From the moment you approach the area of Zion National Park you will find yourself saying “WOW” numerous times! Once you step out into this land, you feel like you are in a dream. Surrounded by a magnificent maze of stunning beauty everywhere you turn, Zion will most definitely leave you speechless. Here is my Zion National Park travel tips and hiking guide to help you explore in Utah!
The area that is known as Zion National Park that lies along the geographical regions of the Colorado Plateau. These uniquely diverse features of red sandstone rock formations are a result of erosion, deposited sedimentation, lithification, and uplift occurring over millions of years. Zion is the oldest national park being designated as such in the year 1919. No matter how you enjoy Zion, it will touch your soul!
My visit to Zion was in May 2018 and I hope to share with you my experience here. As well as provide a hiking guide illustrating a few of the best trails in Zion National Park! I admit I was hesitant early on after reading about potential enormous crowds flocking to these parks in recent years. Not long ago, Zion National Park was receiving 2.5 million plus visitors per year, today it is up to 4.5 million visitors per year, according to the Zion Human History Museum information video. This museum is located at shuttle bus stop 2 in the park.
*Zion Park Visitor Travel Tip*
Due to limited onsite parking and to preserve the park, Zion National Park runs a shuttle system. There are two shuttle systems that assist you in getting around to and from and within the park. Springdale Shuttle is the town shuttle that offers at least 9 pick up stops to take you to and from the park entrance. Then the Zion Shuttle runs throughout the day taking you to several stops including Zion Lodge and to many trailheads such as Emerald Pools and Temple of Sinawava. There is no charge to use these shuttles according to the Zion National Park website.
Zion National Park History
This beautiful sanctuary of Zion is comprised of some very interesting geological features. The early farm settlers had a special appreciation for this area. The farmers knew how beneficial this combination of wide level open areas to grow food and a river to use for watering would be in growing seasons. The elevation variation of Zion also provides an ideal environment for other numerous plants and animals to thrive. Elevation in Zion ranges between 3666 to 8726.
Lodging Near Zion National Park
After plenty of research for places to stay in Zion National Park, we decide on the town of St. George, Utah. Other closer towns to Zion include Springdale, Hurricane, Cedar City, Kanab, and East Zion. There are plenty of lodging available with hotels and bed and breakfast accommodations located through these towns and the surrounding area.
Planning for Your Zion Park Visit
Mentally preparing for dealing with massive crowds and parking in Zion National Park, we discuss what our plan will be. The first thing on the list, is wake up very early. We are members of the Choice Hotel chain, therefore we stayed in a brand new, smoke free, Comfort Suites Hotel in beautiful St. George. As a member, they offer special promotions for example, stay two nights get one free. Our hotel is approximately a 45 minute drive away from Zion. We considered staying in Springdale since one of the front entrances to Zion National Park is here, but decide otherwise. The prices here are higher and had limited availability at the time we made our reservations. (End of April 2018).
Camping at Zion National Park
There are three campgrounds located Zion National Park. You will find South and Watchman campgrounds right in the park. Whereas Lava Point Campground is about an hour drive from Zion on Kolob Terrace Road.
*Zion Park Visitor Travel Lodging Tip*
If you are looking for the less busy, less trafficked areas to stay and park entrances, then you might consider Cedar City. It is on the way to Kolob Canyons. The charming small town of Kanab is off of U.S. 89 and has access to the East Entrance.
The Town of St. George Zion National Park
After arriving in St. George and settling into our room, we walk next door to Denny’s and enjoy tasty eggs and potatoes. I am always making extra preparations for meals and food during travel and road trips. Although we chose to keep dining low key on this trip, there are plenty of places to eat in St. George Utah! I have digestive issues and an autoimmune disorder so I look to find simple dining choices. We finish dinner then return to the room, shower, and crawl into bed early around 9 p.m.
We fell in love with the town of St. George Utah! Surrounded by the beauty of red cliff canyons and mystique mountains, this clean and vibrant community will entice you too! With its small town feel and big city culture, there is something for everyone to indulge in! Some of its amenities include: 50 miles of paved walking trails, 12 golf courses, theatre and nightlife! You will certainly get a taste of its vibrant culture and history when you tour Historic Downtown.
*Zion Park Visitor Travel Tip*: Tour Guides and Outfitters
Happy Trails Adventure Co.: 435-429-4498
ATV & Jeep Adventures: 888-656-2887
Bike Zion: 435-772-3033
Dig Paddle Sports: 435-467-9988
Aqua Sports: 435-688-343
Jacob’s Ranch Trail Rides: 435-635-1552
Mild to Wild Rhino Tours: 866-964-7961
Zion Jeep Tours: 435-668-3756
Skydive Zion: 435-635-3742
Zion Helicopters: 435-668-4185
Traveling to Zion National Park Begins
Our early morning wake up call has us tired, excited, and so jacked up about our hike to Angels Landing. We gather our light layers of clothing, ate breakfast, grab our water jugs, pack our turkey sandwiches and snacks with all cameras in hand and out the door we went.
