Visiting Zion National Park was a BIG time bucket list item for me. As a huge fan of iconic and adventurous day hikes, I had been dreaming about hiking in the Narrows and standing atop Angel’s Landing for years. So, when Tyler qualified for the 70.3 World Championships in St. George, I immediately started planning a 10-day road trip to hit the big 5 national parks in Utah. I scheduled one rest day for Tyler before we jumped into non-stop hiking for a week. 🙂
In this post, I’ll be focusing on our experience exploring Zion National Park. While we visited several other national parks on this trip, I want to give each one their due, so I will be chipping away at them one at a time. Stay tuned for the reports on Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches!
From the breathtaking views on the Canyon Overlook Trail to the thrilling hike up Angel’s Landing, I will share everything you need to know to plan your own unforgettable adventure in Zion National Park.
Getting to Zion National Park
We flew into Las Vegas for our trip because we were already going to St. George for the race. It’s a pretty sweet location, because Vegas always has a lot of flights, and they’re often cheap too. The flight from Toronto was about 4.5 hours, and then we had a bit of a time change to deal with – Vegas is three hours behind Toronto.
There are a few other airports you could fly into: St. George Regional Airport is the closest, but it’s small and may not have a lot of flight options. Next best option would probably be Salt Lake City International Airport, which is about a 4-hour drive from Zion. If you’re also doing the Big 5 Road Trip, Salt Lake is a great option because it’s kinda at the other end of the road trip.
No matter which airport you fly into, I’d recommend renting a car. We got one at the Vegas airport and drove from there (with a stop in St G for a few days for some other business!). It was about a 2.5-hour drive to get to the park, but keep in mind that there’s another time change when you cross from Nevada to Utah, so be sure to account for that in your travel plans.
Where to Stay
There are several choices for where to stay in and around Zion National Park, depending on your preferences and budget.
Inside the park, there are two main options: the Zion Lodge and the Zion Camping and RV Resort. The Zion Lodge offers cabins and hotel rooms, while the Zion Camping and RV Resort offers campsites and RV hookups. Both options are located near the park’s main attractions and provide easy access to hiking trails and other activities. These ones are on the pricier side, and book up quickly.
If you prefer to stay outside the park, the town of Springdale is a popular choice. It is just outside the park’s main entrance and offers a range of lodging options, from hotels and motels to vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts. This is where we stayed, at the Pioneer Lodge. I cannot say that I particularly loved this spot; we booked it because it was close to the park and it had a hot tub. The hot tub was indefinitely closed… but it was still close to the park! Lol. It did have good wifi (sometimes), sufficient rooms, and a pretty nice bagged breakfast. Not all bad!
Other nearby towns, such as St. George and Hurricane, are also an option – these may be a good choice if you’re looking for more affordable options or if you prefer to stay in a larger city with more amenities. They are only about an hour from the park, so the commute is not that bad. The downside is that you may end up with very early mornings or late nights if you’re trying to see sunrises and sunsets in the park (which I totally recommend!). Plus, if you’re doing a road trip like we did, staying in one of these towns would mean you have to backtrack
One of the main perks of staying in Springdale is that it’s within walking distance of the park – and there’s a free shuttle that goes all throughout the park and up the main strip of Springdale. Perfect for tired hiking legs!
The park shuttle is a great way to get around the park itself too, as it’s free and runs frequently throughout the day. It stops at several points along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, including the Visitor Center, the Zion Lodge, and the trailheads for popular hikes like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
Staying in Springdale also allowed us to explore the town’s many restaurants and cafes. We found some delicious spots – more on that below! There are also plenty of shops selling souvenirs, gear, and other items, as well as art galleries and museums showcasing the area’s history and culture.
Where to Eat
Since Tyler and I were on a budget, we decided to save money by being mindful of our food expenses – we opted to do grocery shopping and make some of our own meals rather than eating out for every meal. Although we did splurge on a few nice spots…
Pioneer Lodge offered a pretty good continental breakfast, which was a great way to start our day without spending any extra money. For lunch, we packed sandwiches and other snacks to bring with us on our hikes. We did find that the grocery stores in Springdale were quite expensive (typical for near a National Park), so we wished we had stocked up on more groceries in a larger city before arriving in Springdale, like while we were in St. George. If you’d like to do the same, here are some ideas for easy-to-make meals in a hotel room and some snacks that are easy to pack –>
- Instant oatmeal (can be made in hotel coffee makers!) with a banana
- Sandwiches with meat, cheese, veg, hummus
- Microwavable soup or chilli
- Crackers and veggies with PB or hummus
- Fresh fruit, like bananas, apples, or oranges
- Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
- Cheese sticks or cheese cubes
- Beef jerky or turkey jerky
- Granola bars or protein bars
Now if you do not care at all about our boring grocery shopping, here’s the good stuff… our restaurant recommendations!
