchair users may need assistance. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Temple of Sinawava. {Easy} 

Watchman Trail - Shuttle stop #1. The trailhead is up the canyon and across the road, stay along the river to begin the trail. The round trip distance is 3.3 miles and will take about 2 hours. There are moderate drop-offs. Ends at the viewpoint of the Temples and Towers, lower Zion Canyon, Watchman Peak, and Springdale. The trail can be muddy when wet. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Visitor Center. {Moderate}

Sand Bench Trail - Shuttle stop #5. The trailhead is across the street from Zion Lodge. The round trip distance is 7.6 miles and will take about 5 hours. This trail is a commercial horse trail from March to October. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Zion Lodge. Alternate start available from the Court of the Patriarchs (no water of restrooms) makes the roundtrip closer to 5 miles. {Moderate} 

Middle Emerald Pools Trail - Shuttle stop #5. The trailhead is across the street from the Zion Lodge and then across the footbridge. The round trip distance is 2.2 miles and will take about 1.5 hours. This is an unpaved climb to a sandstone ledge that parallels the lower trail, but at a higher level. Moderate drop-offs. Connects to the other Emerald Pools trails and the Kayenta Trail. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Zion Lodge. {Moderate} 

Kayenta Trail - Shuttle stop #6. The trailhead is across the street from the shuttle stop and then across the footbridge. The round trip distance is 2 miles and will take about 1.5 hours. There are moderate drop-offs with an unpaved climb to the Emerald Pools. Connects the Grotto to the Emerald Pools Trails. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Grotto. {Moderate} 

Upper Emerald Pool Trail - Shuttle stop #6. The trailhead starts from the end of the Kayenta Trail, with a round trip distance of 1 mile which will take about an hour. There are minor drop-offs. A sandy and rocky trail that climbs to the Upper Emerald Pool at the base of a cliff. No swimming is allowed in the Emerald Pools. Make it a 3 mile (5 km) hike when added to the Kayenta Trail. {Moderate} 

Canyon Overlook Trail - No shuttle, must drive a personal vehicle to the east entrance of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. The round trip distance is 1 mile and will take about an hour. There are long drop-offs, mostly fenced. A rocky and uneven trail ends at a viewpoint for Pine Creek Canyon and Lower Zion Canyon.Parking is extremely limited, be prepared to try multiple times. Pit toilets are available in the parking area. {Moderate} 

beautiful landscape inside Zion National Park

Angels Landing Via West Rim Trail - Shuttle stop #6. The trailhead is across the road from the shuttle stop and then across the footbridge. The round trip distance is 5.4 miles and will take about 4 hours. This trail has long drop-offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights. The last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit. {Strenuous} 

The Narrows via Riverside Walk - Shuttle stop #9. The trailhead is adjacent to the shuttle stop and restrooms. The round trip distance can be up to 9.4 miles and can take up to 8 hours. This route is known as the bottom-up Narrows and does not require a permit. Hike in as far as you like, then hike back the way you came. Upstream travel beyond Big Spring or in Orderville Canyon is prohibited. At least 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. Travel is rough and slippery in cold, fast-flowing water. High water levels can prevent access.Before your hike, always check the weather and flash flood potential at the Visitor Center. Flash floods are deadly. https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/thenarrows.htm 

Kolob Canyon Trails 
https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/kolob-canyons-wilderness-hiking-trails.htm  

Timber Creek Overlook Trail - The trailhead is in the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint parking lot at the end of Kolob Canyons Road. Round trip distance is 1 mile, with a 100 ft elevation change. The Timber Creek Overlook Trail follows a small ridge with spectacular views of the Kolob Canyons, the Kolob Terrace, and the Pine Valley Mountains. {Easy}

Taylor Creek Trail -  The trailhead is on Kolob Canyons Road. Round trip distance 5 miles, 450 feet elevation change. Allow 3 to 4 hours roundtrip. The trail leads hikers deep into a narrow box canyon toward the Double Arch Alcove, where erosion has carved out natural openings in the Navajo sandstone. As the trail reaches the mouth of the canyon it enters the Zion Wilderness and begins to crisscross Taylor Creek. Winter conditions can be very icy and water crossings in the spring will get your feet wet. The trail passes the geologic formation of the Kanarraville Fold and two historic homestead cabins built in the early 1930s before arriving at the Double Arch Alcove. {Easy} 

Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail - The trailhead is on Kolob Canyons Road. This hike is not a loop. It is a 14-mile round trip, allow 8 hours. Elevation change of 1,037. After seven miles a spur trail leads hikers to a viewpoint where they can see the Kolob Arch. With a span of 287 feet and a thickness of 75 feet, the Kolob Arch is one of the world's largest natural arches. {Moderate} 

East Rim Area Trails 
https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/east-rim-wilderness-trail-descriptions.htm 

Kolob Terrace Trails 
https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/kolob-terrace-wilderness-trail-descriptions.htm 

Southwest Desert Trails 
https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/southwest-desert-wilderness-hiking-trails.htm 

the tunnel entrance at Mount Carmel

Scenic Drives 

Zion Canyon

You can only drive through Zion Canyon in your own car in the winter (the rest of the year it is accessible via shuttle or bike), but you can always drive the Mount Carmel Highway, a scenic byway that runs for 54 miles.  

