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5-Minute Guide To Zion National Park

If Mother Nature had a Pinterest board for her most “OMG, must-see” national parks, Zion would be her top pin.

Yes, we’ve been there, traipsed through its majestic canyons, and almost dropped our cameras into the Virgin River out of sheer awe.

And it’s hands-down one of our favorites so far. We have fond memories of picnicking on the grass of Zion National Park Lodge and just enjoying the views.

If you’re the kind of traveler who thinks a quick scroll through Instagram or TikTok is all the prep you need, think again.

But worry not! We’re here to give you the lowdown, minus the fluff—no extensive reading required.


Zion National Park Overview

zion valley in zion national park with large rocky mountains on the edges and a green valley down in the middle
Credit: Depositphotos

Picture this: towering cliffs, narrow canyons, and the kind of views that make your smartphone’s camera weep with inadequacy.

Established in 1919, this slice of outdoor heaven in Utah has been wowing visitors for over a century with its raw, untouched beauty.

Did you know it’s home to over 290 species of birds? Yep, it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.

And for plant enthusiasts, you can find more than 900 species of plants thriving in its diverse ecosystems.

Believe it or not, Zion is Utah’s first national park, playing host to more than 4.5 million visitors a year.

People come for the views but stay because, well, have you tried walking up Angel’s Landing? That’s one way to earn your dinner!

Top Attractions:

  • Angel’s Landing: Sure, it’s only a mere 5.4 miles round trip, but with its narrow pathways and sheer drop-offs, it’s basically a thrill ride sans the admission fee.
  • The Narrows: Trekking through the Virgin River might not sound like your typical walk in the park because, well, it isn’t. This hike can range from a casual stroll to a 16-mile epic extravaganza, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling.
  • Emerald Pools: For something a tad less life-affirming but equally picture-worthy, the Emerald Pools trail is your go-to. With waterfalls that look like they were designed by a special effects team and pools that capture every shade of green imaginable, it’s like the park’s chill zone.
the moon hangs above a small tree high on the cliff edge in zion national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Scenic Drives Available:

  • Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (shuttle for most of the year): The drive takes you through the heart of the park, giving you front-row seats to some of Zion’s most iconic landscapes.
  • Kolob Canyons Road: Less crowded but equally dramatic, this road offers views that can make you seriously consider quitting your job and becoming a landscape photographer.

Popular Activities:

  • Rock Climbing: If you’ve always wanted to dangle precariously from a cliff for funsies, Zion’s your playground. Boasting routes that range from “I can totally do this” to “What was I thinking?”, it caters to climbers of all skill levels.
  • Stargazing: Once the sun dips and the crowds thin out, Zion transforms into a stargazer’s dream. With minimal light pollution, you can spot constellations you didn’t even know existed.
  • Hiking: With over 90 miles of trails, you’ll never run out of places to explore.

Wildlife To Watch For:

  • Bighorn Sheep: These majestic creatures are like the celebrities of Zion, strutting around the park with an air of elegance.
  • Mule Deer: Ever dreamed of having a deer look up at you with those big, adorable eyes in the wild? Zion’s got you covered. Just try not to squeal too loudly in excitement; we’re all trying to keep it cool here.
  • Canyon Tree Frogs: For lovers of small but mighty wildlife, keep your ears tuned for the surprisingly loud croak of the canyon tree frog. Spotting one might require a bit of effort, but they’re worth the eagle-eyed search.

Zion National Park Map

zion national park map from national park service
Credit: NPS
  • Check out our quick guide to Arches, your go-to article for marveling at more of nature’s audacious architecture in Utah, conveniently located just a road trip away from Zion.

Know Before You Go

  • Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle
  • Reservations Required: Not for entering the park, but if you’re eyeballing a hike up Angel’s Landing, you’ll need a permit. It’s like Zion’s exclusive VIP club and not everyone gets in.
  • Shuttle System: To reduce traffic and preserve the park, Zion has a mandatory shuttle system from March to November (you cannot drive your personal vehicle during this time in Zion Canyon).
  • Closest City For Airport Access: Las Vegas, baby!
  • Pets Allowed: They’re only allowed on the Pa’rus Trail. They aren’t allowed anywhere else in the park, including shuttles, buildings, or on other trails…so it might be best just to leave them at home this go round.
  • Best Guide Book & Map: Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks and the Zion Map

3 Popular Things To Do In Zion

Get ready to have your socks knocked clean off as we jump into the most poppin’ activities you absolutely can’t miss while exploring Zion National Park.

