National Park Guide: Zion National Park in Utah

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Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah is the most popular park in Utah and, with over five million visitors every year, one of the most popular parks in America. The park spans over 124,000 acres, with over 90 miles of hiking trails and plenty of family friendly activities. Rock squirrels and deer are EVERYWHERE and neither animal is afraid of humans. We frequently saw deer come within a few yards of people in several spots, and the squirrels come very close to people, hoping for food (don’t feed them!) Learn more about other animals who call the park home here. We spent two full days in the park and two nights at the Zion Lodge (we loved it and were so grateful to stay IN the park- more information below) and it was the perfect amount of time to take a few hikes and participate in other park programs.


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Transportation and Parking Tips: Most people park in the main Visitor Center parking lots, which has hundreds of spots. There are small lots, and pullovers, located throughout the park and near major trailheads. However, the park is considered “car free” and strongly encourages people to park in the Visitor Center and take the (free) shuttle which has several stops throughout the park. Check for updates on hours of operation for the shuttle here. If the parking inside the park are full, guests can park in town and take a shuttle (or walk) into the park (there are fees for walkers/cyclists, cars, and RVs). During peak summer season, the main parking lot fills before 7am and the line for the shuttle can last for over 2 hours- we saw it ourselves.

 Restrooms: Located at the Visitor Center, Zion Lodge, and most major trail entrances near the shuttle stops. More information on restrooms and accessibility here.

Things to Do at the Visitor Center: The plaza of the Visitor Center showcases several boards explaining the geology and geography of the park. The main pick up for the shuttle and restrooms are also located in the Visitor Center plaza. The bookstore and gift shop offer plenty of souvenir options; don’t forget to get passport stamps. Kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet to complete and earn a Junior Ranger badge. Read the latest issue of the Park newsletter with updated information pertaining to the Visit Center here.

Eating in the Park: The only spot to get food is located at the Zion Lodge. The Castle Dome Café offers quick service options for breakfast and lunch (typically open from 7:30am-4pm) and the Red Rock Grill Dining Room is available indoor and outdoor dining for lunch and dinner (typically open from 11:30am-8pm). Right outside the park entrance are dozens of options for quick service and full service meals; a good index of dining options can be found here.

 What We Did:

1. The Emerald Pool trail, which totals just over two miles. It is a ranked as a moderate network of trails, with some very steep inclines and ledges.  There are three natural pools to cool off in, and the trails offer beautiful views. The entrance is across the street from the Zion Lodge, and stop #5 on the shuttle network.

2. Riverside Walk is an easy, two mile in and out walk. Guests must take the shuttle to stop #9 and restroom facilities are available at the shuttle stop. The first part of the walk is handicap and stroller accessible. There are a few moderate drop offs, but most of the path is flat. At the end of the walk is the entrance to The Narrows (a 9.4 mile hike in the river).

3. Watchman Trail is 3.2 miles in and out trail. The trailhead is located across the street from the Visitor Center and it’s a well-marked path that is easy to follow. There is not a lot of shade, there are no railing on the trail, and many parts have sharp drop offs, so pay attention as you’re walking. At one point, the trail crosses over the river. We did this hike early in the morning (starting at 6:20am) and it was peaceful and cool.

4. The Pa’rus (which means “Bubbling Water”) Trail is also located across the street from the Visitor Center (opposite direction of the Watchman Trail).  It is named for the snow melts of the mountains. The 3.5 mile in and out trail is more of a walk than a hike, and the paved path allows bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers. It follows the river and there are a few small bridges to cross.  There is little shade, though, so save this for later in the day or very early morning. There is a small amphitheater were many ranger programs are held right off the path- great spot to rest wary feet.

5. The Grotto Trail is a fairly flat, one mile walk that parallels the paved road from the Zion Lodge to the Grotto. There are usually daily ranger led hikes (but it was cancelled when we visited due to extreme heat). There is not much to see over then looking up at the mountains.

