9 Best Things to do in Zion National Park
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With a stunning scenic drive, incredible rock formations and adrenaline inducing rock climbing and canyoneering there are lots of fun things to do in Zion National Park together with its iconic hikes.
For those of you planning a trip to Zion, we’ve put together this list of our 15 best things to do in Zion National Park.
Zion National Park
Located beside the tiny town of Springdale in Utah, Zion is the 4th most popular National Park with over 4.5 million visitors in 2019. It is home of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world.
In the main section of the park red and white cliffs soar over the Virgin River and the Zion Canyon valley floor. The finger canyons and red Navajo sandstone cut through the north west section of the park in the more remote Kolob Canyon section of the park.
Where to stay in Zion
- Camping: There are two campsites, Watchman Campground and South Campground, within the park. Both campsites are located near the visitors center at the South entrance. At the Watchman sites are released for reservation on a 6 month rolling basis while in the South Campground it is on a 14 day rolling basis.
- Zion Lodge: located deep within the park the historic lodge offers a mix of cabins and hotel rooms. We’ve stayed in the Lodge and it’s a nice traditional option which really allows you to immerse yourself in the park. The lodge fills up well in advance so it’s worth checking your dates well in advance of your trip. We highly recommend staying here as its an incredible location – check prices here!
With limited accommodation in the park itself visitors to Zion typically stay in Springdale, a small town next to the south entrance. The Springdale Shuttle connects Springdale to the Zion Visitors Center and the Zion Shuttle so it is just as easy to stay adjacent to Zion and there are more food options in the town.
- Cable Mountain Lodge: great selection of family friendly rooms, excellent food and an outdoor pool overlooked by the Zion Watchman! Its location, adjacent to the Zion Visitors Center, means you can hop on the park shuttle bus and reach any of the trails within minutes. Our Zion favorite – check prices now!
- Flanigan’s Inn: just 10 minutes walk from the Zion entrance and located on a Springdale Shuttle stop, Flanigan’s Inn is a reasonably priced option with good sized clean rooms, a pool and a hot tub – check prices now!
9 Best Things to do in Zion
From a swim in the refreshing waters of the Virgin River to exploring the the Zion – Mount Carmel Scenic Highway, these are our 9 best things to do in Zion.
1 | Hiking
Zion is home to some incredible hikes and its trail draws millions of visitors each year. The hikes are an equal mix of easy, moderate and challenging and there are a variety of trails suitable for every level of hiker.
Some of the best hikes in Zion include the magnificent water-based Narrows, the adrenaline inducing Angels Landing and Canyon Overlook with its incredible views. Riverside Walk and Pa’rus are two great family-friendly options and Scout Lookout is the perfect option for those seeking the views from Angels Landing without the terrifying final ascent!
For a more extensive guide to the Zion hikes, including our take on the famous Angel’s Landing, then click here to read our guide to the best hikes in Zion.
Things to do in Zion tip: As of Winter 2020 there are a number of trails closed in Zion. Some trails are closed longer term due to a mix rockfall damage and trail maintenance. There are also some new closures while the park resumes limited operations as it reopens.
2 | Dip your toes in the Virgin River
There are great swimming spots along the Zion trails with swimming permitted anywhere in the Virgin River. Our favorite spots are at the beginning of the Watchman trail and under the shaded bridges along the Pa’Rus Trail. Another great option is the swimming holes along Lower Pine Creek just past the Canyon Junction. There is also river access along the Riverside Walk and across the road from the Zion Lodge.
Despite the name, swimming is not permitted in the Emerald Pools.
if you are feeling more adventurous Zion Adventures rents tubes for river tubing outside the park.
Things to do in Zion tip: always check the latest conditions in Zion to ensure safety in the park. For example, in July 2020 toxins from harmful algal bloom were recorded in the North Fork of the Virgin River – during these times visitors are not permitted to swim or submerge their heads in the river and dogs kept away from the river for safety.