Springdale Candy Company – 7/10 – we got the mocha and Oreo milkshakes and they were pretty good!
Whiptail Grill – 9/10 – best queso of my life, good chicken enchiladas, great avocado salad.
FeelLove Coffee – 8/10 – really fun drinks, good baked goods, sweet vibe and views!
Camp Outpost Co – 8/10 – the chicken burger was near perfection, the sausage platter was good, and the location was awesome!
Deep Creek Coffee Co – 9.5/10 – best fresh food in Springdale! We loved the dirty virgin wrap, rainbow bowl, and golden latte. Plus they have a sick rooftop patio.
General Park Overview
We did not do every hike there is to do in the park – we were only there for 3 days so I carefully picked out stuff that was a priority for us. But in case you have a lot more time (or just some other interests), here’s a full list of some of the best treks in the park:
- Angels Landing: This strenuous 4.8km roundtrip hike takes you to the top of a 1,488-foot rock formation for breathtaking views of the park.
- The Narrows: This hike through a slot canyon in the Virgin River can range from a short walk to a 16 km trek.
- The Subway: This 9.6km roundtrip hike follows a stream to a unique subway-shaped tunnel in the rock.
- Observation Point: This challenging 12.8km roundtrip hike offers panoramic views of the park from 2,000 feet above the valley floor.
- Emerald Pools: This series of short hikes leads to a series of pools and waterfalls.
- Canyon Overlook Trail: This moderate 1.6km roundtrip hike offers stunning views of Zion Canyon.
- Riverside Walk: This paved 3.5km roundtrip trail follows the Virgin River through a scenic canyon.
- Hidden Canyon: This 5.5km roundtrip hike takes you to a secluded canyon with hanging gardens and towering walls.
- West Rim Trail: This 25km hike can be done as a long day hike or overnight backpacking trip, offering stunning views of Zion Canyon and the surrounding area.
- Kolob Canyon: This 14.5 km round trip takes you through a stunning canyon with tall cliffs and colourful rock formations. The trailhead is located in the northwest corner of the park and is less crowded than some of the other hikes in Zion.
- Timber Creek Overlook Trail: a short stroll that heads south from the main parking lot to offer more pleasant views of Kolob Canyon from the top of the ridge-line. Sunset is a wonderful time to do this hike.
We did Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, Emerald Pools, Canyon Overlook, Riverside Walk, and Timber Creek Overlook. More on those below 🙂
As far as stuff to do outside of hiking, similar story – we did some things, but I wanted to provide a full list of recommended activities:
- Scenic Drives: Take a leisurely drive through the park on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, where you can stop at overlooks and pull-offs for incredible views.
- Biking: Rent a bike and explore the park’s roads or bring your own and ride the Pa’rus Trail, a paved multi-use path.
- Horseback Riding: Take a guided horseback ride through the park’s scenic trails.
- Rock Climbing: Zion is a popular destination for rock climbers, with challenging routes and stunning views.
- Canyoneering: Explore the park’s canyons on a guided canyoneering trip, where you can rappel down waterfalls and scramble over rocks.
- Photography: Zion is a photographer’s paradise, with stunning scenery and unique rock formations.
- Stargazing: Zion has some of the darkest night skies in the country, making it a perfect spot for stargazing.
- Ranger Programs: Join a park ranger for a guided hike or program to learn more about the park’s history and ecology.
- Visitor Center Exhibits: Visit the park’s visitor center to learn more about the park’s geology, ecology, and human history.
- Camping: Stay overnight in one of the park’s campgrounds or backcountry campsites to experience Zion’s natural beauty after dark.
There are also some neat things to do outside the park, such as:
- Explore Springdale: check out the restaurants, shops, and galleries.
- Visit Grafton Ghost Town: Located just a few miles from Springdale, Grafton is a well-preserved ghost town that was established in the 1850s. I would not have known about this if Tyler didn’t find it – he was stoked!
- Go on a scenic drive: Take a drive on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, which offers stunning views of Zion’s towering cliffs and unique rock formations. The highway also passes through the iconic Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which has gone viral on TikTok quite a few times.
- Visit the Zion Human History Museum: Located near the park’s south entrance, this museum showcases the area’s human history and cultural heritage through interactive exhibits and displays.
- Go river tubing: Take a break from the desert heat and go tubing down the Virgin River. Several outfitters in Springdale offer rentals and shuttle services.