6. The drive through the Mount Carmel Tunnel that connects the Zion Canyon to the east side of the park to check out the Canyon Overlook trail. The trail is only one mile long but is very steep, with handrails to assist hikers. There is a very small parking lot (for maybe 8-10 cars) right after the one mile long tunnel for the trail.

Other Popular Hikes Include:

  • Angel’s Landing, a 5.4 mile very strenuous trail with an elevation gain of over 1,500 feet. It is quite steep and slick when wet and not for the faint of heart, nor children, so we passed on this hike.

  • The Narrows, an almost 10 mile hike that begins at the end of the Riverside Walk Trail. Because the hike is in the river, be sure to pay attention to warnings about potentials for flash flooding.

  • Kayenta Trail, a 2 mile, unpaved climb that connects the Grotto to the Emerald Pools Trails. There are moderate drop offs, so pay attention to the trail markers.
     

Other Things to Do:

  • There are several ranger led programs throughout the day. We enjoyed a talk about the ‘“Sens-ations” of Zion Park’ at the amphitheater and a talk about snakes. See the full list of programs here. Make sure to fill out the Junior Ranger booklet (ANYone can complete it!) and earn a badge.

  • There are gift shops located at the Visitor Center and in the main building of Zion Lodge.

  • We saw tons of people riding bikes throughout the park- find more information here and a biking trail map here.

  • There are three campgrounds inside Zion Park: South Campground, Watchman Campground, and Lava Point Campground, all of which require reservations. Lava Point is very remote, and most people are more comfortable at South and Watchman Campgrounds. There are also several campgrounds within a short drive of the park. Find more information on campgrounds here.

  • The Zion Human History Museum is located .5 miles north of the south entrance to the park and has tons of permanent and rotating exhibits about the area and a 22 minute overview video of the park. Note: The museum was closed in 2021.

  • Read the latest edition of the Zion National Park newspaper here.


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Where to Stay: We made a reservation at the Zion Lodge a year before our visit (reservations fill up quickly!) and felt fortunate to be able to stay IN the park. Only guests staying at Zion Lodge can drive on the road (you’ll need an access code from the Lodge) and can park directly in front of the Lodge, which is also the location for the café and dining room, a stop on the shuttle, and access to the popular Emerald Pool and Grotto Trails. The Lodge offers cabins, hotel rooms, and suites. The rooms have decks with stunning views; microwaves and mini fridges; air conditioning and wifi (although VERY spotty) and flat screen televisions; and easy access to water stations and ice machines. We stayed in the Sentinel Building, which is closest to the main lodge and dining. We highly recommend staying at Zion Lodge. 

Disclaimer: We visited in June of 2021 and some areas of the park were closed due to pandemic restrictions and extreme heat (it was 110 degrees wen we visited.)

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50 Comments

  1. what a view! I would like to enjoy those trails too. So nice to see and I feel like Im there now.

  2. what a view! I would like to enjoy those trails too. So nice to see and I feel like Im there now.

  3. This is such a great article filled with all the details I need!! Thank you for sharing!! I’m not really a hiker but I want to go to all these amazing places, and I often wonder if I’d be able to do the trails–after reading your articles I know I can!! I always thought they were long, strenuous hikes, but the info you provide shows me there are some moderate/easy, shorter hikes I can do and have an amazing time!!

  4. This is such a great article filled with all the details I need!! Thank you for sharing!! I’m not really a hiker but I want to go to all these amazing places, and I often wonder if I’d be able to do the trails–after reading your articles I know I can!! I always thought they were long, strenuous hikes, but the info you provide shows me there are some moderate/easy, shorter hikes I can do and have an amazing time!!

  5. This is such a great article filled with all the details I need!! Thank you for sharing!! I’m not really a hiker but I want to go to all these amazing places, and I often wonder if I’d be able to do the trails–after reading your articles I know I can!! I always thought they were long, strenuous hikes, but the info you provide shows me there are some moderate/easy, shorter hikes I can do and have an amazing time!!

  6. I love Zion National Park! This is a great guide. I really enjoyed Riverside Walk, I loved that it was so beautiful, but also so low key.

