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16 of the best things to do in Zion National Park (Including a SECRET hike!)

16 of the best things to do in Zion National Park (Including a SECRET hike!)

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As one of the most popular National Parks in the USA, Zion National Park is a busy one. It was Utah’s first National Park and it’s not a place to go to if you’re hoping to escape crowds. Even though the main canyon part of the park is small, there are still plenty of things to do in Zion National Park in one day or more. Take on some of the Zion National Park trails, try your hand at canyoneering, do some Zion camping or even canyoneering. We spent one day and an afternoon in the park after driving from Bryce to Zion. To do everything on this list you’ll need longer so just pick and choose what you fancy!

things to do in zion national park utah pin

Where is Zion National Park located?

Zion National Park is in south-west Utah near the small town of Springdale and just under 1 hour’s drive away from St George, Utah. It’s close by to other Utah National Parks such as Bryce Canyon and makes up one of the Utah Mighty 5 National Parks.

Zion National Park Map

zion national park mapCheck out this Zion Park map to get your bearings. Bear in mind this is not a good enough map to use for hiking. Whilst most of the Zion trails are well signposted and have plenty of other people on them, it’s a good idea to get a Zion National Park trail map before you go off hiking in Zion, Utah.

How to get to Zion National Park

There are two entrances to Zion National Park. Most people come into the park from the south and the town of Springdale but there’s also an entrance to the east which takes you down the windy Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

If you’re flying to Zion from outside the US, the closest airports to Zion National Park are the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas which is a three-hour drive away and the Salt Lake City International Airport which is a four-hour drive.

If you’re flying to the US before visiting Zion National Park and have dates in mind then I recommend checking out Skyscanner.com to compare your cheap flights!

For those of you who’ve yet to choose your dates then take a look at Dollar Flight Club, once signed up you can set your home airport(s) and then they’ll let you know when they find amazing deals on flights. The savings they find every day AMAZE me!

For more details on getting to Zion National Park, take a look at my first timers guide to Zion.

Entrance Fees for Zion National Park

The Zion National Park entrance fees cost $35 per car, this lasts for 7 consecutive days.

If you’re entering by foot, bike or by taking the Zion National Park shuttle bus then the Zion National Park fee is $20 per person and under 15s are free.

If you’re visiting a few US National Parks over the course of a year then you’ll be better off buying the “America is Beautiful National Parks Pass” from REI for $80.

For more information on Zion National Park permits check out my guide to Zion

Where to stay near Zion National Park

Despite being small there are plenty of places to stay near Zion National Park. And, if you’re a camper there are campsites outside of the park in case those inside are already full. I’ve listed some of the top Zion National Park campgrounds below too.

Zion National Park Hotels

Check out these highly recommended hotels near Zion National Park and Zion National Park accommodation.

Zion Lodge

If you’re wondering where to stay in Zion National Park then this is the place. Zion Park Lodge is the best places to stay in Zion National Park and is the only hotel within the park itself. This historic building has a mixture of Zion National Park cabins, suites and hotel rooms to stay in. It’s a perfect place to spend the night before or after a day’s hiking but you’ll need to make Zion Lodge reservations!

Driftwood Lodge

Driftwood Lodge is in Springdale and is a great hotel near Zion National Park with a pool, hot tub and picnic area as well as wifi. Access to the park is super easy, especially in summer, as the park shuttle bus stops just outside.

Quality Inn & Suites Montclair

Quality Inn & Suites is great Zion National park lodging and perfect for those travelling on a budget. With 9.2 out of 10 on Booking.com is also one of the best places to stay in the Zion National Park area.

Flanigans Inn

Another option for lodging near Zion National Park is Flanigan’s Inn. Some rooms also come with a balcony where you can really soak up the views.

Best Western Plus

This Best Western is one of the top Zion hotels and has good sized rooms and includes breakfast in the mornings too. Plus there’s a hot tub – perfect for muscle-tired legs!

Zion National Park camping

Prefer to camp when you visit national parks? Check out these fantastic places to go camping near Zion National Park.

Under Canvas Zion

More glamping than camping, these luxury tents near Zion National Park are the perfect way to take in the dramatic surroundings and nature. You can also get a massage, take part in yoga and enjoy an American or veggie breakfast (included) after your night under canvas.

Zion Canyon Campground & RV Resort

For Zion National Park RV camping, check out this Zion RV Park which is right outside the park’s south gate. It’s within walking distance of the Zion National Park Visitor Centre and is one of the best campgrounds near Zion National Park.

On-site, there’s a heated pool, laundry and showers as well as spots suitable for larger RVs as well as just tents.

Hi-Road Campground

This Zion campground is just outside of the east gate. It’s great if you’re coming from Bryce Canyon since this is the gate you’ll arrive at. As RV Parks near Zion National Park go it’s also a bit quieter so a good option if other campgrounds near Zion are full.

