Zion National Park
Located in southern Utah, Zion National Park is a top 10 national park attracting millions of visitors, mainly in the summer. With spectacular scenery, it offers hiking and horseback rides along with camping and the Zion Lodge. With a shuttle service, see the Zion Canyon with hop off-and-on service to popular hiking trails. Here’s what you need to know to visit Zion National Park.
The Navajo Sandstone dominates your senses with its rusty red smooth rock faces dotted with groves of trees. The life-giving Virgin River Zion carved the bold rock formations with periodic flooding that scoured the Zion Canyon floor uprooting trees.
As a part of the Grand Staircase, the geologic survey where over 500 million years of history can be studied in the rock layers, Zion is sandwiched in the middle. The Grand Canyon represents the bottom layer and Bryce Canyon National Park represents the most recent layer.
Zion At a Glance
|Year Established: 1919|
|Size: over 229 square miles|
|Top Features: Zion Canyon and the Virgin River|
Top Things to do in Zion National Park
Stop by a Visitor Center
Take a Scenic Drive
Hop the Zion Canyon Shuttle
Sit on the grass in front of Zion Lodge
See the Virgin River
Attend a Ranger Program
Take a Hike
Visitor Centers in Zion National Park
First stop, a visitor center offers interpretive information along with maps and ranger services.
Zion Canyon Visitors Center
Departure point for the Zion Canyon Shuttle.
Open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (7 p.m. in summer and 5 p.m. in winter).
Zion Nature Center
Note: Temporarily Closed
Zion Human History Museum
See the the Watchmen and West Temple, rock formations. Find a short film inside.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and summer, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in fall.
Note: Temporarily Closed
Kolob Visitors Center
Located in the northwest corner of the park and not accessible from Zion Canyon. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Scenic Drives in Zion Canyon
The scenic drive though the canyon is closed to private traffic from mid-March until end of October and weekends in the winter. See the canyon from a shuttle bus ($1 per passenger) with stops at popular sites like the Zion Lodge, The Grotto and The Temple of Sinawava.
Zion Mount Carmel Highway
Starting at the western entrance to Zion National Park, see popular sites like Checkerboard Mesa, The Tunnel and Canyon Overlook Viewpoint. No private vehicles pass Canyon Junction.
The Zion Lodge
More than a lodge, find several popular trails to the Emerald Pools with waterfalls even in the heat of the summer. Take the bridge over the Virgin River, to find the hiking trails.
After a hike, take a break and sit in the shade of the cottonwoods on the Zion Lodge’s lawn. Find a restaurant and cafe at the Zion Lodge as well.
Hiking in Zion National Park
The main activity in Zion National Park is hiking. With shuttle service to several trailheads, it’s easy to hike in Zion.
Pa’rus Trail—An accessible 3.5-mile (5.6 km) paved trail from the Visitor Center to Canyon Junction along the Virgin River.
Lower Emerald Pool Trail—A 1.2-mile (1.9 km) trail from the Zion Lodge to the pools.
The Grotto Trail—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) trail from the Zion Lodge to the Grotto
Riverside Walk—A partially accessible 2.2-mile (3.5 km) along the Virgin River.
Canyon Overlook—A 1.0-mile (1.6 km) trail that overlooks the Zion Canyon.
Note: The Narrows and the Angels Landing are both all-day strenuous hikes not for families with younger, or fearful, children.
Ranger Programs in Zion
Head to a Visitors Center for the Ranger Program schedule. Programming is free and some might require in-person day-of reservations.
- Ranger Walks
- Ranger Bus Tours
- Junior Ranger Activities
- Evening Programs
Biking in Zion
When Zion Canyon Road closes to private vehicles for the season (Spring through Fall) bicycles are permitted on all roads except for the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Trails are off-limits for bicycles except for the Pa’rus Trail.
Riders must travel in groups of six or less in single file.
Horseback Riding in Zion
Book a guided one-hour or three-hour horseback in Zion National Park with an authorized concessionaire. Rides are for those 7+ with weight restrictions. Available from March to October and reservations are required.
