Zion National Park is in southwest Utah, about a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas International Airport. The park is about 22 square miles and is next to a city called Springdale. It was originally inhabited by Native American tribes and later settled by Mormon settlers in the mid-nineteenth century.
A lot of you know that we’re huge fans of national parks. I honestly find hiking and exploring the national parks a refreshing and humbling experience. Zion National Park is one of our favorite places to explore!
You’ll find some of the best hikes in Zion (including The Narrow and Angels Landing), making it a wonderful park to visit and experience the outdoors.
Zion National Park is a beautiful and diverse natural area with many outdoor activities. Here are some fun things you can do while visiting Zion National Park:
- Fun Things To Do In Zion National Park
- 1. Hike Through The Narrows
- 2. Walk To The Observation Point
- 3. See Angels Landing
- 4. Head To The Subway
- 5. The Emerald Pools Is A Must-See
- 6. Tour The Hidden Canyon
- 7. Go To The Canyon Lookout
- 8. Wildlife Watching
- 9. Photography Is A Must
- 10. Camping and backpacking
- Tips for Enjoying Your Stay At Zion National Park
- 1. Zion National Park is Huge
- 2. Pack Snacks And Lots Of Water
- 3. Wear Appropriate Footwear And Clothing
- 4. Check The Parking And Shuttle Schedule
- 5. Be Flexible And Have Back-Up Options
- 6. Stop At The Visitor’s Center
- 7. Get Equipped With The Right Gear
- 8. Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks
- 9. Get A National Park Annual Pass
- 10. Pack Sunglasses, Hats, And Sunscreen
- 11. Pack Hand Sanitizer And Hand Wipes
- 12. Keep Your Surroundings Clean
Fun Things To Do In Zion National Park
Zion National Park is also home to many other amazing hikes, including Angels Landing and The Narrows. If you’re looking for something more challenging, you can hike up to Observation Point or overnight into Kolob Canyon.
Regardless, these are our favorite hikes and 10 fun ways to spend your day in Zion National park.
1. Hike Through The Narrows
Hiking the Narrows is the most iconic activity at Zion National Park. It’s a hike through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. It’s an aquatic hike, so you’ll walk upstream through the river.
There are two versions of the hike. The most common is the bottom-up hike, which doesn’t require a special permit. You’ll start at the Temple of Sinawava and follow a paved trail for about 1 mile until it ends at the riverbank. You’ll then hike upstream toward an area called Wall Street, which is gorgeous. This area has canyon walls that are 1,500 feet tall. To see Wall Street, it’s 6 miles round-trip (about 4 miles in the water).
The water level and current depend on the day and weather conditions. The water was mostly knee-to-waist-deep when we did it in August 2018. When we reached the end of Wall Street, the water level was chest high at certain spots.
What do I need to bring?
The hike took about 3-4 hours to complete. You’ll want to pack your valuables and electronics in dry bags, wear close-toed shoes, and rent a hiking stick. The stick is critical as it gives you an additional point of contact with the river. This is extremely helpful in areas where the current is strong.
You can also rent special hiking boots, but we opted to use old pairs of athletic shoes at the end of our life. Though DON’T wear sandals or flip flops! We saw a few people attempt it, and they were bleeding from scraping their feet on the rocks.
Also, if you’re hiking when the weather is cold, you’ll want to rent or pack a wetsuit to keep you warm. There are several hiking stores where you can rent gear and get additional information.
2. Walk To The Observation Point
When you visit Zion National Park, make sure that you walk to the Observation Point. This is a great place to go and enjoy the views of Zion Canyon below.
This hike starts at the Weeping Rock trailhead and ends at one of the most scenic spots in Zion National Park. It is an 8-mile round-trip hike that is mostly uphill. The trail goes through the Echo Canyons and along the White Cliffs. You’ll have gained 2,100 ft in elevation if you reach the end.
This strenuous day hike takes about 4-6 hours to complete. You’ll also be in direct sunlight during the hike, so be prepared with hats and water. I felt dizzy and dehydrated toward the end of the hike because it was so warm, and we had misjudged how much water we needed.
3. See Angels Landing
This is another iconic hike in the park. It is also known for being among the most dangerous, as hikers have fallen and died. The hike takes about 3-6 hours and is about 5 miles roundtrip. The elevation change is 1,500 feet, generally classified as a strenuous hike.
The trail consists of steep switchbacks. You’ll be hiking along narrow ridges and holding onto chains as you make your final ascent to Angels Landing. We noticed several people who were panicking along this final stretch. Since hikers have died on this trail, it can be nerve-racking. However, if you stay focused on the trail and maintain points of contact at all times, you should be fine. Of course, if you’re uncomfortable or anxious around heights, I don’t recommend the final stretch, as you’ll have to backtrack along the same narrow path.