There are also some Zion cabins here to rent too.

Zion tours

Prefer to travel as a tour group? There are plenty of tour companies that leave from cities like Las Vegas and take a day trip out to Zion and Bryce. Some great tour options are below and this one looks like a great option for those who are short on time.

Best things to do in Zion National Park

There’s more to do in Zion National Park than you’d think at first. There’s a huge backcountry to explore, cliffs to climb, rivers to walk alongside (or in!) and plenty of geology to learn. Check out these Zion National Park must sees and you’ll quickly understand why it’s such a special place!

What to do in Zion National Park in one day

If you only have one day to spend in Zion National Park then I suggest you get up early and stay out late, you’ll want to spend as much time in the park as possible. Plus, getting there early means you’re more likely to be able to park at the Zion National Park Visitor Centre and won’t be competing with quite as many hoards of people.

For those with one day in Zion National Park, I’d suggest doing a hike and riding the park shuttle bus along the scenic drive. The shuttle bus plays out some information as it travels and you can hop on and off at various stops along the way. In busier months it’s the only (motorised) way to get from one end to the other as driving your own vehicle isn’t allowed.

Check out the Zion attractions and top things to do to plan your Zion trip!

Go camping in Zion National Park

zion campground

Within Zion Canyon, you have two campsites to choose from: the Watchman and South Campground. Both are usually fully reserved in the summer months so you’ll need to be prepared and book a spot in advance if you hope to go camping in Zion. You can find out more about booking online here or call:  877-444-6777

The Zion Narrows hike

zion narrows hike

Credit: bucketsforyou.files.wordpress.com

Hiking The Narrows trail in Zion National Park is one of the more popular Zion National Park activities. But you should be aware the trail has a very short season and so you may not be able to do it depending on the time of year you visit Zion.

The Narrows, Zion National Park, is a trail that follows the river through the canyon walls getting narrower the further you go. It’s a trail you’ll get wet on and for a lot of the year the trail is closed due to the risk of flash flooding or snowmelt making the water super cold, high and powerful.

It’s a difficult hike for more experienced hikers as it’s amongst the more difficult Zion hikes. You’ll need closed-toe hiking shoes with ankle support and ideally walking poles to help keep you balanced on the rocky river floor. If you don’t already have this equipment you can hire it from outdoors shops in Springdale.

Make sure to check the weather before heading out on the Zion National Park Narrows hikes as flash floods can happen and do happen, on this trail.

Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel

If you’re entering from the Zion National Park east entrance then you’ll come through this tunnel anyway, if you’re coming from the south I’d suggest checking it out when you leave!

The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel was completed in 1930 and today it’s one of the busiest places in the park. It’s very narrow so if you’re in an RV they’ll usually have to close the traffic coming in the other direction to make sure there’s enough room to get through.

It’s a fun tunnel to drive through and has no lighting (apart from the car lights) making it super dark!

Hike the Angels Landing trail in Zion

hiking angels landing zion national park

You can’t go visit without doing one of the awesome Zion National Park hikes on offer. And Angels Landing is one of the best! Sure it’s a popular trail, it’s steep, quite long and the last section is incredibly narrow with very sharp drop-offs, but it’s awesome.

If you’re a nervous hiker I don’t recommend it but if you’re okay with heights and physically fit then this will be one of the Zion hiking trails that you’ll remember for years to come.

Find out more about this hike in my Angel’s Landing hiking guide

Ride the shuttle bus along the Zion scenic drive

There’s actually no choice but to use the shuttle bus from March to November as Zion closes the majority of the park to cars. At first, this is a little annoying, but the buses run roughly every 5 minutes and it’s far better for the environment.

If you’re arriving in Zion after 10 am then don’t count on finding Zion National Park parking. It’s easier and more stress-free to park up outside of the park and ride the shuttle bus in.

See a Zion waterfall

zion waterfall zion national park

There are a number of waterfalls in Zion National Park. They tend to be best during the spring when the water flow is at its peak.

Some of the most well-known waterfalls are called “Emerald Pools”. It’s a pretty easy hike from the shuttle bus stop and you’re rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall view.

These Zion National Park hiking trails are often closed so make sure to check online or at the visitor centre before you hike out there.

Walk the Riverside Walk, Zion National Park

This was the first mini-hike we did in Zion National Park. It’s also the trail you’ll take to the beginning of The Narrows hike if that’s something you’re planning on doing.

If you’re looking for Zion National Park easy hikes then this is it:  it’s accessible and has virtually no elevation. At roughly 2 miles long there and back, the route takes about 1-2 hours to complete, depending on how much time you want to spend soaking up the views. You can walk just off the path and sit by the river too.

