Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is well-known for its breathtaking views and thrilling trails. Although hiking is a popular way of exploring this beautiful landscape, it is not the only way to enjoy it.
The park operates in much the same way as Grand Canyon National Park with an affordable entrance fee per vehicle (currently $35 US) or less if entering on foot ($20 US).
The use of the park’s shuttle bus system is included in the price of entry and includes The Zion Canyon Line and park shuttles which run from the Visitor Center to destinations including Zion Lodge and major hiking trails such as Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, and the Narrows.
For visitors wishing to drive through the park, the shuttle buses offer beautiful views or you can drive your own vehicle on two incredibly scenic routes that are open year-round. The first is Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which is a 25-mile roadway that snakes its way east from Canyon Junction and incorporates a 1.1-mile drive through Mount Carmel Tunnel. This deposits visitors at the Canyon Overlook Trail for those wishing to embark on a brief hike. The second is Kolob Canyons Road, a five-mile route starting at Kolob Canyons Visitor Center and ascending 1,000 feet for views of sandstone canyons and towering peaks.
The first stop on the shuttle bus tour is the Human History Museum which showcases Native American culture and the history of the park. Another popular site along the scenic drive is Weeping Rock – an overhang of dripping stone that provides views of the greenery that hug the cliff wall. Depending on the season, water coming off the rock can range from drips to a full-on waterfall.
For visitors wishing to hike the region, there are plenty of options. For example, a short walk from the shuttle stop that bears the name Court of the Patriarchs, visitors will discover a stunning landmark of the same name. The patriarchs are three rugged sandstone peaks that soar above the landscape and were named by a Methodist minister who was so awestruck by their beauty that he called the peaks the biblical names of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. To get a closer look at this gorgeous landform, walk the Sand Bench Trail which is 3.5 miles round-trip.
For a far more thrilling and danger-tinged hike, seasoned hikers can attempt Angels Landing, a steep 2.4-mile trail that quickly ascends 1,500 feet and offers some of the most amazing views of Zion. However, it can also be terrifying. The 5,790-foot sandstone tower looms over the Virgin River but getting to the vista can be risky. For assistance, the park has installed cables to provide hikers with grip.
For a walk that’s easier and located just past the shuttle bus drop-off, consider the paved Pa’rus Trail which is 7 miles round trip. This trail also allows bicycles and offers views of the Virgin River and lower canyon. Although it’s paved and easier, hikers can expect a steep incline to ascend to the Temple of Sinawava.
This is just a small example of the available trails. For a complete list, click here. But if driving the scenic routes or hiking the trails are not your thing, there are several other ways to explore this sensational park. Tour operators in the area also provide options such as horseback riding, bicycling, off-roading tours, and helicopter tours. Cultural, historical, and heritage tours are also available. Plus, there are campgrounds to be enjoyed.
At night, turn your gaze from the landscape to the sky for a stargazing experience you’ll never forget. To enhance the view, Zion has installed night-friendly lighting on all park buildings, such as the Visitor Center, Human History Museum, and Zion Lodge, so the illumination won’t compete with the twinkling heavens.
At the end of the day, travelers will find a variety of hotels and resorts scattered around the outskirts of the park, with a large concentration found in the nearby towns of Rockville and Springdale – often called The Gateways to Zion. In the quaint little town of Springdale, guests will also find shopping and noteworthy cuisine offered at a variety of unique restaurants.
For those wishing to stay ‘in’ the park, the first option is camping with three locations that include Lava Point, South Campground, and Watchman Campground – the latter is open year-round.
When it comes to hotels, Zion Lodge is the only one inside the park. Recently remodeled, this establishment has been operational since the 1920s and features a selection of accommodation types including hotel rooms, suites, and fully equipped cabins. On-site dining is offered at The Red Rock Grill and reservations are required.
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Lead – Unsplash
Shuttles – Unsplash
Court of the Patriarchs – iStock trial
Pa’rus Trail – iStock trial
Camping in Zion – Unsplash