Sunsets and Night Skies in Zion
Sunsets set the rock formations ablaze when its red sandstone glows in the late afternoon light. For the best locations for sunset, consider walking along the paved Pa’rus Trail or the Zion Human History Museum.
If you are camping in Zion National Park, check in at the Visitor Center for evening Ranger programming at the campground.
Wildlife in Zion National Park
Find a rich ecosystem in Zion, elk roam and mountain lions stalk. Also find peregrine falcons and Stellar’s jay above. The bighorn sheep perch along rock ledges.
Also find mule deer and coyotes in Zion along with the rest of the southwest U.S. Rock squirrels are found throughout Zion too.
Plants in Zion National Park
One of the surprises of Zion National Park is the abundance of plants. Find forests of pinyon pine, ponderosa pine and cottonwood trees along with juniper trees.
In the spring, find wildflowers first on the canyon floor and moving up the canyon as the temperatures warm. In the summer visit the hanging gardens at The Grotto. In the fall, Zion’s National Park’s aspen trees start to glow in shades of yellow.
What to do in Zion with Kids
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Zion National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklets.
For kids who yearn for more, Zion National Park offers a seasonal resource for families. Zion Nature Center offers families a chance to play games, look at exhibits and read books. Also find ranger-led activities and tours.
Located north of the South Campground, minutes from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Note: The Zion Nature Center is closed until further notice.
Zion National Park offers the Junior Paleontologist Program as well.
For families with strollers, try the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. Find an accessible 2.2-mile roundtrip trail from the Virgin River to the Narrows.
To explore Zion National Park at a slower pace, try a guided scenic tour aboard a bus to see all the photo-worthy sights and maybe some of the Zion’s mountain goats too. Afternoon tours depart from Zion Lodge, three times a week.
For the adventurous families, Zion National Park offers guided horseback rides. With a one-hour and three-hour tour to choose from, families ride in the shadow of the peaks.
Where to Eat in Zion
Red Rock Grill—Located inside Zion Lodge, serves a breakfast buffet, lunch with southwestern and American favorites, along with a kids menu for each meal. Dinner requires reservations and features a menu showcases ingredients from Utah and northern Arizona along with a wine, beer and cocktail menu.
Open year-round from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and features a seasonal patio.
Castle Dome Cafe—Seasonal snack bar with outdoor seating, serving traditional cafe items, like coffee drinks along with pastries, along with burgers and sandwiches. Find a beer cart in the area as well.
Open daily from March until November for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hours are subject to change.
Picnicking in Zion
Find picnic tables at several locations in the Zion Canyon area.
- South Campground, near the Visitor Center
- Zion Nature Center
- The Grotto
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
The Zion Lodge
With traditional lodge rooms, suites along with cabins, Zion Lodge offers a host of options inside the park, including an on-site restaurant and seasonal snack bar.
The lodge rooms feature two queen beds along with private porch or balcony. Also find televisions in the rooms, a rare treat for National Park lodges.
The suites boast two rooms, a sitting room with a wet bar equipped with a microwave, mini-refrigerator and balcony. The other room features a king-sized bed.
Zion Lodge Cabins
Find 28 cabins with two double beds and 12 with one queen bed. Each cabin features a working fireplace along with private porch, private bathroom along with mini-refrigerator along with a microwave, perfect for picnic lunch supplies.
The Zion Lodge is open year-round.
Camping in Zion
Find three campgrounds in Zion National Park, two are located in Zion Canyon, most popular part of the park. The Lava Point Campground is one-hour away off Kolob Terrace Road
- Seasonal from mid-March until end of October
- Reservations Needed
- 117 sites, no RVs hook ups
- Potable water with flush toilets, no showers
- RV dump station
- Open year-round
- reservations in spring through fall.
- 190 sites, 69 tent-only.
- Some sites offer electricity. No full RVs hook-ups
- Potable water with flush toilets, no showers
- RV dump station
Lava Point Campground (Not in Zion Canyon)
- Seasonal from May until September
- First come, first serve
- 6 primitive sites
- No water with pit toilets
History of Zion National Park
Over 180-million-years ago a windswept desert slowly compressed into the Navajo Sandstone. Rising up 2000 feet today, water sculpted the canyon with the eye of an artist with frequent flooding of the Virgin River.