Since this is a technical hike, I don’t recommend it for younger hikers or those who may not be conditioned to handle the stress. The trail gets crowded, so you’ll have to pass one another on some narrow ridges.
Take it slow, and make sure you’re aware of the conditions. For example, when we did the hike in early 2017, we were told some ice was on the trail. We packed our STABILicers, which gave us extra traction when stepping through snow and ice on the trail.
4. Head To The Subway
This is probably the most spectacular and difficult hike I have ever done. It’s a permit-only hike, so you’ll need to apply. The hike can be completed in two different ways. One is “bottom-up,” which is what we did. The other is “top-down,” which requires rappelling and swimming through pools of water.
The hike is extremely technical, so I wouldn’t suggest it unless you’re an avid hiker and feel confident about doing a long hike. We carried enough food and water in case we got stuck on the trail. Since it is not an easily accessible trail, you’ll need to be prepared in case you have to wait for emergency services to arrive if you get lost or injured.
Also, the hike was recently in the news since a pair of hikers were caught in quicksand. Again, this is not a hike I would attempt in adverse weather.
5. The Emerald Pools Is A Must-See
Another beautiful and popular hike in Zion is the Emerald Pools. It’s an easy three-mile roundtrip hike to the lower pool. This trail is good for young children, baby strollers, or wheelchairs. The trail features some very scenic views, waterfalls, and pools.
The trails to the middle and upper pools are a bit more challenging, though worth the effort. These trails are popular, especially when the weather is warm. The moisture from the waterfalls and pools and the general vegetation keep the area cool and comfortable.
6. Tour The Hidden Canyon
Hidden Canyon is a hidden gem in Zion National Park. The hike is only 3 miles roundtrip, but it’s a steep and rocky trail that will take you to the top of the canyon. At the top, you’ll get an amazing view of Zion Canyon and Narrows.
This was a less popular hike when we visited, but it was also one of our favorites. It’s about 3 miles and a 1,000-ft elevation gain to get to the Hidden Canyon. The hike is fairly tough and adventurous, including some sections with chains. Once you get to the canyon, you’ll scramble to continue on the trail.
This was one of our favorite trails in Zion. We’ve only done it when there was snow, but we would love to do it again in warmer weather.
7. Go To The Canyon Lookout
For those who prefer a shorter or less strenuous hike, you’ll want to check out the Canyon Lookout. This is a one-mile round-trip hike that is easy and perfect for families. You’ll drive to the trailhead on Route 9 through the Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel. It’s a great location to get some beautiful views of Zion Canyon.
While it is an easy hike perfect for families, you’ll still want to exercise caution on the trail. This is especially the case if you’re traveling with little ones. There are some exposed sections, and ice can build up on the trail.
8. Wildlife Watching
Zion National Park has various wildlife, including birds, reptiles, and mammals. Hiking through Zion’s wilderness can be an excellent way to see the park’s wildlife in its natural habitat.
Mule deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions can be spotted daily in the park. Birds include golden eagles, California Condor, red-tailed hawks, owls, and songbirds.
Canyon Country offers abundant plant life, including pines, juniper trees, sagebrush, and wildflowers during the spring months.
9. Photography Is A Must
Zion National Park is a photographer’s dream, with its dramatic landscapes and colorful rock formations. The park is full of opportunities for photographers and tourists.
The best time to photograph Zion National Park is during sunrise or sunset. Even if you’re not a professional photographer, you can still capture amazing shots with your iPhone or DSLR camera.
10. Camping and backpacking
Zion National Park is breathtakingly beautiful, and camping is one of the best ways to experience it. It is a true outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with its towering red cliffs, majestic canyons, and diverse landscape.
Three campgrounds within the park offer different levels of comfort and amenities.
- Watchman Campground: This is the closest campground to the park’s Visitor Center and has electrical hookups for RVs.
- South Campground: This campground is quiet and serene, with a few electrical hookups available.
- Lava Point Campground: This campground is the farthest from the Visitor Center but offers a remote and peaceful camping experience.
In addition to your camping gear, bring plenty of water, as the park is located in a desert environment. Pack plenty of sunscreens, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.
Tips for Enjoying Your Stay At Zion National Park
My visit to Zion National Park left a truly unforgettable experience. With its stunning natural beauty, ample opportunities for adventure, and peaceful surroundings, it is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
If you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park, here are a few things to remember.
1. Zion National Park is Huge
What we love about Zion National Park is that it’s easy to get around and explore. Some national parks, like Yosemite or Sequoia, are massive and require much time to experience the area fully.
Zion is more manageable in size. Most attractions are within a 30-minute drive or shuttle ride from the entrance. This makes it easier to explore, especially if you have impatient kids.