*Zion Visitors Guide Tip*: Start Early
We set our alarm for 3:30 a.m. so that we might be on the road towards Zion by 4:30 a.m. However, during the night I hear at least two doors closing down the hall. I also heard them making noise and getting into their vehicle outside. In my mind I was thinking that these people were getting ahead of me, so I want to wake up now to stay ahead of them! So it goes to say, we were up at 3:15 a.m. and on the road by 4:20 a.m.
Arriving At Zion Canyon Park
We finally are on the road, which is mostly SR-9 to Zion by around 4:10 a.m. and arrive at the Zion Visitor Center parking lot around 4:45 a.m. It is dark everywhere! As you walk around the grounds, you definitely need a flashlight. We find our way to the restrooms and I am thankful they are open! Whew! This time in the morning, I am surprised to see there are about 7-8 cars parked in the parking lot near the front entrance. I also read and heard rumors about the traffic from St. George to Zion can be quite horrific, but we cruised right on into town passing only a few cars.
As a result of arriving so early in the park, the visitor entrance station and visitor center are not open yet. The fees to enter the park vary depending on your plans. Currently, the cost for a vehicle for a 7 day pass is $35, but we did not pay because the park cashier was not in this early. At the time of our visit to Zion, the cost of the 7 day pass was $30. Since then, we have purchased an annual pass for $80 for access to all national parks.
Bring Your Patience
While we wait patiently for the park to open, we mill around the grounds of the visitor center for a short while. Watching more people arrive in the parking lot, we go ahead and put our sunscreen on for the day and lock up the car. It is now about 5:30 a.m. and we head towards the area where the first shuttle bus stop is located. We find our spot in line for a departure time of 6 a.m. where we are taken to the bus stop to begin our first hike, Angels Landing West Rim Trail.
Getting Around Zion National Park
View from shuttle stop 1
As we stand in line waiting, (we are approximately 14th and 15th in line); we meet Paul from Australia. Paul is a very pleasant man, very well traveled, and we enjoy conversations with him immensely. Paul would end up tagging along with us most of the morning. He didn’t know which hike he was going to do until he asked us what our plans are. We told him we are starting with ‘Angels Landing’ and so he says he will hike that one as well. Paul has become one of our most fond memories of our first time in Zion hiking Angels Landing. This is what makes life so incredible. Meeting wonderful folks on the trails where you all share amazing experiences together in such magical places like Zion.
Make a Plan
I am listing below the primary points of interest that you may wish to include in your itinerary. I have also included a brief hiking guide to a few great hiking trails that you may wish to explore.
Zion National Park 8 Must See Stops
- Zion Human History Museum: (Shuttle stop 2)
Weeping Rock: Access to Weeping Rock Trail Hidden Canyon Trail, Observation Point Trail, East Rim Trail.
- Canyon Junction: Junction of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
- The Grotto: Shaded area for picnics and enjoy cottonwood trees. Restrooms.
- Court of the Patriarchs: Short and steep trail to viewpoints.
- Zion Lodge: Historic lodge right in the heart of Zion.
- Temple of Sinawava: The portal to the Narrows hiking trail.
- Big Bend: Views of the Virgin River, Angels Landing, and the Great White Throne.
- Zion Canyon Visitor Center: The starting point for Zion. Restrooms, picnic areas, water and information.
Guide For Hiking Zion National Park
Pa’rus Trail: 3.5 mi. Shuttle Stop 1
Lower Emerald Pools Trail: 1.2 mi. Shuttle Stop 5
The Grotto Trail: 1.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 6
Weeping Rock Trail: 0.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 7 *(Closed until further notice, due to fallen rock.* NPS.gov)
Watchman Trail: 3.3 mi. Shuttle Stop 1
Upper Emerald Pools Trail: 1.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 5
Sand Bench Trail: 1.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 5
Kayenta Trail: 2.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 6
Angels Landing: 5.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 6
Hidden Canyon Trail: 2.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 7
Observation Point: 8.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 7
The Narrows: 9.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 9
One of the best hikes in Zion and challenging is Angels Landing. Although the early lighting may be insufficient for best photos, it sure is a beautiful way to start your morning! This is a heart pumping, diverse trail with stunning views and colorful landscapes! Angels Landing in Zion National Park is challenging, interesting, and rewards you with a humbling experience! You will find this amazing trailhead across from the shuttle stop at the Grotto picnic area. Cross the footbridge passing over the North Fork of the Virgin River.
*Zion Park Visitor Hiking Tip*
Coming in January of 2022, a reservation system will be implemented and you will need to make a reservation in order to hike the ever so popular Angels Landing. There will be a lottery and an application fee of $6 just to apply, then another fee of $3 per person if you win the lottery. Thousands of people hike this trail daily.
Hiking Angels Landing Trail Zion
Don’t let the distance of this trail fool you. The 5.4 mile trek is full of challenging climbs and extraordinary views. It is important to not take this hike lightly, it can be dangerous and fatal situations have occurred. Please visit responsibility and show respect for this sandstone wonderland of beauty! The Angels Landing Trail is smooth and paved in some areas, you will also find stepping rock stones and narrow edges that require a rope chain to assist you in the climb. The switchback route contains an incline that will have you heavy breathing as you climb to the top of this 1,488 feet rock formation also known as Temple of Aeolus. It has a class 3 difficulty rating with razor thin pathways and staggering drop offs on each side. Yes, it will have you shaking in your shoes.