Our focus was definitely hiking, so I will run through each hike we did in detail. Then just give a quick note on some of the other activities we enjoyed.
Hiking Angel’s Landing
I had been dreaming about the Angel’s Landing hike for years. This trail isn’t for the faint of heart – there are some crazy switchbacks that get your heart pumping and your legs burning. But once you power through those, you get to the real thrill of the hike: the chains section. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating to cling on and climb your way up the steep cliff face. And the views from the top? They’re pretty damn spectacular. But don’t forget to take in the scenery on the way up and down too – every angle offers a new perspective of Zion’s beauty. Just remember to bring layers because it can get pretty windy and chilly up there as the peak is pretty exposed. Overall, Angel’s Landing definitely lived up to the hype, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Here’s some quick tips:
- Get your permit: Permits are required to access the chain portion of this hike. You can apply on the Zion National Park website.
- Know the trail: Angel’s Landing is a strenuous 8.7km (5.4-mile) roundtrip hike that gains 1,488 feet in elevation. The trail includes steep switchbacks, exposed cliffs, and a narrow fin with sheer drop-offs on both sides.
- Be prepared: Wear appropriate hiking shoes and clothing, bring plenty of water and snacks, and pack a first aid kit and other essential gear. Make sure to check the weather forecast before you go and prepare accordingly.
- Start early: Angel’s Landing is a popular trail and can become crowded, especially during peak season. Start early to avoid the crowds and to allow enough time for the hike. We did it for sunrise and it was really nice not having to grapple with people on the chains.
- Watch for wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife along the trail, including rattlesnakes, lizards, and birds of prey. There is even a section where you have to keep your volume down so as not to disturb the resident owls!
- Take your time: The trail is steep and can be strenuous. Take your time and rest as needed. Nothing wrong with taking in the views and grabbing a snack! When you get to the chains, USE THEM, and take your time on these sections.
- Respect other hikers: Angel’s Landing is a super popular trail and can be very crowded. Respect other hikers by staying on the trail, yielding to others when necessary, and using appropriate hiking etiquette.
- Stay hydrated: Bring plenty of water and drink regularly to stay hydrated. There is no potable water along the trail, so make sure to bring enough for the entire hike.
- Be aware of the risks: Angel’s Landing is a strenuous hike with exposed cliffs and steep drop-offs. Be aware of the risks and use caution when hiking the trail. If you have a fear of heights or suffer from vertigo, this may not be the hike for you.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles: Make sure to pack out all trash and leave the trail and surrounding areas as you found them. Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.
My additional pro tip? Add on Emerald Pools to the back end of this hike. The trails cross paths, and it’s a fairly short and easy hike with stunning views of the valley. Definitely worth the extra steps – and despite it’s big hype, Angel’s Landing doesn’t actually take that long so you’ll have plenty of time!
The trail to the lower pool is an easy 1.9km round-trip hike, with a gentle incline and some lovely scenery along the way. The lower pool itself is a small but picturesque oasis, with water cascading down a rock face into a tranquil pool. It’s a great place to take a break and cool off after the challenging climb up Angel’s Landing.
From the lower pool, you can continue on to the upper pool, which is a bit more of a challenge, but still super manageable. The trail is steeper and more rugged, with some narrow sections and drop-offs, but there are handrails and chains to help keep you safe. The upper pool is a beautiful sight to behold, with a waterfall cascading into a deep pool surrounded by lush greenery. It’s a great spot for a picnic lunch or a refreshing dip on a hot day.
Hiking the Narrows
The Narrows is a little like one of those “choose your own adventure” games – you can hike it top-down or bottom-up, you can hike it as far along as you want, you can choose to get the right gear… or not!! Lol
Here’s everything you need to know before hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park:
- Check the weather: The Narrows hike requires hiking in the Virgin River, so check the weather forecast before you go. Flash floods can occur quickly and without warning, so avoid hiking The Narrows during periods of rain or potential for rain.
- Get the right gear: Hiking The Narrows requires specific gear, including water shoes or boots, a walking stick, and a dry bag for your gear. You can rent these items from local outfitters in Springdale, or bring your own. Since we flew in, we packed light and rented our stuff. We have friends who chose to not rent gear, and they didn’t make it very far along the hike because the water is COLD.
- Plan your route: There are two main routes for hiking The Narrows: Top-Down and Bottom-Up. The Top-Down route requires a permit and is a longer hike, while the Bottom-Up route is shorter and does not require a permit. Plan your route in advance and make sure to obtain the necessary permits. We did the Bottom-Up.
- Be prepared for cold water: The water in The Narrows is cold year-round, so wear appropriate clothing and bring a wetsuit or drysuit if necessary. You can also rent these items from local outfitters. We went at shoulder season, so we were fine with just the booties and waders from the shop.
