Enchanting. That is the best word to describe everything from the sandstone cliffs, slot canyons, hanging gardens, and wild animals that Zion National Park has to offer. I truly didn’t know how much beauty and wonder was packed Zion National Park before I visited it! I’m not sure why I didn’t know that given its distinction as the first National Park in Utah, a state filled with wilderness wonders.
While there’s plenty of hiking to be done in Zion, the over 2,000 foot cliffs that dominate the park are world renowned for climbing. However, the Park recommends only experienced climbers take on these adventurous big wall climbs.
From the Narrows hike that is a literal walk in the Virgin River to the heart dropping cliff hike on Angels Landing, Zion offers plenty of days hikes on trails that are unique and exciting. Of course, each hike also offers its own unique beauty.
Hiking in Zion requires a little more patience than other National Parks. The Scenic Drive is the main road that provides access to many of the popular trails in the Zion Canyon area. During peak season and popular days (e.g., long weekends) in other seasons, Zion operates a mandatory shuttle system and the Scenic Drive is closed to all private vehicles. The shuttle is easy to navigate with There is one parking lot by the visitor center near the Springdale, Utah entrance to the park. However, the lot gets full fairly quickly. The shuttle system is easy to navigate (9 stops) with each stop marked with all the trail heads in the area.
– Observation Point
– The Narrows
– Angels Landing
– Emerald Pools
Major airports in Las Vegas (125 miles) or Salt Lake City (300 miles) are the closest to Zion National Park. There are smaller airports in St. George, Utah (49 miles) and Cedar City, Utah (60 miles), but keep in mind that travel to and from these airports are likely to be more expensive and offer less options. Zion is also close to Bryce Canyon National Park (86 miles) and Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim (126 miles) and South Rim (253 miles).
Zion’s south entrance (Canyon Area) is right outside the town limits of Springdale, Utah. If you can’t get into the park early enough in the morning to grab one of the coveted parking spots, park the car in Springdale (fee required) and take the Springdale Town Shuttle (free). Visitors coming into Zion via the shuttle are still responsible for paying the park entrance fee. This entrance is also drivable distance from the towns of Hurricane and Rockville (under 30 minutes).
The east entrance to the park is located 12 miles from the small town of Mt. Carmel Junction. The Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel connects the east part of the park to the Zion Canyon area. During my visit, I drove through the tunnel and it was a unique experience unto itself. The town of Kanab is also within drivable distance (under 30 miles) to Zion.
The Kolob Canyons entrance is the north entrance to the park. It is 40 miles from the Zion Canyon area and the closes town to this entrance is Cedar City (17 miles). The 5-mile Kolob Canyons Road provides visitors unbelievable views of the Zion Canyons. This is also the area that is most popular with climbers and backpackers. In fact, wilderness and canyoneering permits are obtained at the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center.
As with other National Parks, there is an entrance fee to Zion National Park. A seven day pass for cars/other vehicles is $35 and $30 for motorcycles. Visitors can also walk or bike into the park for $20/per person. There are annual pass options as well – $70 for unlimited entrance to Zion for one year or $80 for unlimited entrance to any National Park or any other public lands operated by the National Park Service.
Zion Lodge is the only hotel option within the park boundary. As with most hotels inside National Parks, reservations for the Zion Lodge opens nearly a year in advance (13 months for the Zion Lodge) and will require a deposit equal the first night. Reservations can be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to your stay.
There are also three campgrounds within Zion. The Watchman Campground is open year round and right next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. South Campground is also in the Zion Canyon area but only open seasonally. The Lava Point Campground is located an hour away and also opens seasonally. Reservations for are required from March through November. There are few walk-up reservations available each day but usually fill up by midmorning. Each regular campsite is drive-up and costs $20. The costs of group sites and sites with hook-ups services vary by site.
I spent three nights in the Watchman Campground. Sleeping the night under the starry sky surrounded by large canyons is an experience I’d highly recommend, even just for a night.
The town of Springdale immediately outside the entrance to Zion National Park and offers several lodging options ranging from expensive to moderately priced. St. George, UT located an hour outside Zion is also an alternate option for lodging. The smaller towns of Hurricane and Rockville also offer moderately priced hotels and plenty of beauty Airbnb options.