Ultimate Guide of Things To Do in Zion National Park (For 1st Time Visitors)

0
13

Planning to visit Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah soon? We have some great tips below!

We recently visited Zion NP with our daughters and below are our top tips on things to do in Zion National Park including the best hikes, scenic drives, kid-friendly activities, plus information on camping in Zion, hotels near the park, getting around the park, and much more…

Zion Canyon overlook

With its immense red and white sandstone cliffs that reach out of the forested river bed to the brilliant blue of the sky, Zion Utah is a US wonder.

Zion’s towering sandstone monoliths, slot canyons, rock formations and hanging gardens attracts outdoor adventures and intrepid travelers from all over the globe.

It’s one of the most spectacular canyons in Utah.

But not only will Zion’s beauty capture your heart, but it’s epic adventures will give you memories to share around the campfire for the rest of your life!

Our kids now say that visiting Zion National Park currently sits along the Grand Canyon as their favorite national park in the USA.

And they love to share the story of how they attempted the terrifying Angels Landing hike (keep reading down below).

It is possible to visit Zion National Park in 24 hours however we recommend staying for at least two days.

Best Hikes in Zion National Park

angels landing zion national park

Zion National Park Utah is packed with adventures and hiking trails to suit all abilities and age levels.

The good news is the majority of the hikes in Zion are family-friendly!

Riverside Walk

This Riverside Walk is a super easy 2.2 mile return walk beside the Virgin River and one of the most popular trails in the park. It is the last stop on the shuttle bus at the Temple of Sinawava.

The paved trail takes you to the start of the Narrows.

You can continue into the Narrows for an adventurous hike wading through water into the narrowing canyon, or you can just stop at the end of the Riverside trail and watch others do it.

We saw loads of squirrels on this walk, and it is very pretty, and quite shady.

Hike the Narrows

There are a lot of factors to consider before deciding to hike the Narrows, especially with kids.

It may not be a good idea if the river is too high, bad weather is in the area (as it’s prone to flash floods) or the water is too cold.

It was all of the above for us when we visited in March, and the National Park closed the Zion Narrows hike during our visit.

You can hire wetsuits and booties to wear to keep you dry and warm…somewhat.

The Narrows is a hike focused on wading up the Virgin River, so you want to ensure you can handle it, and your kids can too.

It’s one of the most popular things to do in Zion National Park, and one of two famous Zion National Park hikes.

Craig and I hiked a fair bit of the Zion Narrows in the summer of 2006 and LOVED it.

We were disappointed we couldn’t do it with the girls this time, but in March the water was freezing (42F) and there was a lot of snowmelt and rain happening. It’s definitely the worst time of the year to attempt it.

Read More – a guide with tips on hiking the Narrows with Kids

Upper and Lower Emerald Pool

upper and lower emerald pools zion national park

The Lower Emerald Pool trail is short and one of the easiest Mt Zion National Park trails and leads to the Lower Emerald Pool and bottom of the waterfalls.

The Upper Emerald Pool Trail was closed when we visited due to rock fall.

Weeping Rock Trail

weeping rock zion national park

Weeping Rock is stop 6 on the shuttle bus and a very short 1/2 mile return walk.

It’s pretty steep but shouldn’t be a problem.

The paved trail ends at a rock alcove with dripping springs. It looks like the rock is weeping and at the right time of year the greenery will bring out a hanging garden – one of the cool things to see in Zion National Park!

Canyon Overlook Trail

 

The one-mile return Canyon Overlook Trail ends at the view pint of Pine Creek Canyon and lower Zion Canyon Utah.

The trail is rocky most of the way but is super cool as it passes through a couple of caves and you have a good chance of seeing Bighorn Sheep – one of the famous Zion National Park wildlife!

 

The views are extraordinary from here, possibly the best views in Zion park you’ll get.

The Court of The Patriarchs

Court of the PAtriarchs Zion National Park

This is an easy one for you!

