Zion National Park

A Majestic Sanctuary of Red Rocks and Rugged Beauty

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Zion was our last stop in Utah on a 16 day trip that we took across Colorado and Utah (click here for that trip overview page). Each of the Utah parks has a different ambience. Zion is a stark contrast from Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands. Zion sits at about 3,666 to 8,726 ft in elevation, however, the Virgin River flows through the canyon and even though the park is in an arid environment the canyon floor in contrast to the other parks is much more verdant and full of trees, plants and animal life. We were pleasantly surprised by the greenery.

The Virgin River flows to the Emerald Pools creating waterfalls and hanging gardens which are accessible by hikes ranging from easy (the lower pools and middle pools) to more moderate to strenuous (the upper pool). The Emerald Pools hikes are located across from the Zion National Park Lodge which is situated in the canyon and surrounded by grass and trees.

The Zion Mount Carmel Highway and Zion Canyon Scenic drives offer stunning overlooks and views of steep cliffs and jagged peaks. Zion Mount Carmel Highway cuts from the east entrance of the park to the center of the park and you can drive your car while the Zion Canyon scenic drive is only accessible by bus due to the volume of visitors each year.

Hiking the Narrows is one of the most popular things to do in the park because you get to hike in the Virgin River through narrow canyons where there is no trail. You must get your feet wet for this hike and it’s best to have a hiking stick. You can stop when you want and turn around or attempt the entire ten mile trip. Many people rent special shoes to hike the narrows. Some options for renting equipment and "river walking shoes" are; Zion Outfitter and/or Zion Guru.

The trail starts at the Temple of the Sinawava trail which to reach this trail you hike along the river for about a mile. Many people, just do this part of the trail for it’s beauty and verdant hanging gardens and scenery and to watch all of the people heading into the Narrows at the end of the trail. Please note that The Narrows can be dangerous if there is a flash flood so check the warnings before entering.

Youtube Video LinkZion National Park is one of Utah’s Big 5 National Parks and it is a large park with the most visitors each year. Get the information that you need to plan your own journey, with a 3 day itinerary for visiting Zion National Park and the pro tips you need for a successful first-time visit to the park and things to do at Zion National Park. It's a beautiful park with lots to see and do next to the quaint town of Springdale. We were there in May and we think May is one of the best times to visit Utah.

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Interesting Zion National Park Facts

Travel Tile

  • When was Zion National Park established? Congress established the area as a national park in 1919. A second Zion National Monument (now called the Kolob Canyons) was established by presidential proclamation in 1937. Congress added the Kolob Canyons to Zion National Park in 1956. The park currently encompasses 148,733 acres.
  • What is the annual visitation to Zion National Park? Zion National Park draws over 5 million visitors annually due to its diverse topography, soaring sandstone cliffs, mystical slot canyons, cascading waterfalls, colorful hanging gardens, lonesome desert plateaus, and clear-flowing rivers.
  • What is the size of Zion National Park? The park was enlarged in 1956, by the addition of adjacent land that had also been named Zion National Monument but is now called Kolob Canyons; the entire park now occupies 229 square miles (593 square km) or 146,597 acres.
  • Zion’s elevation varies by 5,000 feet; Elevation ranges from 3,666 feet at Coalpits Wash to 8,726 feet at Horse Ranch Mountain in the Kolob Canyon section of the park.
  • Zion National Park’s geology features some of the tallest sandstone monoliths in the world.
  • Zion National Park boasts canyons as deep as 500 feet and rock monoliths as tall as 450 feet.
  • Checkerboard Mesa’s distinct crosshatch pattern is due to wind and weathering.
  • The north face of the Great White Throne rim rises 2,350 feet from the Zion canyon floor.
  • Angels Landing is one of the most daring hikes in the world.
  • The Watchman trail is a climber’s paradise.
  • Zion has one of the longest freestanding arches in the world; Spanning 287 feet, Kolob Arch is believed to be one of the longest arches in the world.
Frequently Asked Questions about Zion National Park
  • What is the best place to stay? There are over 80 places to stay near Zion, so "best" is really up to the viewer. Here is a link to a Google Search Page for a list of places to stay near Zion National Park.
  • When is Zion National Park open? The park is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week all year round. When the Zion Canyon Shuttle System is operating, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by shuttle.
  • Can I bring my dog to Zion National Park? The only sections of Zion National Park open to pets are the campgrounds and the Pa’rus Trail. Other than those areas, pets are not allowed.
  • Do I need a permit for The Narrows? Most visitors to Zion only hike three miles up The Narrows from the bottom, accessing the water route from Riverside Walk and the Temple of Sinawava, which doesn’t require a permit. The top-down, 16+-mile top-down hike from Chamberlin’s Ranch does require a permit.
  • Is the park shuttle free? Yes. The shuttle is provided with Zion National Park entrance fees.
  • What is the Zion National Park Entrance Fee? It varies based upon your vehicle (car, motorcycle, snowmobile, etc), see the National Park Service Page for current cost info.
  • How do I obtain a permit to hike Angel's Landing at Zion National Park? You need a permit to hike Angels Landing. These include but are not limited to: Hikers going to Scout Lookout do not need a permit. Visitors using the park shuttle do not need a permit or reservation. Visitors entering the park do not need a reservation, but do need to pay the park fee. You need to go to the Angel's Landing Permits & Hiking Page that the National Park Service has.
  • Where can I get more info about Zion National Park? The National Park Service Page for Zion has a lot of good information, and we would suggest that you go there if you have more questions.
Getting to Zion National Park      Map
Where is Zion National Park located?

