Desert oases, massive cliffs, and winding roads will inspire you as you travel through Zion National Park. Your mouth will drop open in awe as you enter the park and the red canyon walls spread up imposingly above you. After visiting the park three times, I have created the perfect Zion National park itinerary to get the most out your trip.
Get all my best tips and things you have to know before you visit this famous park in Springdale, Utah. Explore some of the most beautiful landscapes and two of the best hikes in the country on this wonderful itinerary below!
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Table of Contents
Things to Know About Zion
What is Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is unique because it is one of the only places you can explore through the grounds of a canyon. The park features bright red cliffs as it follows along the path of the Virgin River. Along the way you can see stunning emerald pools, grand sandstone cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. It’s a park that will leave you wanting more!
Where to Stay?
Springdale is located right outside of the park and is the area that most people stay in. There are plenty of hotels and lodging options in town. If you want to go a little farther, you can stay in the towns of Hurricane, St. George, or Kanab. These towns also have plenty to do and things to see within them as well. We spent a whole week just exploring Kanab.
If you’re looking for something a little more unique, then you can even glamp around Zion. If you’re like us and you’re planning on camping out on free land, then you can find great spots near Gooseberry Mesa or the Kolob Reservoir.
Facts You Need to Know
Zion is one of the most popular parks to visit, so there are plenty of people that come from all around to visit.
- The fee to get into the park is $35 per vehicle or you can use one of the interagency passes to get in.
- Most of the year the park runs shuttle buses on the scenic drive and does not allow any private vehicles. The shuttle buses leave from the visitor center and make plenty of stops along the way. If you want to get a parking spot at the visitor center, then you’ll need to get to the park early in the day. Also, the shuttle lines can get very long, so expect to wait for a bus at peak times. During popular months, parking fills quickly and you will end up having to park in town and paying a fee. There is a shuttle that runs during the warmer months to pick up people in Springdale and take them into the park.
- If you are coming from the East side, then you’ll need to travel through the Mount Carmel Tunnel. This tunnel is not open 24 hours a day, so you’ll need to look at when it is open online. There is also a fee for oversized vehicles, because traffic control has to help them get through the tunnel.
Things You Must Do in Zion
Cruise down the Scenic Drive
Driving through Zion National Park will absolutely blow you away and your jaw will drop at the beauty. For a lot of the year the scenic drive is closed to private vehicles, but you can still see this drive. Just hop on the shuttle from the visitor center and look out the windows. Many visitors also choose to bike the 8 mile scenic drive, because bikes are allowed all year long. You can stop along the way to take in the sights like the Court of the Patriarchs or Angels Landing.
Take a Hike
A Zion National Park itinerary is not complete if it doesn’t include a hike. There are so many amazing trails to choose from in the park. Choose the ones that sound the best to you based on the difficulty and the sights you’ll see. Below are descriptions of some of the very best hikes in the park.
This is known as being one of the scariest hikes in the country and taking it on is no easy feat. The trail climbs up more than 1000 feet and if you want to get to the top you’ll need to use chains to make it there. The top is beautiful and you can see far out into the canyon, but it’s hard to get there. T
he walk is extremely narrow at the top and the section with chains is not recommended for anyone that has a fear of heights. You can get a wonderful view even if you do not make it up the chains section. I have done this hike twice now, the first time was beautiful, the second time a snow storm blew in and I held onto the chains for dear life. Make sure to check the weather and if there is any uncertainty about the conditions, do not go. Beginning April 1, 2021 you will need to apply for permits to do this hike you can learn more about it here.
Go on one of the most famous hikes in the world at the Narrows. This hike allows you to walk through the waters of the Virgin River through the narrowest section of the canyon. Although the walk goes more than 4 miles in, you can turn around at any point once you’ve had your fill. It is a stunning hike and an incredibly unique experience. You may have to rent gear for the hike depending on the season and you can read more about that in my guide to hiking the Narrows.
This is another very popular trail in the park as you walk to an oasis in the middle of the desert. There are actually a few different pools along the walk: Lower Pools, Middle Pools, and Upper Pools. Again, you do not have to do the whole hike, it gets harder as it gets to the Upper Pools. This is a great family friendly hike and it is easy to access from Zion Lodge. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to swim in the pools, but they are still wonderful to see.
If you don’t have time for the Narrows, you can add this hike to your Zion National Park itinerary. This trail follows the Virgin River and is very peaceful. It is also the beginning of the Narrows hike, so you’ll be able to see the beginning of the Narrows once you get to the end of the trail. It’s very family friendly and a wonderful way to see this part of the park.
Visit a different area of the park when you visit the Canyon Overlook Trail. You will need to make your way through the Mount Carmel Tunnel to access this trail. There is very little parking, so you may want to get there early or be flexible with your plans. This hike continues up the canyon and you’ll be able to see a stunning panoramic view over Zion from the top. It’s far easier than Angel’s Landing, so it’s a great option if you want to see the park from above.
You can find this trail right next to the Visitor Center. The walk starts easily, but then goes uphill a bit. From here, you will get to see wonderful views of the Southern end of the park and Springdale. It’s a great sunset walk because you’ll be able to see the colors change over the park.
This hike is an easy add on to any trip into Zion. The trail is very short and takes you to a viewpoint of the Court of the Patriarchs. These three sandstone cliffs stand imposingly over the canyon below and are wonderful to see.
If you’re looking for a hike that is accessible for bikes, wheelchairs, and pets, then this is the one for you. The trail is wide and paved, so it’s great for families! The scenery may not be as stunning as other parts, but you still get wonderful scenes in the canyon and near the Virgin River.
Perfect Zion National Park Itinerary
Below you can find my suggested Zion National Park itinerary for one weekend. This itinerary assumes that you want to hike and that you will arrive in the afternoon on Friday and leave on Sunday. If you are not coming from the East side, you can switch the two sunset hikes as well. You can change things around to make them work for you! Canyon Overlook Trail for Sunset (1 hour)
Head to this hike for sunset on Friday, so that you can get a wonderful first look at the park. This trail’s viewpoint climbs its way up and gives wonderful views below. Once you’ve completed the hike, you can drive through the stunning scenery to Springdale for the night or to wherever you’re staying for the night.
Choose one of these two difficult hikes to start your true adventures in the park. They will both take a few hours and are pretty tiring. You will need to take the shuttle from the visitor center to either the Grotto to get to Angels Landing or the Temple of Sinawava to access the Narrows. Once you’re done, you will probably want to fuel up and take a rest.
If you have more energy, you can add on a couple shorter hikes in the middle of the day. Hike to the Emerald Pools and turn around when you get tired or visit the Court of the Patriarchs for an easy add on to any day. You can take the shuttle from your previous hike to easily access this hikes.
For those with enough energy, they can go on one last sunset hike. Watchman Trail provides beautiful views of sunset and is the perfect way to end your day in the park. It will take a couple hours, so make sure you leave enough time in your schedule if you want to do this hike.
Once you’ve finished hiking around the park, you’ll probably be ready to eat something delicious. Head to one of the great spots in town like: Thai Sapa, Zion Pizza & Noodle Co, Zion Canyon Brew Pub, or Spotted Dog Cafe. Then, you can get some rest before one last big hike in the park.
Spend your last day in the park doing one of these iconic hikes in the park. Again, remember to research these hikes before hitting the trails. Either one of these options will be the perfect send off from this beautiful park.
Zion National Park is one of my favorite parks in the country. Every time I go, it takes my breath away and leaves me wanting more. I am already planning my next trip back into the park. I hope you love this park as much as I do and that this Zion National Park itinerary helps!
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