Only a few short steps off the shuttle bus and you’ll be at a lovely viewpoint for the Court of the Patriarchs – that is the three massive sandstone peaks named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Bike the Pa’rus Trail

We didn’t get a chance to bike the Pa’rus Trail as the weather turned on us. Otherwise I would have loved to experience biking in Zion.

The trail is 3.5 miles round trip and follows the Virgin River from the campground to the Canon Junction. You can stop off at the Human History Museum along the way.

It’s the only trail that allows biking within the park.

Take on the Angel’s Landing Challenge
Angels Landing ahead

OMG! Are you ready for epic adventures and to take on the most thrilling of things to do in Zion National Park?

Should you hike Angel’s Landing with kids?

That is a fully loaded question and depends on various factors such as the age of your children, their hiking abilities, fear factor ability, strength of mind, crowd control, and YOUR abilities!

You can definitely take your kids to the top of the switchbacks, which is where the actual Angels Landing Trail begins.

Up until that point it is the West Rim Trail.

This is the easy part to the hike and is just over 1.5 miles long. The switchbacks take a lot of the strenuous out of the walk. If you’re not used to hiking you may need to take it slow and rest a bit.

My girls (aged 11 and 7) did this part of the walk easy, but they are used to hiking.

The tricky part of the Angels Landing Trail is from there onwards.

The warning sign informing you of the seven deaths since 2007 of climbers falling of the sides of the cliff will scare you!

But, when you think about it, this is damn good odds, considering Zion NP is the fourth most visited National Park in the country topping 4 million a year, and Angel’s Landing is the most popular of the Zion National Park hikes!

Nevertheless, you are a Momma bear and it will be a completely different perspective.

In 2006, Craig and I hiked to Scout’s Landing, which is the part before the really steep, narrow and challenging climax to the Angel’s Landing.

Craig has a fear of heights so we stopped here. I really regret not going all the way to the top on my own.

But, back then, the trail was very quiet so I think I was a bit nervous to go up on my own in case something happened and there wouldn’t be anyone around.

We were not faced with that experience this time.

I was gobsmacked at the difference! It was the crowds this time that held me back from going all the way to the top.

2019 crowds

I think the Zion NPS system needs to introduce some kind of permit system. Thankfully everyone on the trail was well behaved, careful, considerate and helping each other out.

We unknowingly ended up there during the start of Spring Break which I think intensified the crowds some what – there were loads of college students doing the hike.

So w decided to go up to Scout’s Landing with the girls which is about a 1/4 mile onwards from the top of the switchbacks.

I found this challenge exhilarating and fun when Craig and I did it in 2006, although as mentioned we were sharing the trail with just ourselves.

Craig and the 2006 crowds

Hiking Angels Landing Zion NP – look at the difference!! No one around.[/caption]

This time I was petrified.

Only because I was with the girls and, of course, could only envision catastrophe as they held onto the chains and walked around the edge of the cliff on slippery sandy ground with only a drop off to their death at their back.

What was I thinking?

I held onto Savannah’s sweater with one hand and the chain with the other. Kalyra was killing me holding on the chain with her hand enclosed in the sweater as her hands were cold.

“Listen to me Kalyra, I’d rather your hands freeze than them slip off the chain now so grab it with your hands this instant!!

We got to Scout’s Landing and sat to enjoy the views over Zion Valley and take some deep breaths. Had the crowds not been as intense, we may have gone up to the top of Angels Landing with the girls, but I can’t say for sure.

It’s very narrow, steep and damn scary.

But what a thrill.

The views weren’t as stunning as when we went up in 2006.

hiking zion national park utahHiking Angel Falls Zion NP

The sun was shining bright and had washed it all out and the trees below were stripped of their leaves so the vivid green carpet of the canyon floor was gone.

I remember in 2006 it being overcast and so gave us one of the most dramatic and stunning views on the planet and that red rock really stood out.