3 | Drive the Zion Mount Carmel Scenic Highway
The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is a 10-mile scenic drive through the park from Zion Canyon to Mount Carmel. It passes over bridges, along switchbacks and through tunnels which cut through the deep stone mountains. The views are incredible and there are lots of places to park up and take a short hike to explore some more. Some of the best sights along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway include:
- Canyon Junction
- Canyon Overlook trail
- Checkboard Mesa
- Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
- Zion switchbacks
Things to do in Zion tip: the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the road which cuts through the floor of the canyon and passes by most of the hiking trail heads) is not accessible on this drive. It is only possible to drive along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive on the limited occasions when visitors numbers are low. Access to this drive is usually restricted to the Zion shuttle bus. For a better understanding of how to navigate Zion check out our guide to Zion National Park.
4 | Rock Climbing and Canyoneering
Surrounded by sandstone 1,000 foot tall, Zion’s towering canyon walls are a magnet for rock climbers. There are lots of grade IV and grave V climbs. Moonlight Buttress, Ashstar Command and the Headache are among the most popular climbing routes.
Zion has heaps of canyons to explore making it popular for canyoneering. The Subway, Mystery Canyon, Orderville Canyon and Pine Creek are among its most famous canyons and offer routes of varying degrees of difficulty.
Things to do in Zion tip: Permits are required for all technical canyoneering trips in Zion. This includes the Subway, Orderville Canyon, Mystery Canyon and Pine Creek.
5 | Learn More about Zion
There are lots of opportunities to learn about Zion while visiting the park:
- The Zion Human Nature Museum is an excellent stop and showcases the rich human history of Zion National Park.
- Free ranger-led walks, talks and shuttle tours are available throughout the year. The topics include Zion’s history, plant and animal life and the rock formations.
6 | Watch the Sunset at Canyon Junction
Spanning the Virgin River with the Watchman looming in the distance, Canyon Junction Bridge is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Zion. It is especially beautiful at sunset when the soft evening light illuminate the Watchman.
7 | Zion Wildlife
Zion National Park is home to a rich variety of wildlife and spotting the park’s resident wildlife is a highlight on the trails. Some of the most fascinating Zion wildlife includes:
- Mule deer are a common sight at dawn and dusk in the park. We’ve had some lovely deer sightings at Zion Lodge, in the meadows and along the Riverside Walk trail.
- The desert bighorn sheep are common in the East Canyon. If you are lucky you might spot some while hiking Canyon Overlook.
- The largest and rarest of America’s birds, California Condor soar over Zion’s canyons. Their population once fell to under 30 but a massive conservation effort has increased their numbers significantly.
- Some animals are likely to remain elusive to Zion Visitors. Mountain lions and Desert Tortoise reside in the park but are rarely seen by visitors. Tarantulas also inhabit Zion but are unlikely to make an appearance unless you bother them.
8 | Kids at Zion
If you are travelling with kids make sure to stop by the Visitors Center for details on how to acquire a Junior Ranger Badge. Junior ranger booklets are provided at the visitors center to help engage kids in the visit. A junior ranger badge is provided to kids who complete the junior ranger booklet and it is a nice treat
The Zion Nature Center is also great for younger visitors. Open during the summer months, it has activities and exhibits for kids. The Nature Center can be accessed via the Pa’rus trail from shuttle stop 1 and 2.
9 | Kolob Canyon
Finger canyons and red Navajo sandstone cut through the north west in the more remote Kolob Canyon section of the park. Although much less visited than the Zion Canyon section of the park, the Kolob Canyons Wilderness Trails and the permit only Subway draw visitors to Kolob Canyon. Our favorite hike is Timber Creek Overlook, a 1 hour trail with spectacular views over the valley.
Things to do in Zion tip: The Kolob Canyon section of Zion is accessed by a separate entrance which is about a 40 minute drive north west of Springdale
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