Zion National Park was our first national park, and we were extremely excited to visit.
The park itself is open all year round, but due to weather conditions you may not be able to see and do everything you would like to. We traveled in early May, and many hikes that we hoped to do were still closed because of recent floodings due to the heavy winter snowpack. So, be sure to watch the weather and be aware that hikes and roads can be closed, or even close, regardless of the time of year.
Where is Zion National Park
Zion National Park is in Southern Utah, about 30 minutes north of St George, or about three hours north of Las Vegas.
The entrance to Zion Canyon as well as the main Visitor Center is located just outside the town of Springdale, Utah.
Springdale is the gateway to Zion National Park and is a cute and bustling town. It has many great coffee places, restaurants, accommodations, mountaineering, bicycle, and tourist shops.
If you are preparing your own meals, note that there are not very many grocery stores in Springdale. And the couple that we found were very expensive!
Tip: Stock up before arriving in Springdale. We went grocery shopping in St. George, which is about an hour west of Springdale.
Springdale offers a free shuttle bus to the Zion National Park Visitor Center.
Tip: The Springdale Shuttle is great, but it is often full. If your accommodation is close to the park entrance, consider walking to not lose time!
Getting around in Zion National Park
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only open to shuttle buses for most of the year. The free informative drive takes about 40 minutes one way, which is something you need to keep in mind when you’re planning a hike! We loved riding the shuttle when we first arrived and found it to be a great overview of the park.
The first shuttle into the Canyon leaves the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at 6:00 in the morning in summer, and 7:00 in the spring and fall. The last shuttle out of the Canyon back to the Visitor center is at 8:15 pm during the summer, and 7:15 in the spring and fall.
The Scenic drive is about 8 miles / 12.5 Kilometers. There are 9 stops, including the visitor center, and each stop has water filling stations. Shuttles leave every 5 to 7 minutes.
Check with the visitor center to find out which stop is best for the hike you want to take.
Hikes at Zion National Park
We stayed 6 days in the area. The Park offers so many hikes that we still had a great choice! You can choose hikes from family friendly and easy, to strenuous and dangerous for the adrenaline junkies among you.
We were amazed by the geography and breathtaking rock formations at Zion! We did Kolob Canyon, the Pa’rus Trail, the Scout’s Lookout, and the first section of Angel’s Landing.
- Choose hikes that are within your ability
- Bring plenty of water and snacks
- Be aware of weather conditions
- Respect wildlife
- LEAVE NO TRACE
Visiting Kolob Canyon was our first stop in Zion National Park. We didn’t even know that Kolob Canyon is part of the National Park!
Kolob Canyon is located outside Zion Canyon, about a half-hour drive north-east of St George, just off exit 40 on I-15. There are 3 trails at Kolob Canyon. We did the Taylor Creek Trail which leads to the Double Arch Alcove. The trail follows and crosses the middle fork of the Taylor Creek. You walk along the creek through a canyon that is framed by giant red cliffs towering on both sides. On the trail are two historic homestead cabins.
The trail cumulates at the astonishing Double Arch Alcove. The Alcove is a sandstone grotto that is formed by nature’s force.
The trail is 5.0 miles / 8.0 kilometers long. What we weren’t expecting were the several river crossings! Be aware that your feet will get wet! The hike took us just over 4 hours, but the rewards were the stunning rock formations, the fun of crossing Taylor Creek, and of course the impressive Double Arch!
We arrived at the Double Arch Alcove at golden hour, and the red rock earth sparkled in the evening sunlight.
The cherry on top is that Kolob Canyon is less known, which makes it so much less crowded than Zion Canyon! We would highly recommend including Kolob Canyon in your Zion National Park adventure.
The Pa’rus Trail
After using the free shuttle bus inside Zion Canyon, we started with the Pa’rus Trail. The trail follows the Virgin River from the visitor center up to the Canyon Junction and back. It is an easy stroll on a paved path and has fantastic views. The trail takes about 2 hours and is 3.5 miles/ 5,6 km long. Pets are not allowed in Zion Canyon except on the Pa’rus Trail; which was great because we were fortunate to have a house sit in Springdale with two wonderful dogs. And they enjoyed the nice stroll along the Pa’rus Trail as much as we did!