2019, Angels Landing view

I’d recommend hiking Angels Landing early in the morning to avoid the crowds and perhaps get better light, or an overcast day. With the direction the sun moves in I think it would be pretty washed out at any time of the day.

Let me know in the comments if you’d hike Angel’s Landing with kids, or if you have done it before?

Both my girls did an extraordinary job, but both are adventurous and experienced hikers and often do rock climbing summer camps.

Next time they wear a harness up there!!

Observation Point & Hidden Canyon Trails

Due to weather, Observation Point Trail and Hidden Canyon trails were closed. I have done Hidden Canyon before and it was awesome. Do your research before doing these hikes with kids.

We also did not get to Kolob Canyon due to the weather, we thought it was best to save that for another time as some parts were still closed.

AND, we’d also love to do one of the horseback riding trails next time!

Scenic Drives
Zion-Carmel Tunnel Scenic Drive

One of the top things to do in Zion National Park is the scenic drive running east to west through the park.

It goes through the Zion- Mount Carmel Tunnel and finishes at the Eastern entrance to the park.

This is a great road to take if you are continuing your Utah trip to Bryce Canyon National Park – which we highly recommend as it’s one of the best places to visit in Utah!

The tunnel is a mile long and narrow so if you have a large RV, you will need a special permit and an escort to get you through the tunnel.

When we visited it was closed to larger vehicles due to maintenance issues with the tunnel. It had only just reopened after a collapse.

zion national park scenic drive

We spent a morning enjoying the drive. The scenery on the eastern side of the park is very different as it is higher.

The cliff faces and rocks will be more orange and yellow in color and you’ll find more pine trees and animals like bighorn sheep due to its higher elevation.

The views in the main Zion Canyon as you head up towards the tunnel are exquisite. You get the full effect of the valley green and jagged red mountains of Zion Canyon National Park.

Don’t miss the observation point at Canyon Overlook, it’s a Zion National Park must see!

Activities in Zion
Enjoy a Picnic at Zion Lodge (+ local craft brew for the Mum and Dad)

springdale ipa zion national park

In the center of Zion Park is Zion Lodge a great place to stop and rest for a while.

It’s also the starting point for the Lower and Upper Emerald Trail.

There is a large grassed area with a gorgeous gigantic tree in the middle of it. Bring your own picnic lunch and enjoy the sunshine and views of the canyon walls. There is also a cafeteria here and a restaurant with an outside deck overlooking the canyon.

We had quite a lovely veggie burger here.

You may even want to grab a local craft brew from the outside bar. We had a delicious IPA from Springdale. It went down well after a day of hiking.

Do the Junior Rangers Program

“Yay! We can get the Junior Rangers book!”

The girls exclaimed when we cycled through the gates of Zion Canyon National Park.

I LOVE the Junior Ranger program. It’s one of the best things to do in Zion with kids and the BEST way for kids to connect to the National Park experience and learn without realizing they are learning.

The girls take every break they can – while we’re eating lunch, in the car, when we come home after a day of exploring, to complete all the activities.

I LOVE it because it takes care of my science curriculum for homeschooling.

I don’t teach science at all. They learn so much from interacting with life every day and doing activities like this which also take care of many literacy skills.

Savannah and I were even comparing peak heights the other day so math was part of the experience. Whoop Whoop.

Be sure to pick up your Junior Ranger books from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. (link)

Complete the required activities then pop back to see a ranger and get your Junior Ranger badge. The kids will pledge they will take care of the environment (so important!).

The girls are determined to get one badge from every national park we visit.

Attend a Ranger Talk

This is one of the requirements for your Junior Ranger badge and is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the flora and fauna of the park.

We attended a park ranger talk on the biodiversity of Zion Park Utah which was really informative and interesting.

I even learned quite a bit and it was interesting to discover the different ecosystems and plants and animals within the different parts of the national park.