Entering the byway from the West at the intersection of Hwy 9 and I-15, the main road that leads into the park’s South Entrance. The drive winds through towns like Hurricane, Virgin, Rockville, and Springdale before entering the park. This drive provides access to Zion Canyon, the park’s mile-long tunnel, goes through the Checkerboard Mesa, and parallels the Virgin River at many points. There is a fee to enter and drive through the park. 

Kolob Canyon

Separated from the main section of the national park, the Kolob Canyon area and its scenic drive are definitely less traveled and crowded. It is about a 10-mile roundtrip from the visitor center to Kolob Canyons Viewpoint and there are plenty of places to stop for stunning views.

Tours

There are many ways to enrich your visit to Zion National Park by participating in a ranger program, becoming a junior ranger, exploring as a young scientist, or going on a guided tour. 

The National Park Service requires specific authorizations for commercial businesses to operate in national parks. Approved companies provide a variety of services and tours inside Zion, including:

  • Canyoneering
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Off-roading / UTV
  • Petroglyphs and Ghost Towns
  • Rappelling
  • Rock Climbing
  • Sandboarding 
  • Scenic
  • Stargazing

Learn more at the National Park Website.

zion lodge with trees and a rock backdrop

Lodging in the Park

Zion Lodge - Is the only lodge in the park and is open year-round. There is a selection of motel rooms, cabins, and suites available. There is a gift shop, dining room, cafe, and post office. https://www.zionlodge.com/ 

Campgrounds

There are three campgrounds inside of Zion, each offering an exploration of different areas of the park. Use the map below to find locations and links to their individual websites.  

Watchman Campground

This campground is ¼ a mile from the South Entrance in Springdale, Utah. Mixed tent and RV campsites are available year-round, and group sites are available from March through November. All sites include a picnic table and fire ring. There are 95 sites with electric hookups, 65 RV sites, 69 tent-only sites, and 7 group sites. Reservations are required for all sites and must be made six months in advance at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232445 or by calling 877-444-6777. 

South Campground

This campground is ½ mile from the South Entrance in Springdale, Utah. Mixed tent, dry RV, and group campsites are available from March through October. All sites include a picnic table and fire ring. There are 117 sites total, 8 are tent only, and 4 group sites. Reservations must be made 14 days in advance at https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/272266 or by calling 877-444-6777. 

Lava Point Campground

The campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. There are 6 primitive campsites available first come, first serve. The campground has pit toilets and trash cans, but no water. Vehicles longer than 19 feet are not permitted on the road to the campground. Camping is permitted in designated campsites, but not in pullouts or parking lots. Open May through September, as weather allows. 

Several area campgrounds are a short drive from the park. Check the following links for more information.

Is it Hard to Get Reservations for Camping at Zion? 

Yes, nearly all reservations for the months of March through November are filled every night. That being said, if you are able to go on short notice, check for availability - you never know when a spot will open up! Reservations are required all year. To make a campground reservation visit www.recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777. 

Get Connected and Stay Safe

The National Park Service App (NPS App) features downloadable information for all the national park sites in the country, including Zion. This includes weather information, shuttle bus stops and times, and information to make your trip smoother and more interesting. 

Visitor TIP

Cellular service within the park is extremely limited. In order to make use of the app while in Zion, follow these simple steps before you arrive: 

  • Download the app.
  • In the app, select the "Settings" option.
  • Tap the choice "Download Offline Content." 

This gives you access to most of the app content (except alerts, calendar updates, and real-time updates, although accessing those items before leaving service will keep that information available in the app) Even without cellular service, the app will be able to share your location on the map and bring up all site content. 

Dig Deeper 

The NPS Zion Tour App gives you a historic tour of Zion National Park, while in the park or virtually from home. View historic and modern photographs, maps, and 3D laser scans, and read interesting summaries about many historic features. 

  • Road Guides- Follow along as you travel the Floor of the Valley Road (Zion Canyon Scenic Drive) and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway in Zion National Park.
  • Park History - In addition to seeing and reading about historic features, this interactive app also provides historic photographs and narratives about the history of Zion National Park, including information about the Civilian Conservation Corps, Union Pacific Railroad, Early Park Service History, and The Shuttle System. 

Available in Apple or Android app. https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/photosmultimedia/tour-of-zion-app.htm 

Online Map of the Park

Use our interactive map to plan your trip and view details about visitor centers, campgrounds, lodging, walking tours, and attractions.  

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the checkmarks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.  

If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

 

 

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