The Trail starts right behind the Visitor Center and is also accessible to wheelchair users and bicycles. Dogs must be on leash at all times, and there is no shade. So don’t forget your sun hat and go early in the morning or late in the evening if you want to walk your dog. It gets hot, even in May.
We felt that the Pa’rus Trail was a nice trail and is a good introduction to Zion. The red cliffs mount up on both sides and give you a good impression what is to come. Pa’rus might not be your most memorable hike in the park, but it is a great way to warm up your hiking legs!
Excited by our first day on the Pa’rus Trail, we were eager for a more challenging hike, so we went to the Scout’s Lookout!
Scout’s Lookout is accessed via the West Rim Trail. Exit the shuttle at The Grotto bus stop. The hike up to Scout’s is strenuous with 21 switchbacks, also known as Walter’s Wiggles.
While exhausting, it was fun to see the people which looked like ants walking up and down the trails. Just the build of the switchbacks is amazing!
Once at the Lookout, you can continue to the well-known summit, called Angel’s Landing. The Angel’s Landing section of the trail is only accessed with a permit. The permit costs $6 and is awarded via a lottery basis. We had decided to not hike Angel’s Landing because it has steep drop-offs. And, tragically, several people have died on this section of the trail. Being afraid of heights, this was not something that I was planning to do.
But in a moment of unwarranted bravery (or stupidity- there’s a fine line), we tried it! We were lucky to have been given two spare tickets from hikers. Even if I didn’t make it very far before fear kicked in, I am proud to have tried it!
Offering breathtaking views of Zion Canyon, and a unique experience for us, Scout’s Lookout was our absolute favorite hike in Zion. We took it slow due to heat and the elevation change (1,488 ft / 453 m). But we were not the only slow walkers and enjoyed nice chats with fellow resting travelers on our way up. The estimated time for this hike is 4 hours, which is pretty accurate. Taking extended breaks, countless photos, and stopping for long chats, we were up and down in about 4.5 hours.
Everything you need to know for your visit at Zion National Park
Visiting Zion National Park for the first time was honestly a bit overwhelming for us. We were not sure which hikes we should do. Or could do. After all we’re golfers, not hikers!
To save you time, we’ve summarized the most important points for your visit at Zion National Park!
- Zion National Park and the Visitor Center is open year-round.
- The entry fee into Zion is US $35 per car, per week. Permits can be bought at the Visitor Center or online.
- Most National Parks cost between $20 to $35 each. If you are planning to visit several parks, the yearly “America the Beautiful” pass will save you money. A yearly pass for ALL US National Parks can be purchased for US $80 per car, per year. You can order the park pass online or purchase it at most National Park Visitor Centers.
- The shuttle bus is the only way to get from A to B inside Zion Canyon from early-spring to late-fall. The informative drive is about 40 minutes one way, and the price is included in your weekly or yearly pass.
- The park offers a great informational handout that details all campground and lodge locations, hikes, and park shuttle stops.
- The Visitor Center is open from 8 am until 5 pm.
- Free parking is available at the Visitor Center on a first come, first served basis- arrive early if you want to park. There is paid parking outside the park.
- Depending on ranger availability you can join free programs about geology, plants, animals, etc.
Hikes in Zion National Park
- Zion National Park offers several hikes:
- Easy hikes: Pa’rus Trail, Lower Emerald Pool Trail, The Grotto Trail, Weeping Rock Trail, Riverside Walk.
- Moderate hikes: Canyon Overlook, Watchman Trail, Sand Bench Trail, Kayenta Trail, Middle Emerald Pool Trail, Upper Emerald Pool Trail.
- Strenuous hikes: Scout Lookout via West Rim Trail, The Narrows.
- Kolob Canyon hikes include Timber Creek Overlook Trail, Taylor Creek Trail, Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail.