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9 Tips for Exploring Zion National Park Utah

For the best experience enjoying this century-old picturesque national treasure

Utah’s Zion National Park, known for it’s steep, pink-to-red sandstone cliffs and canyons, is an epic treat to explore. Taking shape over millions of geologic years, the Colorado Plateau mountains have lifted, and the Virgin River continues to erode the softer sandstone, creating a regal, colorful landscape that takes your breath away. The vantages within the narrowing Zion Classic Zion National Park - The Court of the Patriarchs (click any pic to enlarge)canyonlands offer views upward from the canyon floor, sometimes lofting 2000 ft (600 m) – unlike the Grand Canyon’s magnificent views downwards from the canyon rim.

We spent 4 days hiking, exploring and coursing amazing scenic points to get the best views of Zion National Park. Jump over to our Zion hiking recommendations post for the best spots to enjoy sweeping views, panoramic vistas and canyon colors.

But first, some preparation to enjoy this century-old picturesque national treasure …

9 Success Tips for your Zion National Park visit

Being in the Top 3 of National Parks for visits annually, navigating Zion National Park has its seasonal challenges. These tips should save you some time, money and stress in planning how to best get in, out and around Zion National Park.

1. When is the best time to visit? Zion’s busiest season is May thru September with over 62% of the visitors arriving Zion National Park East Gateduring this time (especially around National Holidays). We recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons of March and October – it’s cooler for hiking, the visitors are a fraction of the busy season and getting around Springdale and the main roads are far less frustrating. Skew your plans to late September into October and add the joy of the rich fall colors and that the Virgin River is warmer end of season if you plan to hike the Narrows.

2. How do I access Zion National Park? The entrance fee to Zion National Park is $35 per car (occupants included), good for 7 days. If you plan to park within the National Park boundary (for hiking), use the park shuttles or travel the scenic Highway 9 east towards Mt. Carmel Junction, a park pass is required.

3. What is the Zion Canyon Shuttle system? Due to seasonal busy-ness and to protect the sensitive ecosystems in and Zion Canyon Shuttle Systemaround the main canyon, Zion National Park shuts down automobile access to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from March 1st thru December 1st and operates an every-15-minute departing shuttle from the Visitor Center through all the stops and back to the Visitor Center (about 45 min one way end to end). Jump on, jump off as you like at the varying stops and hike, explore or just gaze in awe! (Zion Canyon Shuttle InfoGuide)

4. Where do I park if I want to hike the Canyons? Depending on how early in the day you plan to depart on your adventures, your frustration level is directly proportional to the proximity to midday busyness. avoid parking at the Zion Visitor Center midday or during high season!The Zion National Park Visitor Center has limited parking (maybe 200 spots) that fill quickly, so access between 11am and 3pm is fruitless. Springdale has hundreds of roadside parking spots (daily costs range from $12 to $20 a day depending on zone) all the way along Highway #9 leading into the park with a complimentary 15-minute shuttle that will take you directly to the Visitor Center to access the main Zion Canyon Shuttle System. In the busy season and during the busy dayparts, we recommend you start your day really early or simply park in Springdale and hop on the Springdale shuttle. Save the time and stress.  

5. An alternate suggestion to the busy shuttles and lineups at the gate – many of the outfitters and tourist shops rent e-bikes e-bike rentals for touring Zion National Parkfor daily or part-day use. Bypass the long lines of cars (a park permit is still required) and e-bike your way the 7 miles along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive closed to automobiles. It’s a nature-friendly means to take in the grandeur of the park and be able to stop and gaze in wonder at the new mountain vistas revealed at every turn. Costs are typically under $100 for full day with a range of bike power and speed selections.

6. Where can I see the best spots of Zion? The most sought-after highlights of Zion are The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. We wish the water conditions were better for us to hike through Zion Narrowsthe Narrows (a slot canyon sometimes as little as 30’ across with towering cliff walls. Your hike is in the water almost all this adventure – ranging from knee deep in summer and fall to 6-7’ deep in the rainy spring runoff season) but during our March adventure the water was 5’ deep, cold and in risk of flash flooding. Late summer and fall’s warmer, low water level would be an awesome time for this water hike adventure!