While Angel’s Landing is likely the most popular hike, due to the reservations system, we aren’t adding it to this section so that everyone can participate in the following activities.

1. Hike The Narrows

Hiking the Narrows is less like a walk in the park and more like a walk in a really awesome, slightly watery, somewhat narrow park.

You’re literally IN the Virgin River, which is both the trail and your guide to this unique adventure.

Just imagine, one minute, you’re in ankle-deep water, feeling like a nature-loving version of Moses, and the next, you’re up to your waist wondering if your phone’s waterproof case is really as reliable as the reviews claimed.

The Narrows stretches up to 16 miles, but don’t worry, you don’t have to commit to the full length.

And the towering walls on either side are a constant reminder of nature’s ability to make you feel both profoundly significant and utterly insignificant at the same time.

Remember to keep an eye out for the hanging gardens, where plants cling to the canyon walls, making you question your own home gardening skills.

a yellow and red flower hangs among the greenery in zion national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

2. Photograph The Watchman

If you’re aiming to capture that postcard-perfect shot of Zion to make all your friends green with envy, then setting your sights on The Watchman at sunrise or sunset is the game plan.

This iconic peak, standing as a stoic guardian over the park, is practically begging to be frozen in time. The colors—those vibrant hues that only nature can conjure up, splashed across the sky with The Watchman in the foreground, looking all majestic.

It’s located near the south entrance, making it easily accessible for those who aren’t exactly morning people.

And the view from Canyon Junction Bridge during these golden hours is unparalleled. You’re welcome.

Pack your tripod because this is where you’ll snag that shot that says, “I’m outdoorsy, and I know how to use my camera.”

3. Explore The Emerald Pools

If you’re the type who thinks that a day spent outdoors should be more “leisurely stroll” than a “grueling marathon,” then the Emerald Pools are your kind of adventure.

You’re meandering along a trail, easy enough that your coffee doesn’t slosh out of your cup, yet every turn offers a view so stunning, it could make a grown man weep—or at least, dramatically pretend to for the likes.

There are three pools, each a step higher and prettier than the last, like nature’s own podium for aquatic beauty.

The lower pool is a leisurely stroll anyone can do. But here’s the kicker – the middle and upper pools require a bit more legwork, making you earn that serene view.

And speaking of views, the waterfalls feeding these pools are filled by the runoff from the cliffs above.

So, if you can swing it to visit after a rainstorm when the waterfalls turn into a Broadway show, you won’t regret all the drama and splash.

the upper emerald pool with large boulders near the water edge and green bushes in the background in zion national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Best Time To Visit Zion National Park

Visiting Zion National Park in early spring or late fall is the sweet spot.

These seasons offer the perfect balance for exploring—think less scorching sun and more comfortable hikes.

Plus, the park’s natural beauty is at its peak, with vibrant colors and flowing waterfalls.

If you don’t mind the cold, then December can also be a great choice, with a chance of a light dusting of snow during a visit.

Where To Stay

Deciding where to crash after a day of exploring in Zion can be almost as important as choosing which trail mix actually tastes good. So, let’s dive into the best spots that won’t leave you longing for your own bed.

Camping In The Park

  • Watchman Campground (year-round)
  • Lava Point Campground (closed in winter)
  • South Campground (closed temporarily for renovations; check the NPS site for re-opening)

Hotels In The Park

Hotels Nearby (In Springdale)

a landscape overview of zion national park with red rocks, green trees and large rocky mountains
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

What To Bring On Your Visit

Packing for Zion is an art form akin to preparing for a wilderness fashion show where the dress code ranges from sun-baked hiker to river wader. Here are the essentials:

  • High-quality Hiking Boots: Preferably ones that declare, “I can conquer any trail.”
  • Water Shoes: For when you’re walking through the Narrows and suddenly remember your boots aren’t amphibious.
  • Backpack With Hydration Bladder: Because finding a river vending machine is as likely as spotting a unicorn in the wild.
  • Sunscreen: Aim for SPF 50+; sunburns are so last season and not the souvenir you want.
  • Reliable, Waterproof Phone Case: Dropping your phone in a river is a quick way to turn your nature documentary into a silent film (we have these specific waterproof cases, and they have worked great on several occasions).

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