Bonus Zion National Park Video

Planning a Trip to Zion National Park
Where is Zion National Park?

Zion NP is located on State Route 9 near St. George and Springdale Utah.

It is 30 miles in length and 15 miles across at its widest point, totaling 148,000 acres of beauty and adventures.

Elevation in Zion ranges from 4,000 – 8,700 feet which means there are many types of habitats (grassland, desert, wetland, riparian, and forest) and plant and animal species.

It’s a unique national park in Utah to explore (Utah has four of them!)

Getting to Zion National Park

Las Vegas to Zion:

  • Distance: 160 miles
  • Time: approx 2.5 hours

Salt Lake City to Zion:

  • Distance: 308 miles
  • Time: approx 4.5 hours

St George to Zion:

  • Distance: 41 miles
  • Time: approx 1 hour

If you don’t have your own vehicle, below are links to search for rental cars:

  • Check here for car hire from Las Vegas
  • Check here for car hire from St George

For flights to Zion National Park search on Skyscanner and Momondo.

Getting around Zion National Park on the Free Shuttle

For most of the year, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by shuttle bus.

The buses run frequently (departing from the Visitor’s Center) and you’ll never have to wait more than 15 minutes.

There is room for at least three bicycles on the shuttle if you choose to cycle along the main road through the canyon and get too tired and need help getting back,

There is also a shuttle that runs from the nearby town of Springdale into Zion National Park.

For Zion National Park parking, either leave your car at your hotel, park in one of the approved parking areas in Springdale or at the Visitor’s Center.

We rode our bikes in from our campground, which was a mile away.

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

Zion Lodge is the only Zion National Park lodging “inside” the park. It is three miles north on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and open year-round.

There are motel rooms, cabins, and suites available. Reservations highly recommended!

Places to Stay near Zion National Park

For lodging near Zion National Park, your best bet is the town of Springdale Utah.

  • We stayed at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Park one mile from the Zion National Park entrance. It was a great for camping near Zion National park with plenty of shade and by the river. It’s walking distance to many shops and restaurants. And it’s a good spot if you’re looking for Zion National Park RV camping. They also have Quality Inn Hotel attached to it.

Zion Canyon Campground and RV ParkZion Canyon Campground and RV Park

  • La Quinta by Wyndham is one of the best selling hotels near Zion in Springdale, 3 miles from the entrance to Zion. Read more reviews and book your stay through Booking.com
  • Best Western Plus Zion Inn & Suites has an outdoor pool, hot tub and gorgeous views. Comes highly rated as one of the best places to stay near Zion. Read more reviews and book your stay here.
  • Previous guests rave about the location, views, cleanliness and features of Flanigan’s Inn. Read more reviews and book your stay here.
  • The self-contained Watchman Villas provide a comfortable and modern stay near Zion with gorgeous views of the mountain.  Perfect for families and large groups. Read more reviews and book your stay here.
  • For motels near Zion go here.
  • Airbnb has unique properties in the Springdale area like this treetop apartment with views and yurt! Find more here.

Camping in Zion National Park

There are three campgrounds in Zion.

Watchman and South Campground are in the main canyon and Lava Point campground is on the Kolob Terrace road.

It’s best to reserve far in advance for Zion National Park camping as it is super popular. Watchman and South Campground are closed for the winter season!

Tours to Zion National Park

If you can’t get yourself to explore Zion National Park by yourself, you may want to consider the following tours:

From the Golden Gate Bridge to glowing canyon walls at sunset, this G Adventures National Parks and Bright Lights tour captures the beauty of the cities and wilderness of the western US, incorporating Zion National Park.

See more here. 

More Travel Tips for Southern Utah

Looking for more Utah travel tips? Start with these articles:

  • ATV Adventures in Sand Hollow State Park, St. George
  • Things to do in Utah bucket list

I hope this Zion travel guide helped you decide on what to do in Zion National Park. If you still have questions about what to see in Zion, leave a comment below.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here