Angels Landing is as it sounds … a precipice outcrop 1800+ ft above the canyon floor (spectacular views though) gained by climbing switchbacks and across a thin knife-edge ridge with precipitous drop-offs on both sides. A spectacular accomplishment for the brave hearted – but remember a permit is required before you begin this trail.

The Watchman Trail overlook is breath-taking!These 2 trails are not for everyone, but there are so many other kid-friendly and vista lookouts easy to achieve without a professional hiker, will-of-steel skill set. Check out our review of hiking in Zion National Park for greater detail. We advocate hiking inside the Canyon one day (with lookouts like the Watchman Trail or the Court of the Patriarchs – daytime for the best light vantage), to the east at the Canyon Overlook Trail (before high noon) and beyond another day and a day to the west at the Kolob Canyon’s Timber Creek Overlook – especially at sunset to watch the play of yellows to reds along the cliff face and Butte (consider adding the Taylor Creek Middle Fork hike midday for the finger canyon and natural double arch).

7. We urge you to get outside the main canyon corridor – Zion National Park is so much more than simply the crazy-awesome views and hikes of the shuttled Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. check out the Kolob Canyon Taylor Creek Middle Fork trailFollow Highway #9’s scenic drive up the mountain, through the 1920’s-created tunnel and along the picturesque drive to the East Gates and beyond to Mount Carmel Junction. Additionally, head west to La Verkin and North to the Kolob Canyon area (this is part of Zion National Park and your pass allows access here as well). This under-visited and spectacular (especially late in the day towards sunset) Kolob Canyon Drive is stunning and each turn of the road reveals a new jaw-dropping finger canyon, mesa or butte.

8. Where are the best places to stay while Visiting Zion National Park? If you’re itching to have the complete Zion National Park experience, while expensive, you can stay right inside the Park at Alternately, Springdale has lots of hotel accommodations available. Zion National Park Lodge. Zion Wildflower Glamping staysBook really early if you are hoping to visit in peak season. Consider a mesa-top destination east of the main canyon at Zion Ponderosa Resort or one of the many Airbnb’s abound throughout the area.

To save a little bit of money, choose your stay a little outside of Springdale. In Virgin (15 miles west), there are fun glamping sites (like the Zion White Bison Glamping resort or the Zion Wildflower Resort) where you can stay in local glamping tents, luxury teepees or covered wagons. A novel western experience …

9. Forgot to bring some wine for your pizza? You’ve completed a successful day of hiking and you just want to bring Switchback Trading Company (and Steakhouse and Sportsbar)a pizza back to your room and relax with a glass of California red wine and the sunset-changing mountain view, but you’ve forgotten the wine (or beer). Utah’s alcohol is sold only through state run liquor stores and the nearest DABS liquor store is in Hurricane, 30 miles (50 km) away – yikes! Good news is that there is a mini store in Springdale within the Switchback Trading Company with a good-to-modest selection that will get you through. Best advice is to stop on the way in as you exit Highway 15 before Hurricane.  

  • Our coffee and breakfast recommendation:      ​

FeelLove Coffee & Cafe

  • Our pizza recommendation:

Zion Pizza and Noodle Co.

  • Our lunch (Brew Pub) recommendation:

Zion Canyon Brew Pub

Official sites to help plan your visit:

We hope these tips help condense the volume of resources and help you enjoy the extraordinary landscapes of Utah’s Zion National Park – at the right time, in the right way, with experienced tips to organize your travel plans.

Ready for some hiking adventures to see the park up close. Here's our 10 hiking recommendations that include the main Zion Canyon Scenic Interior, east through the century old tunnel along Highway #9 and west into the Kolob Canyon area. Zion National Park truly is rich in the WOW perspectives!

Do you have additional tips to add? We’d love to hear. Drop a comment below or connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

 

 

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