best things to do in zion national park

Zion National Park is one of the more popular National Parks in America. It’s one of the ones I’d heard of before we travelled over (unlike Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands National Parks). It was Utah’s first National Park and is now the most popular in the state. Due to its popularity and its size (it’s small) it’s not the place to go to if you’re hoping to escape crowds. Even though the park is small, there are still plenty of things to do from hikes to sight seeing and learning here are the best things to do in Zion National Park.

Spend a night in the park

best things to do in zion

There are only a couple of smallish campgrounds in Zion National Park. So, if you want to stay inside Zion overnight you’re going to have to book super early. The Watchman campsite tend to full up about six months in advance whereas South Campground is better for those more spontaneous trips.

Having said that, if you want to stay at South Campground you’re going to have to join the line at 7am the day you want to stay to reserve your pitch!

Walk the Narrows

best things to do in zion national park

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The Narrows was closed during our visit which I was disappointed about as I’d really wanted to try it. However, upon learning it was because of snow melt making the river super cold and super high and powerful (and putting my hand in the water to test), I realised the closure was for the best.

It’s a difficult walk for more experienced hikers that sees you walk through the river and into the canyon itself. You’ll need closed-toe hiking shoes with ankle support and a walking stick. You can hire these from outdoors shops in the town of Springdale right outside the park. Make sure to check the weather before heading out, flash floods can happen, and do happen, on this trail.

Drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel

There’s a pretty long tunnel towards the east of Zion National Park. 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 Angels Landing

hiking angels landing zion national park

Angels Landing is one of the more popular trails to tackle which in Zion. I also think it’s the best things to do in Zion National Park. It’s a steep and pretty sketchy hike, but the views are worth it.

You can read more about my experience of hiking Angels Landing here.

Ride the shuttle bus

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 to Zion after 10am then don’t count on finding parking, it’d be better to park up outside of the park and ride the shuttle bus in.

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See a Waterfall

emerald pools zion national park

There are a number of waterfalls in Zion National Park, especially if you visit in spring when the water flow is at its highest. The most well known waterfalls are the Emerald Pools. It’s a pretty easy hike from the shuttle bus stop and you’re rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall view.

Walk the Riverside Walk

This was the first walk we did in Zion National Park. It’s the trail that leads up to the start of The Narrows and is a super easy walk.  At roughly 2 miles long there and back, the route might take about 1-2 hours to complete if you want time to soak in the views. It’s paved the whole time with a barely noticeable incline here and there. You can walk off the path and sit by the river too.

It’s really popular with families due to its ease, so have patience with prams along the way!

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 viewpoint down in to Zion Canyon. If this is your first trip to Zion National Park then definitely take a look!

Treat yourself to a night 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 

best things to do in zion

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

It’s a popular sun rise or sunset climb so it can be pretty busy but check the link below for a secret!

One of my favourite outdoor blogs has a secret on getting here before the crowds for the ultimate sunrise shot! Take a look.

Secret Hike to Pine Creek Waterfall

pine creek waterfall zion national park

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 0.5 miles long it’s definitely doable (even if there’s a little scrambling over some rocks to be done!). The pool at the end are 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 zig zag is a dirt pullout with a small sign and the beginning of the Pine Creek Waterfall hike. Enjoy!

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See Checkerboard Mesa

checkboard 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 chess board!

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 view point 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 zion national park

Credit: clintlosee.photoshelter.com

This small canyon is one of the best things to do in Zion National Park. 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. There is now an official parking area for hikers and you must pay $10 to park here. Then pass through the hikers’ gate and enjoy the trail!

Rappel down The Subway

The subway zion national park

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It’s harder to hike The Subway in Zion National Park’s Great West Canyon than other 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.

Hiking from the top down sees you tackle 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.

Have you been to Zion?