Hiking Hidden Canyon Trail Zion
As one of the more strenuous hiking trails in Zion National Park, it is quite striking in brilliance! Much of this 2.5 mile trail is on incline, narrow, and requires the use of chain handrails. There is nothing more thrilling than hanging on to the chain attached to the rock formation as you climb your way up! Be prepared for several switchbacks and steep pathways.
The trail leads you around the edge of the cliff where you will be enlightened by the stunning show of the main canyon and valley floor! I might consider this hike one that can help you avoid the crowds in the park. These are the spots I tend to explore because they are a little challenging and off the beaten path. Hidden Canyon Hiking Trail is not for everyone. Hidden Canyon is essentially a hanging canyon because of where it is located. Its location is on the side ravine between Cable Mountain and the north wall of the Great White Throne.
However, our personal opinion of this trail is we loved it! That we really had a great time hiking Hidden Canyon Trail. This one is an interesting trail and is not quite as difficult as Angels Landing, but does have its own unique challenges. This trail is about 2.5 miles round trip and also has areas where you need to hang onto the chain cable. Sections of the trail are slippery and narrow but have chain rails to assist you hug around the rock wall, boulders, and cliffs.
While at the summit you can enjoy magnificent views everywhere you turn! You may even see an impressive rock climber hanging from a slick steep rock wall across the canyon valley.
*Zion Hiking Historical Tip*
Hidden Canyon Zion has been placed on the list of Historic Places in February 1987.
Temple of Sinawava
This trail is one of the routes to reach the Narrows hiking trail. The 1.5 miles that we hiked is where the water starts to become the trail. Believe me, we do have a desire to hike this trail, but weren’t prepared for a water hike on this visit. So we remained in that area, relaxed for a while, and took it all in. One of the cool things to take notice of is the animals. The wildlife in Zion is quite abundant as well. We even made a few friends along the way.
Holiday Hype of National Parks
If you plan to visit any national park during a holiday, always be prepared to deal with heavy traffic and big crowds. In Zion during our visit, the park staff repeatedly mentioned that Memorial Day weekend is the busiest time of the year at Zion. Parks usually have extra volunteers positioned around the park to help with crowds, and this was the case in Zion. We hiked Angels Landing, Hidden Canyon Trail and Weeping Rock on a Saturday. Surprisingly, throughout the entire day, we didn’t notice the massive crazy crowds within the park. Of course, several folks are standing in line to catch the shuttles. The experience during this particular holiday weekend was quite pleasant. As a result of shuttles running on such a timely manner (probably every 3-5 minutes), only a few people are waiting longer at certain times. (*Info from our visit May 2018).
Be Careful And Respect Other Hikers
Prior to starting our journey back down, we notice more people are joining us at the summit already. (*Prior to 9 a.m.) We conclude the trail is now starting to get very busy and begin making our way down. This trail can get dangerous as a result of too many people, and can cause long delays waiting to take turns using the chains to guide you.
Be Prepared For Crowds
We end up in front of a group of about 10 people; and press forward. As we proceed on with our decent, we encounter a some people making their way up and of course taking turns using the chain cable on the trail. There is an area that you can bypass the chains going down, so we sat on our behinds and hands then slowly slid down the rock cliff near where the chains begin for steeper uphill part of the trail (longer lines of people can build in this area).
- Early Bird: We did not need to awaken so early. We can sleep at least another hour if staying in St. George. It does make your experience better if you do arrive early especially if its your first time visiting.
- Parking: We learned that if you arrive early enough, you can drive further into the park, and find parking spots. This can help avoid some of the crowds using the shuttles.
- Entrance Fees: If you arrive very early as well, the visitor center is not open until 8 a.m., and the park entrance cashier may not be there. We later purchased an Annual Pass which is great! The fee is $80 good for one year to use at all the National Parks.
- Fitness: Another idea on how to prepare for some of the hikes in Zion that require climbing is to exercise and strengthen your arm and leg muscles.
- Cameras and Cell Phones: Be careful while holding your phone cameras near waterfalls or rushing water. We saw a young lady drop her cell phone in the pool of water / waterfalls near the Temple of Sinawava stop near the Narrows trail head. It appears she did not find it again.
Packing List For Zion Hiking:
- Light layers of clothing: Cool mornings can warm up in later parts of the day.
- Hat or visor-(it can get windy at the summits, so hang on to your hat)
- Snacks, food, water or vitamin drink with electrolytes
- Cameras; make sure they are secure.
- Hiking Shoes: A good pair of hiking shoes to provide a better grip while climbing.
Overall, our road trip adventure to Zion was incredible and amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I heard folks say these words again and again, “Oh Wow!” Although our visit took place during a holiday weekend, we planned for the worst. But we also hoped for the best and we feel we got the best. It was perfect weather, manageable crowds, comfortable lodging, met an interesting friend, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Zion is just one of the stunning Mighty Five parks in Utah!
Want to see more red bluff cliffs, canyons, and parks? Check out more adventure in Utah!