Zion has two entrances, a south entrance and an east entrance.

The South entrance is where the Zion Visitor Center is located and is also where the town of Springdale resides which is where many people stay when visiting the area.

The east entrance is the best way to enter if you are traveling from the Bryce Canyon area. However, there is a tunnel that has restrictions including no bikes or pedestrians and height and width restrictions.

WARNING: Any vehicle over 13ft, 1 inches or higher can not pass through the tunnel. We saw a family in a camper get turned away at the entrance due to the height restriction. It is a long way around to the south entrance and needless to say the family was not happy. refer to the National Park Services website for specific restrictions.

Getting around Zion National Park
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

Zion has a large number of visitors each year and we found it to be the most crowded of the parks that we visited. To help with the crowds there are two free shuttle buses; One that runs through the town of Springdale and drops you at the park entrance and one that drives along the Zion Canyon Scenic drive and stops at various viewpoints and hiking trails along the drive.

The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to stops on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Shuttles leave every few minutes and go either north or south. You can exit the shuttle at any open stop.

Check the map to see what to expect in the park. You may get on and off at any open shuttle stop. Most visitors start shuttle trips at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, but if you are staying at the Zion Lodge, you can board the shuttle there. You cannot board a shuttle to go up canyon (north) at Canyon Junction.

  

The Image Map is the property of the National Park Service via their Website. All other images are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

Site Helpful Tip ImageDuring busy times you are required to use the shuttle for the scenic drive as no cars are allowed along the route. The visitor center parking lot fills up rather quickly In the morning and the lines for the shuttle bus get fairly long.

Site Helpful Tip ImageIf you don’t get there early to get parking you can take the Springdale shuttle to the entrance. This bus is free and travels along route 9 through the town of Springdale. We found a convenient stop right outside of our hotel.

Site Helpful Tip ImageCheck the National Park Service Page for current restrictions & prohibitions.

 
Where we Stayed
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure! A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale/Zion National Park

We selected a Hilton property because of it's proximity to the Park Visitor's Center and additionally because there was bus service between the hotel and the park.

Hilton LogoClick above image to visit the Hilton Website

OK we are enthusiasts of the Hilton Hotel chain, but this is a nice property and with restaurants just across the street and bus service to the park, this was a good place to be. With limited parking available in the park, there was no reason for us to hassle over parking when the bus service was right outside our hotel.

Exploring Zion National Park: Mount Carmel Highway
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

The Zion Mount Carmel Highway (it is the same route as Utah route 9) is a scenic drive which cuts through 10 miles of Zion National Park. It connects the South and East entrances of Zion National Park. It passes over bridges, switchbacks and through the Zion Mount Carmel tunnel, which cuts through the deep stone mountain.

Exploring Zion National Park: Mount Carmel Tunnel
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

The tunnel is 1.1 miles long and was constructed in 1927, and completed in 1930 by the Nevada Construction Co. Prohibited vehicles include those over 13 feet 1 inch tall, semi-trucks, vehicles carrying hazardous materials, vehicles weighing more than 50,000 pounds, single vehicles over 40 feet long, or combined vehicles over 50 feet long. Bicycles and pedestrians are also banned from the tunnel, which has no artificial lighting.

Exploring Zion National Park: Zion Bus Center & Watchman Trail Area
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

We decided to explore the Virgin River trails that start immediately next to the Visitor Center's parking lot. The Watchman Trail splits into two parts just before the south campground where the Watchman Trail continues heading east on the eastern side of the Virgin River and the Pa'Rus continues north alongside the south campground.

Exploring Zion National Park: Visitor Center
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

For our first full day's adventure, we left our car parked at our motel, took the shuttle bus to the park entrance and walked in. The visitor center was our first stop, because everything starts from there. The bus stop was very busy, so our first exploration was to take a quick walk through the Visitor's Center and then we headed over towards the Virgin River and the trail that parallels the river next to the south campground.

After we got back from our river exploration, we decided to head back to the motel and take advantage of the hotel laundry and the swimming pool.

Exploring Zion National Park: Emerald Pools Trail

The Emerald Pools Trailhead is across the river from the Zion Lodge (shuttle stop #5). From the shuttle stop, you will follow the sidewalk across the Lodge Lawn to the crosswalk. Cross the Zion Canyon Road and continue across the bridge. Follow the trail on the right to begin hiking Lower Emerald Pool Trail. This is not a difficult trail at all, and the shade is frequent - the payoff is the falls that are to be found at the end of the trail.