It’s really popular with families due to its ease, so if you’re travelling to Zion with kids then this is a great walk for you all to do together.

Take the Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is one of the few official trails in the upper east canyon of Zion National Park. It’s just outside the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel and is a short hike that has a great view down into Zion Canyon. If this is your first trip to Zion National Park then definitely take a look!

Treat yourself to a stay at Zion Lodge

Zion Lodge is right inside the canyon. It’s pretty fancy for a National Park trip with wifi, restaurants and comfortable beds. If you want a good night’s sleep before a full day of hiking then this is a good option – you’re just footsteps from some of the park’s best trails!

Observation Point Trail 

The hike from the Weeping Rock Trailhead to Observation Point is a Zion classic and the viewpoint at the end of the trail is an iconic image of Zion National Park. It’s without a doubt one of the best hikes in Zion.

The Observation Point Trail is a strenuous 8-mile (round trip) hike that can take between 4 to 6 hours to complete. It also involves a lot of unrelenting uphill on a hard paved trail that was blasted out of the canyon walls.

It’s a popular sunrise or sunset climb so it can be pretty busy at these times but you’ll love the view regardless.

Secret Hike to Pine Creek Waterfall

zion secret hike pine creek waterfall

This hike isn’t listed on the park maps that you’ll get given when you enter. It’s one of the secret hikes that exist in most National Parks and at just 0.7 miles long it’s definitely doable (even if there’s a little scrambling over some rocks to be done!). The pool at the end is crystal clear and swimming is allowed. Just remember to check the weather as flash floods are a risk here!

To find Pine Creek Waterfall follow the road for about 1.5 miles from the park’s South Entrance towards Canyon Junction. At Canyon Junction turn right towards the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. The road is straight the begin with then starts to zig-zag up the mountainside. Just at the beginning of the first zigzag is a dirt pullout with a small sign and the beginning of the Pine Creek Waterfall hike. Enjoy!

See Checkerboard Mesa

checkerboard mesa zion national park

Credit: The Greatest American Road Trip

A lot of visitors stick to the canyon floor in Zion National Park, but it’s worth heading over to the east to check out Checkerboard Mesa. It’s a really unique rock formation where the wind and water have somehow carved out a checkerboard pattern. It really does look like a chessboard!

Gaze at the Court of the Patriarchs

The Court of the Patriarchs is named after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from the Bible and is one of the best places in Zion Canyon to capture the beauty of the red rock cliffs that surround you.

Watchman Trail

One of the best things to do in Zion National Park is to take the Watchman Trail. This trail is a Zion classic and follows a dirt path for two miles beneath massive Bridge mountain. At the end you’ll come to a great viewpoint of the Watchman; a red spire rising to an elevation of 6,545 feet!

Most of this trail is fully exposed to the sun and so it does get very hot: go early or as the sun is setting for the best light. Along the hike, you’ll see plenty of Zion landmarks including Beehives, Towers of the Virgin, West Temple and the Altar of Sacrifice.

Kanarra Creek

kanarra creek zionCredit: clintlosee.photoshelter.com

This Zion National Park slot canyon is one of the best things to do in Zion National Park. This slot canyon hike is pretty easy and not something you’ll find everywhere!

Technically it’s a little outside of the park itself but it’s super easy to get to from the road and is beautiful. Just follow highway 9 to Kanarraville which is a little south of Cedar City. Exit I-15 and drive to the centre of the small town and then follow 100 North about four blocks east to the parking lot. Here you’ll see an entrance gate and permit kiosk and the beginning on the trail. You now need a permit to hike the Kanarra Creek Canyon. They cost $8 and can be bought online or at the kiosk by the trailhead.

Rappel down The Subway hike, Zion

the subway zion national park hikes

This is one of the best hikes in Zion National Park but it’s harder to hike The Subway in Zion National Park’s Great West Canyon than other Zion trails. Firstly, it’s a tough hike and secondly, you need a permit. There are two ways to explore but you need to get hold of a permit whichever one you decide to hike.

Hiking from the bottom up means taking on a strenuous 9-mile round-trip hike through the Left Fork of North Creek that requires route finding, creek crossing, and scrambling over boulders. This hike begins and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead on the Kolob Terrace Road.

If you decide to hike from the top of the canyon to the bottom, you’ll be taking on a 9.5-mile strenuous hike. You’ll need to have rappelling skills and be up for swimming through deep pools of very cold, debris-filled water. This trail begins at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead.

Want more Utah travel guides?

Anupriya Basu

Tuesday 27th of June 2017

These pictures are so inviting and I love this post for the details. As a lover of national parks, I look for posts that talk about the best trails in a park, especially ones leading to waterfalls! This would make exploring Zion a lil easy!

Hannah Kacary

Wednesday 28th of June 2017

So glad you enjoyed the post :)