- Take your time: The Narrows hike can be challenging and requires hiking through the water, which has a very strong current and round rocks that will move around. Use a walking stick for balance and to check the depth of the water before taking a step.
- Respect other hikers: The Narrows is a popular hike and can become crowded. Respect other hikers by yielding to others when necessary, and use appropriate hiking etiquette. We went early in the morning and basically had the place to ourselves, which was a treat!
- Pack out all trash: Make sure to pack out all trash and leave the trail and surrounding areas as you found them. Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.
- Know your limits: The Narrows hike can be strenuous and requires hiking through the water, so know your limits and turn back if necessary. If you are not comfortable hiking through water or have trouble with balance, this may not be the hike for you. Remember, you can turn around at any time!
- Stay hydrated: Even though you are hiking through water, it is important to bring plenty of water and drink regularly to stay hydrated.
- Enjoy the experience: The Narrows hike is a unique and unforgettable experience. Take time to appreciate the beauty of Zion National Park and enjoy the experience of hiking through the water in The Narrows.
The Narrows is one of those super unique hikes, that feels like something people just shouldn’t be allowed to do. We actually debated not doing it cause we were short on time, but we squeezed it in and I am so so glad we did!
Hiking Canyon Overlook Trail
Canyon Overlook Trail is a super short, but stunning and FUN trek. The trail is only about 1.5km long, and it takes about an hour to complete. However, we took a bit longer since we hung out at the viewpoint for a while to catch the sunset.
The trailhead is located just east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Parking is VERY limited, so it’s best to arrive early or visit during the less busy times of the day. We really struggled to find a spot, and we were there in the low season!
The trail itself is steep and rocky in some areas, but it’s nothing crazy. It’s a fun one since there’s catwalks, stairs, scrambles, and overhangs. As you hike, you’ll be treated to incredible views of the surrounding canyon, including the famous Checkerboard Mesa formation. It leads to an overlook point that offers one of the best views in the park, and is always teeming with photographers.
This is the ideal hike to do on your first day in the park, or after a morning hike elsewhere, as it’s quick and really nice in the late afternoon/evening.
Kolob Canyon is one of the lesser-visited areas of Zion National Park, but it’s still definitely worth checking out. The views are stunning and it’s a great option if you’re looking for a quieter experience. The drive to get there is also pretty awesome – the winding road has great views of the surrounding area.
One of the easiest hikes in Kolob Canyon is the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. This 1.1 km trail takes you through a forested area and offers incredible views of the surrounding canyon. It’s a fairly straight-forward out and back hike with some gentle uphill sections, making it accessible to most people. The overlook at the end of the trail offers some of the best views in the park, with a panoramic view of the canyon and its unique geology.
Overall, if you’re looking for a quieter, less crowded area of Zion National Park, Kolob Canyon is definitely worth a visit. The drive itself and the Timber Creek Overlook Trail are both fantastic experiences that provide a little something different from the norm.
Mount Carmel Tunnel
As soon as I saw the videos on TikTok of cars driving through the Mount Carmel Tunnel, I knew I had to experience it for myself. It’s definitely one of those things that I wouldn’t have known about before social media (unlike the truly iconic hikes).
Viral videos aside, the tunnel itself is really neat; it’s a 1.6km tunnel that cuts through solid rock. It was completed in 1930 and is considered a marvel of engineering – for obvious reasons. Of note: there are some restrictions on driving through the tunnel. Vehicles over 13 feet tall, 7 feet wide, or 50 feet long are not permitted to drive through the tunnel. Additionally, oversized vehicles must obtain a special permit to drive through the tunnel. We were fine in our Jeep, so I assume any cars/small SUVs would be fine too.
Chances are, you’ll end up driving through the tunnel anyways when you’re scooting around the park, so there’s no need to specifically schedule for it. And there’s no way you’ll miss it when you’re in it!
To be honest, we didn’t really do much other than hike. We spent a little time exploring Springdale (but it’s not that big), popping into shops and checking out some parks. There were plenty of art galleries and outdoor outfitters, as well as a few quirky little stores selling handmade jewelry and local crafts.
Tyler had the idea to go visit Grafton Ghost Town, which I was down for initially – but the closer we got, the creepier things got. In the end, it turned out to be a really neat experience… I would not have gone alone though. The town is incredibly well-preserved, with old buildings and artifacts with informational plaques. Both eerie and fascinating!
Best time to Visit
We went in early November, because the 70.3 was in late October. It meant that the weather was definitely on the chilly side, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that a bad thing! With the right layers, it was perfectly enjoyable, and still sunny.
