Zion is the most visited National Park in Utah, and one of the most popular parks in the nation. And there’s good reason for its popularity.
Pine trees dot the landscape in clusters and towering red rock cliffs rise on either side of the canyon. Carving through the center is the clear Virgin River. It's breathtaking.
Whether you’re in search of a challenging hike with epic views or you’d like a more relaxed visit seeking out waterfalls and splashing in the river (or you want both!), Zion National Park will leave you starry eyed.
But you’re not the only one who wants to enjoy the famed beauty of this National Park. Be prepared to experience its grandeur amongst crowds, no matter what day of the week you arrive.
We've put together a complete guide to Zion National Park that will make planning your trip super easy! Plus, we'll share our secrets on how to avoid the crowds and all the items you should definitely put on your packing list!
What is Zion National Park known for?
Angel’s Landing and the Narrows are two of the parks most famous hikes. The strenuous zig-zagging climb up Walter’s Wiggles to Angel’s Landing is not for the faint of heart. At times, the path is only 5-feet wide and on either side are drop offs that are hundreds of feet down.
The Narrows is a hike up the Virgin River that you actually hike through knee high water to that takes you further and further into the canyon.
Zion is also home to tons of wildlife. During the couple days we were there, we saw deer, eagles, a fox, big horned sheep, and lots of lizards and birds.
The Good parts of Zion National Park
- The landscape in Zion National Park is unmatched. Your jaw will literally drop at the beauty of it all.
- The shuttle system in the park is ultra-convenient. At most, you’ll wait 15 minutes for a ride, and during the busiest times, shuttles come ever 3-4 minutes. This allows you to go from hike to hike without worrying about the hassle of parking.
- The park is pretty accessible. There are a wide range of hikes – from wheelchair accessible riverside walks to strenuous treks with steep drops. Zion is a great place for both adventure enthusiasts, families and those with limited mobility.
- Perfect stop on a road trip: You can easily add Zion to a 1-week Southwest US road trip. It is close enough to Bryce Canyon that you can see both in a few days if you're in a hurry.
The Bad Parts of Zion National Park
- The crowds. Oh my God the crowds. Zion is busy every day of the year. If you’re not a fan of crowds, you’ll have to take extra measures to avoid other people in this ultra-popular national park (see tips below).
That shuttle we were just talking about – while convenient – can have incredibly long wait times in the morning. Get to the line at the Visitor Center before 7:30 a.m. unless you want to be waiting a minimum of 45 minutes to board.
How long should I spend in Zion National Park?
It would take you a while to get bored in this park!
- 1 day: too short, but you can see a few highlights
- 2 days: you can see some of the major attractions, but it it would still be on the short end.
- 3 days: you will have time to see all the major sights as well as get off the beaten path
- 4 days: you might even have some time to relax!
What time of year is best to visit Zion National Park?
Spring and early summer are great times to visit Zion National Park. The monsoon season between mid-July to September should be avoided because of the risk of flash floods, and you would not likely be able to walk through the Narrows.
Best Hikes & Sights in Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing Hike
- Hike: 5.4 miles roundtrip. Elevation Change: 1488 ft. Time: 4 hours
- Famous for its steep drop offs and a 360 degree view of Zion Canyon. While it was not as bad as people made it out to be, the hike is difficult and the last part before the top requires scrambling up a the rock face. Have sturdy shoes and both your hands free so you can use the chain railings. Read up on some more tips on Angel's Landing before beginning your hike.
- The entire hike up the river is 9.4 miles and can take 8 hours roundtrip. However you can turn around at any point. Most people wade and play in the water for about an hour.
- Start at the Temple of Sinawava and hike north for about a mile on the Riverside Walk. At the end of walk, it’s time to get your feet wet because the rest of the hike is through the Virgin River.
- This article is full of practical tips you should know before hiking The Narrows.
Emerald Pool Trails
- Hike: about 3 miles. Time: 90 minutes
- Start at the Grotto and hike south on the Kayenta Trail up to the Upper Emerald Pools. Then on the way out, head toward the Lower Emerald Pools and then continue to Zion Lodge.
Note: you can rent waterproof shoes and hiking poles from Zion Outfitters (or buy them at the visitor’s center) but we found this to be totally unnecessary. We wore our regular hiking boots and just let them dry off after the hike. We didn’t use a walking stick, but if you are worried about your stability, it’s not a bad idea.
I have a family with small children. What can we do in Zion National Park?
There’s plenty to see and explore with kiddos at Zion! They will likely love the Narrows hike where they can splash around in the water. If you want to lug them through the water, we saw some kids with inter tubes floating down the river (but they would have to get up every 30 feet because of shallow rocks and people).
How to avoid crowds in Zion
Our biggest tip to avoid the crowds is to get started early. The lines for the shuttle get exponentially long after 7:30 a.m. and the hikes get crowded as well. To avoid feeling like you’re in Disney World, start early in the morning, then take a break during the busy afternoon. Head out again in the early evening for that Golden Hour glow.
The great part of this strategy is that in addition to avoiding crowds, you’ll avoid the hours of direct sunlight during your hikes. Since you’re hiking in a canyon, you’ll be shaded in the early morning hours as well as the late afternoon.
Famous photographs from Zion
Walter’s Wiggles, the steep heart-pumping zig-zag path up to Scout’s look out, is a great shot from the top. Make sure to get a picture of your climb up to Angel’s Landing (but only before you start moving, you want both hands free for the climb). The Narrows is also a great photo opportunity with everyone shuffling in the water deep inside the canyon.
To get some awesome shots at Zion, check out this article filled with creative tips to improve your travel photography!
What to pack for Zion National Park
- Clothes for hiking
- Camera (and bag so you can put away the camera for the Angel’s Landing hike
- Closed toed shoes that can get wet for the Narrows hike
- Food for your entire stay (food in the park and nearby town is pretty expensive, so if you’re on a budget, plan ahead and bring all the groceries you’ll need)
- Water bottle
Our favorite part about Zion National Park
We keep saying it, but the scenery in Zion is seriously stunning.
We loved the diversity of hikes as well. Making it to Angel’s Landing was a huge highlight, as was cooling off in the Narrows.
Top Tips for Zion National Park
Stock up on groceries before getting to Zion. The grocery store in Springdale, the closest town, is ridiculously overpriced for many things (though it’s good to know it’s there if needed). We saw a bag of chips priced more than $9 USD! ‘Nuff said!
Where to stay nearby Zion National Park
Camping Near Zion National Park
There are plenty of campgrounds nearby Zion and lots of spots inside the park as well. Be sure to book ahead with the National Park Service. $30 per night for an electronic hookup site, $20 for tent only site, and $50 for a group campsite.
Hotels Near Zion National Park
When we are in the states, we use Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels. There are plenty of hotels in Springdale (the town south of the park) so search there first. If you are only going to Zion for the day and prefer to stay in a bigger town, St. George, Utah (1 hour away) is a good option.