As you can see on the map image, there are three trails associated with the Emerald Pools (after you cross the bridge):

  • Lower Emerald Pools - less than ½ mile from the river, an easy family stroll.
  • Middle Emerald Pools - if you continue on beyond the alcove you will climb some steps to bring you on top of the cliff that you walk under in the lower pools trail.
  • Upper Emerald Pools - The final stretch is a hot and sandy quarter mile, but it is well worth the effort to get to the final pool at the base of the 300-foot cliffs above.
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
Exploring Zion National Park: Temple of Sinawava to the Narrows
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

Our second day goal was to take the park shuttle bus to the top of Zion Canyon scenic drive - the entire route is "bus only". The shuttle bus stops at a number of places, each providing different hiking trails. Our first hike was the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. The shuttle bus stops at the Zion Lodge, and the trail head is just across the street from the lodge.

NOTE: Each Shuttle Bus Stop is numbered, pay attention to where you got on or got off, so that you can navigate properly.

A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

After our hike to the Lower Emerald Pool, we jumped back onto the free Zion Canyon shuttle and went to the top of the Canyon - the Temple of Sinawava. We then hiked up the Riverside Walk trail and then continued hiking to the first river crossing to see some of the best "narrows" sections of the North Fork of the Virgin River.

We hiked up to the Narrows Entrance and stopped to get some pics, the trail continues onwards for 10 more miles (round trip) or 6 miles to the Wall Street section, but we stopped at this point.

Image Credit: The second image above is the property of Don Graham via Wikimedia Commons using the CC BY-SA 2.0 license. All other images are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!
A 16 day loop itinerary through Colorado and Utah; Denver, Glenwood Springs, Colorado National Monument, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Durango, Telluride and back to Denver. An amazing adventure!

Nope, we did not go the rest of the way to see all of the Narrows as we did not have river shoes, nor enough water to keep us hydrated. So we reluctantly had to hike back and catch the shuttle back to the Visitor Center so we could head back to the motel and take care of our growing pile of dirty clothes!

You can see in this picture the people behind us starting to cross the Virgin River to begin their hike to the Narrows. The canyon is a bit narrow, hence the name.

NOTE: You can see in image # 4 that many people were wearing similar "river walking shoes" all in the color red. This was because everyone was renting those shoes from the same place in Springdale!

Quick History Lesson: Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert was the first recorded caucasian man to travel the Zion Narrows, in 1872 as part of a government survey expedition led by Major John Wesley Powell (note; yes, the same person who explored the Colorado River down to the Grand Canyon). Gilbert made the trip on horseback, and it is believed he was the first to use the term "the Narrows."

Angel's Landing Trail

By now, you have no doubt noticed that there are no pictures or narrative on this page about the famous Angel's Landing hike. That is because we did not go there - for several reasons. First reason is that starting April 1, 2022 a hiking permit is now required by the National Park Service (NPS). These permits are available only via an online lottery. And we did not acquire the permits.

The second reason is that the Angel's Landing trail is a 5.4 mile strenous trail that is slippery & dangerous when wet. With me requiring a cane to walk, we just did not think that I would able to manage such a hike. I'd love to come back here someday and do this trail, but I have to get my hip issues corrected before that could take place.

 
  • Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
  • Zion National Park Website
  • Zion article on the 'Visit Utah' Website
  • Zion National Park Service page.
  • Bit & Spur Restaurant in Springdale, Utah (we recommend this restaurant!)
  • Google Search Results list for "restaurants in Springdale, Utah"
  • Hiking in Zion National Park on the "Zion National Park" site
  • The 5 Best Hikes in Zion on the "Visit Utah" site
  • Hiking Angel's Landing on the "Visit Utah" site
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Springdale, Utah"
  • Amazon Search Results list for "Zion National Park"
  • Youtube Search Results list for "Zion National Park"
  • Zion National Park Small group activities on the "Get Your Guide" site
  • Visit our Youtube Channel
  • Our Image Gallery for Zion National Park
  • Wikipedia Article for Zion National Park
  • Google Image Gallery for Zion National Park
 
Trip Itinerary
Click above map to view a larger Google Map

As you can see by the this map, our trip covered 3 different states, approximately 1,600 road miles and allowed us to see some spectacular geography. You might think that a trip of this distance would be something that would result in a "tired of driving" mood - but our stops were so diverse with such incredible geography and fun things to do, that we found that we looked forward to each morning to where we could continue our adventures!

Click any link below to go directly to that page;

  1. Denver International Airport
  2. Glenwood Springs, CO
  3. Colorado National Monument, CO
  4. Arches National Park, UT
  5. Canyonlands National Park, UT
  6. Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT
  7. Capitol Reef National Park, UT
  1. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  2. Zion National Park, UT
  3. Lake Powell, AZ
  4. Mesa Verde National Park, CO
  5. Telluride, CO
  6. Royal Gorge, CO
 
 

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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

Note: If you are interested, click here to view our European Travel Tips & Warnings. Or to take a look at our methods for planning, click here to view our Trip Planning Page..

 
 

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