  7. I love Zion National Park! This is a great guide. I really enjoyed Riverside Walk, I loved that it was so beautiful, but also so low key.

  8. I love Zion National Park! This is a great guide. I really enjoyed Riverside Walk, I loved that it was so beautiful, but also so low key.

  9. I have been before so briefly! And I only did Angels Landing and the Narrows and really want to go back now and check out these other hikes you listed. It really felt like being in a jurassic park movie or something!! haha. Thanks for sharing this!!

  10. I have been before so briefly! And I only did Angels Landing and the Narrows and really want to go back now and check out these other hikes you listed. It really felt like being in a jurassic park movie or something!! haha. Thanks for sharing this!!

  11. I have been before so briefly! And I only did Angels Landing and the Narrows and really want to go back now and check out these other hikes you listed. It really felt like being in a jurassic park movie or something!! haha. Thanks for sharing this!!

  12. We had only one day in Zion and it was not enough to do all the hikes we wanted to do. We too made it as far as the Narrows and turned back there. It would be interesting to visit the Zion Humany History Museum on a return visit.

  13. We had only one day in Zion and it was not enough to do all the hikes we wanted to do. We too made it as far as the Narrows and turned back there. It would be interesting to visit the Zion Humany History Museum on a return visit.

  14. We had only one day in Zion and it was not enough to do all the hikes we wanted to do. We too made it as far as the Narrows and turned back there. It would be interesting to visit the Zion Humany History Museum on a return visit.

  15. I have been wanting to go to Utah to see the Mighty 5 for years. I love your photos of the natural beauty and rock formations at Zion. I would think it a real treat for the kids.

  16. I have been wanting to go to Utah to see the Mighty 5 for years. I love your photos of the natural beauty and rock formations at Zion. I would think it a real treat for the kids.

  17. I have been wanting to go to Utah to see the Mighty 5 for years. I love your photos of the natural beauty and rock formations at Zion. I would think it a real treat for the kids.

  18. Zion is one National Park I’ve yet to visit and I can’t wait to go! The terrain and color of the rocks are so pretty. Love that there are so many trails to explore!

  19. Zion is one National Park I’ve yet to visit and I can’t wait to go! The terrain and color of the rocks are so pretty. Love that there are so many trails to explore!

  20. Zion is one National Park I’ve yet to visit and I can’t wait to go! The terrain and color of the rocks are so pretty. Love that there are so many trails to explore!

  21. What great pictures! You did such a great job compiling all of this. Now I know exactly what to do when we go. Thank you for putting this together! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour

  22. What great pictures! You did such a great job compiling all of this. Now I know exactly what to do when we go. Thank you for putting this together! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour

  23. What great pictures! You did such a great job compiling all of this. Now I know exactly what to do when we go. Thank you for putting this together! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour

  24. Oh I would love to visit Zion National Park. Looks like you had a wonderful time with the family. Keeping this post handy so I know what to do. Great post!

  25. Oh I would love to visit Zion National Park. Looks like you had a wonderful time with the family. Keeping this post handy so I know what to do. Great post!

  26. Oh I would love to visit Zion National Park. Looks like you had a wonderful time with the family. Keeping this post handy so I know what to do. Great post!

  27. I live in Arizona, and I’ve still never visited Zion! It’s on my list this year, so thanks for this awesome guide!

  28. I live in Arizona, and I’ve still never visited Zion! It’s on my list this year, so thanks for this awesome guide!

  29. I live in Arizona, and I’ve still never visited Zion! It’s on my list this year, so thanks for this awesome guide!

  30. What a great post! We’re heading there with 2 kids in a month. Was the Canyon Overlook Trail really scary? I heard about big dropoffs along the trail, and my daughter is quite afraid of hieghts.

    1. Honestly, I found it pretty steep and a little scary. If you pay attention and look straight ahead, it’s not bad. Watchman Trail is also similar in that fashion..steep drop offs, but you can hug the interior side both ways 🙂 Stay alert and you’ll be fine…and be stunned by the beauty 🙂

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