2. Pack Snacks And Lots Of Water
This is a consistent tip when discussing visiting national parks, which is especially important at Zion. We noticed that only some trailheads had water stations and fountains, so fill up your bottles before you take the shuttle to your trail.
We ran out of water while hiking the observation point trail, and I started to feel a bit light-headed at the end of the hike. We made sure to carry more water on our other hikes. We doubled the amount of water when we hiked the Subway trail the following day.
Also, don’t assume you need less water for an aquatic hike. You’ll exert much energy while hiking, so you’ll want to carry enough water for the entire hike.
3. Wear Appropriate Footwear And Clothing
A common thing you’ll see in Zion when hiking the Narrows is people attempting to hike it in flip-flops. This is a very bad idea! Your feet will get scraped along the rocks. Many people realize their mistakes and painfully turn back during the hike.
Also, I recommend wearing layers as the temperature changes drastically, especially when climbing in elevation or hiking in narrow canyons. I wore a Woolly Clothing merino wool t-shirt and hoodie, and both kept me comfortable, warm, and dry.
4. Check The Parking And Shuttle Schedule
Traveling to Zion during the peak season, you’ll likely use the park’s shuttle to get to the different trailheads. The schedule changes yearly so you can check the National Park Service website for more information.
The first time we visited Zion National Park was in February 2017. The shuttles were not running during that visit, so that we could drive to all the hikes. When we visited in August 2018, cars were not allowed onto the main roads in the park, so we only used the shuttles.
5. Be Flexible And Have Back-Up Options
Check the National Park website for any closures to the trails. Trail closures are common due to storm damage and rock fall. Water levels and currents will affect many hikes in or along a river. You’ll want to follow any warnings or instructions from the rangers. Getting stuck in a flash flood is probably the biggest danger on some of these trails, so play it safe. Plenty of hikes in the area won’t be affected by the water level.
6. Stop At The Visitor’s Center
The visitor center provides additional information about hikes and weather conditions. Rangers in the visitor center can provide advice and additional information on hikes and park conditions. It’s also where you’ll pick up permits (for the Subway hike).
7. Get Equipped With The Right Gear
While you can complete most of the hikes with basic sneakers and a backpack, I recommend investing in padded footwear and backpacks. I carried around 40 lbs of weight on the Subway and Narrows hike.
This mostly consisted of water, food, and camera gear. Having a comfortable pack, durable hiking shoes with grip, and the right clothing materials like merino wool and stretch fabrics helped make the experience more enjoyable.
Also, I highly recommend packing some insulated water bottles. You’ll appreciate having cold water, especially when hiking in warmer temperatures.
8. Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks
You’ll see many people taking selfies along the edges of cliffs. While I’m not opposed to taking pictures, I don’t recommend dangling your feet along the edges or letting yourself get distracted. The wind at higher elevations is unpredictable, and it’s easy to get distracted or startled when on the edge of a trail.
9. Get A National Park Annual Pass
The cost to enter the park depends on whether you drive in or walk in to use the shuttle. As of March 2019, the cost per person is $20. If you’re driving into the park, you’ll pay $35 for your vehicle. Both of these passes are valid for seven days.
Though if you plan to visit more national parks, you may want to consider an annual pass for $80. It lasts for an entire year and can be shared with another person. The pass allows you to admit three additional adults entering a park.
10. Pack Sunglasses, Hats, And Sunscreen
Many popular hikes, like Angel’s Landing and Observation Point, do not have a lot of vegetation. This means you’ll be exposed to much sunlight, with little opportunity to find shade. Make sure to pack sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Also, I recommend starting your hikes early in the day. You’ll take advantage of the sun’s position and experience fewer crowds on the trails.
11. Pack Hand Sanitizer And Hand Wipes
We often share this tip when traveling, especially to national parks. Most bathrooms do not have running water, so bringing hand wipes and sanitizer can help you feel clean and comfortable.
12. Keep Your Surroundings Clean
During the government shutdown in 2020, the national parks experienced a lot of damage, some of which is irreversible. You want to make sure you protect yourself and the park when exploring. This means not damaging or altering the environment, following safety precautions, not feeding any wildlife, and always disposing of trash or waste.
Also, a pet peeve of mine is encountering people on the trail who are playing loud music. It’s not only inconsiderate to other hikers, but the sounds can often echo through canyons affecting wildlife.
In terms of lodging, there are many options in the area. There are camping sites and a lodge in the park. We opted for a boutique hotel outside the park gate, Flanigan’s Inn. We stayed there on both visits and loved the inn’s restaurant. You can even book the hotel on Chase’s Travel Portal if you want to use points to pay for your lodging.
Have you been to Zion National Park? If so, what is your favorite hike? Let us know in the comment section below.