Archaeologists found evidence of human existence and the Ancestral Puebloans cultivated corn and squash in the area. The Southern Paitute roamed the area after the Puebloans moved on.
The Mormons settled Utah during the 1850s and Isaac Behunin named the area Zion, or Kingdom of Heaven. Though a Methodist minister, Frederick Fisher, named the Three Patriarchs, the Great White Throne, Angels Landing and the Organ rock features and continued with the religious theme.
Zion National Park earned its national park status in 1919.
The People of Zion
The Ancestral Puebloans and Southern Paitute People
Since 6,000 BCE, people have hunted in the area that would become Zion National Park. As the first humans to leave permanent evidence, like pottery and baskets, the Ancestral Puebloans cultivated crops in the area of Zion National Park, in addition to hunting. Though drought in the desert required them to move on.
The Southern Paiute arrived in 1,300 CE. They used the land in a more nomadic way, hunting and collecting fruits and nuts instead of cultivating.
John Wesley Powell explored Zion Canyon in 1872 for the U.S. Geological Survey. Though fur trappers explored the area for much of the 1800s.
The Mormons flocked to Utah in the 1860s as pioneers and settlers. They changed the landscape of Utah by cultivating the land and building log cabins. Though settlement was difficult to periods of drought followed by floods.
The Civilian Conservation Corps
As a part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Program, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on conservation projects across the U.S. A group of young men arrived at the 1933 and stayed until 1942 when the program was terminated.
During their tenure, the men of the CCC built and maintained the trails in Zion National Park, built buildings along with campgrounds. Mainly of the stone buildings are still in use, and is the amphitheater that the CCC built.
Weather in Zion National Park
Winter: Highs—50sF (teens C) Lows—30sF (1 to 3C)
Spring: Highs—60sF (15 to 12C) Lows—50sF (4C to 10)
Summer: Highs—100F ( 30sC) Lows—60sF (15 to 20C)
Fall—Highs 60sF (15 to 19C) Lows—40sF (4 to 9C)
Rainfall is consistent year-round with 1 to 2 inches (40 to 50mm) monthly.
National Parks Located Nearby
Zion National Park is part of the Grand Staircase. It’s located 85 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 122 miles away.
Many visitors continue to see the rest of the Mighty Five, Utah’s national parks. Each park offers a unique landscape to explore. Utah’s Route 9 is the Zion National Park Scenic Byway from the Interstate 15 turnoff. If continuing to Bryce Canyon National Park, exit through Zion-Mount Carmel Highway for more of this stunning drive.
Gateway Towns to Zion National Park
Springdale, Utah, is located at Zion’s South Entrance, offers lodging and dining along with outdoor activities and outfitters. It offers paid parking lots near the entrance of Zion National Park along with a free shuttle for visitor staying in town.
Zion National Park is located 160 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, the closest international airport (LAS). Find a dizzying amount of hotels, dining along with casinos.
Note: Gas is available inside Zion National Park.
Shuttles in Zion National Park
Find two different routes servicing Zion National Park.
Springdale Route—With nine bus stops in the town of Springdale, ride to Zion National Park’s visitor center for free. This route starts in mid-March.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive—At the visitor center, a timed-entry shuttle takes visitors (advance purchase tickets $1 per person 2+, per day) along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Stops include Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Big Bend and the Temple of Sinawava. A circular route shuttle is available in Zion Canyon that doesn’t stop at Zion Visitor Center.
Where’s Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located 160 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, the closest international airport.
Zion National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $35 per private vehicle.
Know Before You Go:
- Temperatures in the summer can reach 100F, carry water at all times. I stop and make my kids toast the mountains so we remember to drink water.
- Wear a hat and apply the sunscreen.
- Monsoon season is late June through September where flash flooding can occur with little warning.
- Consult a Park Ranger before hiking The Narrows Trail to see if flash flooding is predicted.
- Cell service is weak within the park.