If you are planning your own trip, it is worth noting that the weather in Zion National Park can vary greatly depending on the season. In the summer, temperatures can soar into the 30s, making hiking and other outdoor activities challenging during the hottest parts of the day. Spring and fall bring cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, making these seasons a great time to visit if you don’t mind milder temperatures and more solitude.
Winter in Zion National Park can be a bit unpredictable, with snow and ice sometimes making certain trails impassable. However, the park is open year-round, and visitors who come during the winter months can enjoy stunning snow-covered vistas and the chance to participate in winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
I’d honestly recommend visiting in spring or fall – just come prepared with warm clothing and layers, so you can comfortably explore the park’s hiking trails and other attractions. We found that the cooler temperatures meant that we had some of the park’s most popular trails almost entirely to ourselves, which was a rare treat.
Super important note though about visiting outside of peak season: many of the facilities and attractions have limited hours or simply close for the winter months. For example, the park shuttle bus had reduced hours, which made planning around sunrise and sunset tricker. We were lucky to not have snow, but in winter some of the hiking trails and other attractions can close due to snow and other weather-related conditions. We also found that many of the businesses and restaurants in Springdale were closed – with no mention of this online. We would check online for hours and availability, and then show up to “See you in the spring!” signs on the doors.
All that to say, if you’re planning a visit to Zion during the off-season, it’s important to be aware of these limitations and plan accordingly. Be sure to check the park’s website and social media pages for up-to-date information on trail closures, shuttle schedules, and other important details. And when planning dining and shopping experiences in the nearby town of Springdale, try either calling ahead to confirm that they are open, or have back-ups on back-ups!
Recommended Packing List
Here is a recommended packing list for a 4 or 5 day trip to Zion National Park with lots of hiking and cooler weather:
- Hiking boots with good traction
- Comfortable hiking socks
- Comfy shoes – sneakers or runners, for easier hikes
- Waterproof jacket or rain poncho
- Warm layers, such as fleece or a down jacket
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Quick-dry pants and shorts for hiking
- Hat and toque
- Gloves or mittens
- Daypack for hikes
- Water bottle or hydration system
- Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
- Camera with extra batteries and memory cards
- Portable phone charger
- Sunscreen (even in the cooler months, that sun is strong!)
- Insect repellent
- Lip balm with SPF
- First aid kit with essentials such as band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and pain relief medication
- Toiletries, including toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.
Here’s how I would suggest structuring your trip, if you had 4 days:
- Arrive in Las Vegas, grab your rental car, and drive to Zion
- Stop for basic groceries on the way (I’d recommend a pit stop at Farmstead in St George for some bake goods or sammies. They are unreal!)
- Check into accommodations in Springdale
- Hike to Canyon Overlook for sunset views. This is one of the best views of the park, and it’s a nice way to start your trip.
- Dinner in Springdale (Whiptail Grill or Camp Outpost Co).
- Early morning hike to Angel’s Landing
- Hike to Emerald Pools
- Lunch in Springdale (FeelLove Coffee or Deep Creek)
- Visit Grafton Ghost Town in the afternoon
- Shopping around Springdale
- Sunset stroll on the Pa’rus Trail
- Dinner in Springdale (Whiptail or Camp Outpost)
- Early morning hike in the Narrows
- Lunch in Springdale (FeelLove or Deep Creek)
- Afternoon hike in Kolob Canyon
- Dinner in Springdale
- Drive back to Las Vegas or continue on to another national park.
Well, there you have it! I hope my detailed guide to Zion National Park has given you a good idea of what to expect when you visit. This park truly has something for everyone, whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a scenic drive. The stunning red rock formations and beautiful canyons are a sight to behold, and the park’s diverse trails offer a chance to experience it all up close.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, the Angel’s Landing hike is an absolute must-do. This challenging trek rewards you with breathtaking views of the valley and a sense of accomplishment like no other. But if you’re looking for something a little less intense, the Emerald Pools and Canyon Overlook trails offer stunning vistas without the steep switchbacks. And of course, no visit to Zion is complete without exploring the Narrows. Wading through the Virgin River and hiking through towering canyon walls is an experience you’ll never forget.
But it’s not just about the hiking – the nearby town of Springdale offers a charming place to relax after a long day on the trails. The shops, galleries, and restaurants provide a cozy small-town atmosphere, and the nearby ghost town of Grafton offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s history.
If you’re still on the fence about booking your trip, you gotta just go for it. Trust me, the beauty and thrill of this place is unparalleled. You will not regret it. The towering cliffs, sweeping views, and challenging hikes are something that everyone should experience!