If you are a planning a trip to Zion National Park, it can be overwhelming to try and see everything the park has to offer - especially if you only have a couple of days. Many people have asked what they should prioritize for their first trip to Zion?
After many trips, I've compiled a list of top activities for Zion National Park. This list is a family friendly list, and everything is accessible by shuttle and paved road. While Zion National Park has some great adventures in the backcountry - The Subway, The Narrows and West Rim Trail to name just a few - I've left those off this list, but definitely recommend them for return visits and for those seeking activities off the well worn trail. Here they are:
9. Shuttle Tour of the Lower Canyon - from Spring to Fall, Zion Canyon is only accessible by Park Shuttle or bicycle. While most people aren't ecstatic to get on a park shuttle, it gives you the opportunity to take in all the beautiful views of the Zion Canyon has to offer. The road follows the Virgin River 7.9 miles up Zion Canyon and is surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs and inspiring rock formations -like The Great White Throne- before ending at the Temple of Sinawava
There are 8 stops along the out and back route and it is a great way to access different hiking trails and scenic viewpoints along the canyon. For those who like to cycle it is a great ride and my favorite way to explore Zion. For first-timers, its also a great way to get oriented and see a lot of the canyon in a relatively short amount of time.
8. Mount Carmel Highway - this road connects the Visitor Center in Springdale with the East Entrance of the park and is accessible by vehicle year round. This is a beautiful drive and switchback's up Zion's sandstone cliffs before entering a tunnel that brings you to the upper canyon rim of Zion. At the time it was built, the tunnel was one of the longest in the US making it quite an engineering feat in its own right.
The Drive from the tunnel to the East Entrance is worth the miles and provides beautiful scenery and some interesting rock features like Checkerboard Mesa - I recommend taking advantage of the pull-out and checking it out. You can also bike from the top of the Tunnel to the East Entrance if that interest you, but bikes and pedestrians are not allowed in the tunnel itself.
7. Pa'rus Trail - the name comes from a Paiute word for "bubbling water" which is a good word to describe this mostly flat, paved trail that follows along the "bubbling" Virgin River. The trail is open to bikes and pets and is a great way to enjoy this section of Zion Canyon. Wild flowers can be found along the trail and in the early morning and evening wildlife like deer can also be found along the trail.
The trail starts just north of the Visitor Center and ends at Canyon Junction, a distance of about 1.7 miles. The trail has several bridges that cross the river as it snakes up the canyon. Great views of the Watchman and other rock formations make this a leisurely way to experience Zion Canyon. From the end of the Pa'rus trail you can catch a shuttle to continue your journey up the canyon.
6. Emerald Pools - is a classic trail in Zion National Park and it offers 3 hikes of different distances depending on how tired you are or how many kids you might have to carry up the trail. The hike to the lower pool is easy, and is a 1.2 mile round trip hike. To reach the middle pool is a 2 mile hike and is a little bit steeper. The third pool is a round trip of 2.5 miles and offers more solitude compared to the lower pools. Depending on precipitation some of the pools will cascade over the canyon wall creating impromptu and beautiful waterfalls.
The hike is located just across the street from the Zion Lodge and can be accessed from the Zion Lodge shuttle stop or the Grotto shuttle stop if you'd like to spend some time walking the trail along the Virgin River. Next to Angels Landing, this is probably the most popular hike in Zion National Park, so be prepared for crowds, especially during the summer.
5. Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive and View Point - this is a beautiful and less traveled part of Zions - mostly because it is not accessible from the main part of Zion National Park. The Kolob Canyons section of the park is accessed from Interstate 15, about 40 miles from the main South entrance in Springdale. If you are traveling on I-15 southbound to get to Zion from Northern Utah, it is definitely worth getting off at exit 40 and visiting this part of the park.
The park is literally just off the freeway and has a 5 mile scenic drive that climbs to Kolob Canyon View Point. The drive itself is well worth it and you'll definitely want to get out of the car at multiple points to take pictures. Beyond the scenic drive, this part of the park also offers some great hikes including Kolob Arch, Taylor Creek and Laverkin Creek Trails. If you are looking to explore part of Zions that offers a little more solitude and some great views this is your ticket.
4. Weeping Rock - another iconic spot in Zion National Park, Weeping Rock is known for it's constant drips of water coming out of the base of a sheer sandstone cliff - even during the hottest part of the summer. The water creates a micro climate where moss and lichens can grow as well as creating a bit cooler part of the park, especially during the hot summer days. Water seeps from the sandstone at Weeping Rock because it is where two different layers of sandstone(Navajo and Kayenta) meet.
In 2019 the trail to Weeping Rock was closed due to a large rock fall from Cable Mountain. A few park visitors were injured in the fall, and since the incident the trail to Weeping Rock has been closed, with no indication of when the trail might open. At the time of this writing, the trail is still closed, but the most up to date information of trail conditions in Zion can be found here.
3. Canyon Trail Overlook - personally one of my favorite easy trails in Zion National Park is the Canyon Overlook trail, located at the top of the Zion Tunnel. Parking can be a little tricky for this hike, and may require that you park up the road since the small parking lot for this hike fills quickly. The hike itself is just over a mile round trip and is an out and back hike. The view of the lower Zion Canyon are spectacular from this viewpoint. For more information on this hike you can find more information here.
2. Temple of Sinawava - This is the end of the line for the shuttle and the ending of the famous Zion Narrows hike. The area itself is beautiful, and it is where the towering sandstone cliffs of Zion Canyon crowd the Virgin River into a very narrow passage. For those not interested in hiking the 17 miles from the top of the Narrows, the Temple of Sinawava and its Riverside Walk that follows the Virgin River are a great alternative to experience some of the grandeur of the Zion Narrows.
This mostly flat hike is about 2 miles round trip and is good for children and is wheelchair accessible. Visitors can continue to hike up the river at the end of this trail as far as Big Springs without a permit (about 4.5 miles). Any farther however, requires a permit from the park service.
1. Angels Landing - Probably the most popular hike in Zion National Park, and definitely worth the effort. This hike is the most challenging of those mentioned in this post, mostly due to its elevation gain and exposure at the top of the hike. The hike is just over 5 miles round trip and gains almost 1500 feet over 2.5 miles. The view from the top of Angels landing however is unrivaled.
To reach the top of Angels Landing, hikers must travel a narrow and exposed trail for about .5 miles. Chains are located at strategic points along this final section of trail due to its fall exposure. While every few years someone does fall from the trail at Angels Landing, it's a trail that can be safely navigated by almost any hiker. For an in depth review of Angels Landing click here.
There you have it, the 9 activities I would start with in your exploration of Zion National Park. These activities will likely just wet your whistle for the many adventures you can find in Zion National Park, and will hopefully bring you back to Zions many times.
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