Zion National Park was established in 1919 and was Utah's first. Located in the southwestern part of the state near the city of St George, Zion is easily accessible from Interstate 15 from both Las Vegas to the south and Salt Lake City to the north. In this beautiful red rock area there are over 146,000 acres set aside that are protected by the National Park Service. The park draws an annual visitorship of over three million people. Most of these travelers are coming for the day, and they will be awed by the spectacular landscape. However, if you can plan an extra day or two you'll be glad that you did. There is much to do at Zion for all ages. Here are our the Top 5 from the Wandering But Not Lost perspective that will give you a great feel and understanding of the Park.
Before we get started: Admission is $30 per vehicle for a seven day pass. If you are a National Park fan we recommend that you purchase an Annual Pass which you can use across all parks for $80. Admission fees go directly back to the Park Service, so if you opt for the Annual Pass please be generous and make a donation at the Visitor Center. It is money well spent for your future enjoyment of these national treasures! From April through October (and seasonally the rest of the year) the park operates a shuttle service in the canyon to alleviate traffic congestion. There is ample parking located at the head of the canyon at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center in Springdale. With the housekeeping component complete - let's explore the 5 Tips That Will Enhance Your Zion National Park Experience:
Mt. Carmel Tunnel - On your way into Zion Canyon, or when you are leaving the park, make a point to drive through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel. The tunnel was built over a ten-year period between late 1920 and 1930. Clocking in at 1.1 miles long, it was a major construction feat and the longest tunnel of its kind in the United States at that time. It was built to open access along Utah's southern land which includes two well-known destinations; Bryce Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A unique feature of the tunnel is a series of 'windows' that were cut for ventilation purposes, providing light and quick snapshots of the red rock cliffs outside of the tunnel.
The Cabins at Zion Lodge - If your itinerary allows a multi-day stop we recommend staying at the in-park Zion Lodge. Not only will you get a more immersive experience but you will also be able to drive and park at the lodge. During the busier months this gives you a little extra perk since all other vehicles will have to park at the Visitor Center. The Lodge was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood in 1925 (He also designed the incredible Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite which opened in 1927). The lodge consists of the original lodge buildings and 28 adjacent cabins that were added a bit later. The cabins are nestled together, but you get a sense of privacy and a oneness with the surrounding sandstone cliffs, Virgin River, and stillness of the canyon. Most of the cabins are built as duplexes making it easier to accommodate larger groups through the adjoining doors. Each has a gas fireplace and a porch where you can start and end your day, taking in the fresh Utah air. If you are an animal lover, there is a great chance that you will encounter deer and the famous wild turkeys that inhabit the area.
Emerald Pools - This is a great way to get to know the landscape of Zion. The trailhead is located across from the Zion Lodge and each pool along the path provides a different and beautiful experience along the way. The trail climbs and gets a bit more difficult as you pass each pool, with the upper pool taking on a more moderate difficulty. Slow and steady wins the race, however, because the upper pool has a beautiful cascading waterfall that pours over its crescent cliff. Water flow of the fall will depend on the season but whether it's running at full force or simply dripping with the last drops of the season, it is a magical sight.
Angels Landing - This is one of Zion's classic hikes and one that should be on your hiker's bucket list (if that is your thing). This 5.4 mile hike will take you on an elevation gain of over 1,488 feet from the canyon floor to the top, where you will be literally resting with the angels at 5,785 feet above sea level. To reach the trailhead, take the Grotto shuttle stop and head across the footbridge at the Virgin River. This hike will take you through a wide variety of landscapes making it is a feast for the senses. Beginning your ascent up the canyon, the first part of this climb takes you up on the outer side of the cliff. There are great views but little protection from the sun, so if you are doing this hike during warmer months bee sure to start early and wear sunscreen! At the top of your initial climb you will enter the narrow, aptly-named, Refrigerator Canyon. You will immediately notice a decrease in temperature as you make your way through. This part of the trail os a welcome relief, particularly during hot weather.
This entire trail is a photographer's dream, but we find that this particular area is one of the best places to capture some very beautiful and creative shots. Next up on the list is the twenty-one steep switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles, named after Zion National Park's first superintendent, who was the lead in getting the trail to Angels Landing built in 1926. Once you navigate through the "Wiggles" you will reach Scouts Landing, a perfect spot to catch a break before you tackle the most exciting part of the hike. You are only a half-mile out from your destination now. This part of the hike is not for anyone who has a fear of heights. You will be on narrow pathways with sheer drop-offs and will use the assistance of fixed-chains on the cliffside to hold on to. Don't rush this portion of the trail. Not only will it be safer to take this a bit slower, but you will really want to soak up this unique experience. This is a hike that we believe is about the journey just as much, if not more, than the destination. Once you do reach the summit you are in for a treat along with the very best view of Zion Canyon in all directions. What a great place to rest a bit and enjoy a snack or the the celebratory lunch that you packed for the adventure! Even though you've seen the sights on the way up we guarantee that you will experience it differently on the way down. Perhaps it's the endorphins and adrenaline still in overdrive. Whatever the case, this hike just may change you - forever!
Riverside Walk - Located at the far end of the canyon at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop is the Riverside Walk. This 2.2 mile round trip trek is a good one for all ages, and once again, immerses you into the landscape of the canyon itself. You will be walking near or next to the Virgin River under a canopy of trees, moss and fern covered grounds. This walk is beautiful all year 'round and is a different experience with each changing season. This is also the gateway to the another popular and famous Zion hike - The Narrows. To be honest, the Narrows hike is one of the best hikes we've ever taken and the only reason that it is not on this top 5 list is because it takes planning, preparation, and time so it won't be on the agenda for many travelers. With that said, if you like adventure it should definitely be on your list, and a reason to return.
Zion National Park is a gem in the National Park system. It is a great side trip from both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Once you experience this incredible park you will most certainly return. (More than once!)
Don't miss some of the other incredible parks and monuments while you in Utah:
(mileage from Zion)
Arches National Park - 301 miles
Bryce Canyon National Park - 72 miles
Canyonlands National Park - 322 miles
Capitol Reef National Park - 174 miles
Dinosaur National Monument - 389 miles
Golden Spike National Historic Site - 393 miles
Natural Bridges National Monument - 290 miles
Timpanogos Cave National Monument - 284 miles