11 Top Attractions & Things to Do in Zion National Park
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Sightseeing and outdoor adventures are what Zion National Park is all about. Whether you have only a couple of hours to drive through the park or several days to explore it in more detail, there are some highlights you simply shouldn't miss.
The main attractions in Zion are the sites along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.
If you're looking for things to do, you'll find hiking trails for all abilities; opportunities for horseback riding; and for the more adventurous, canyoneering and rock climbing. To learn about the people who have inhabited this region over the centuries, be sure to stop in at the Human History Museum.
From mid-March to late November, a free shuttle bus system operates within Zion National Park and from the town of Springdale to the park. The shuttle buses within Zion take you to stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, cars are not permitted along this stretch during these months.
Before you head into the park, see our list of the top things to see and do in Zion National Park.
See also: Where to Stay near Zion National Park
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1. Explore the Sights along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
The most dramatic section of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon. The canyon is accessed along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, an in-and-out road that runs along the canyon floor, with towering cliff walls on both sides.
This road offers views of some of the most famous sites in the park, including a view up to Angels Landing. The road ends at the start of one of the park's signature features, the Narrows. A majority of the park's key attractions are found along the road.
The park's shuttle bus, which allows you to hop off at the scenic sites and hiking trailheads along the way, offers a hassle-free way to explore this area. You can also bike this route. Shuttle buses are equipped with bicycle racks. In winter, when the shuttle bus is not operating, you can drive this route in your own vehicle.
2. Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which runs through the park from the South Entrance to the East, is arguably as scenic as the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive but provides a starkly different perspective as it winds high above the valley for dramatic views from one side of the valley to the other.
The road hugs the cliff wall as it climbs up the mountainside. After a steady climb, the road passes through a narrow 1.1-mile tunnel. The tunnel is not wide enough for RVs to pass, so traffic is held back in one direction when RVs are entering the tunnel. RV drivers must pay a fee when they enter the park in order to pass through the tunnel, and a pass is required in advance before you and your RV will be allowed to proceed.
Immediately after exiting the tunnel on the east side is the parking area for the Canyon Overlook Trail, a one-mile round-trip hike to an incredible viewpoint over the valley. Beyond this point, the landscape changes to rolling ridged mountains of orange and cream colors.
This side of the park is higher, often cooler, and home to a scattering of large pine trees.
Roadside pullouts offer convenient observation areas all along this drive. The shuttle does not operate along this route.
3. Hit the Trails on a Day Hike
Zion National Park has outstanding hikes that range in length from less than a mile to multi-day treks. Two of the most famous hikes in the park are Angels Landing and The Narrows.
Angels Landing, stop # 6 on the shuttle, is a strenuous hike that climbs to a spectacular viewpoint looking over Zion Canyon. The trail follows a narrow ridge with long drop-offs and is not for everyone and certainly not for anyone with a fear of heights.
The Narrows, by contrast, follows a river through a huge slot canyon. This is a seasonal hike that takes some planning if you want to tackle it. The Narrows is shuttle stop #9.
Some of the most popular hikes in the park are much easier, one-mile or less in length, and lead to a variety of natural features, from small pools to weeping walls. The Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock trail, and Lower Emerald Pools trail are three of the main walks. These are all accessed from the shuttle bus and offer big rewards with little effort.
For a more comprehensive list of popular hikes, see our article on the best hikes in Zion National Park.
4. Weeping Rock
One of the major sites along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is Weeping Rock. This dripping stone overhang offers a close-up look at the hanging gardens that cling to the otherwise, sheer cliff wall.
Depending on the season, the amount of water coming off the rock can be drips, a stream, or a full waterfall. Standing at the base of Weeping Rock, you get a different perspective of the valley and a real feel for the enormity of the canyon walls.
Weeping Rock is stop #6 on the Zion shuttle bus through the canyon. To reach the rock requires a half-mile round-trip walk.
5. Riverside Walk
Riverside Walk is a scenic 2.2-mile round-trip path, but you don't need to complete the whole trail to enjoy this area of the park. This paved trail runs along the Virgin River and is the last stop on the Zion shuttle bus (Temple of Sinawava, stop #9).
Hugging a rock wall in some places, the trail passes hanging gardens, and spurs lead down to the water's edge. Across the valley, on the opposite side of the river, huge waterfalls may be pouring off the cliff wall, particularly in the spring. This is also a good area for spotting birds and other wildlife.
6. Lower Emerald Pools
Similar to Weeping Rock in many ways, Lower Emerald Pools features a weeping wall and pools at the base. The site is accessed by a .6-mile round-trip paved trail, leaving from the Zion Lodge shuttle bus stop #5.
This is a particularly nice walk in the spring, when the leaves are out and water is flowing over the wall. If you have more time and energy, you can continue on beyond this point, walking behind the falls, to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools.
7. Checkerboard Mesa and the East Side of Zion National Park
While Checkerboard Mesa has its own parking area and information plaque, several other mountainsides in the vicinity also beg to be explored. Pullouts on this side of the park are small, accommodating only a few cars at a time, but if you can find a spot, it's worth pulling out and taking some time to appreciate the unique scenery.
This white-colored mesa, named for its distinct checkerboard pattern, is the first stop after entering the park through the East Entrance. Beyond here, the landscape reveals a mix of white and amber-colored stone that seems to swirl in ridges up the mountain sides. Large pine trees dot the hillsides.
You'll find this side of the park has a much different appearance than Zion Canyon, on the west side.
8. Human History Museum
To learn about the cultural history of Zion, stop in at the Human History Museum, the first stop on the shuttle bus. The museum features large, easy-to-read displays and a huge model of the park and surroundings to put the area in perspective.
The permanent collection includes information on American Indian culture, pioneer settlements, and the creation of the park. Temporary exhibits are also on display and cover a variety of topics. A video runs every half hour, and rangers are available to answer questions.
9. Canyon Trail Rides
From March to October, horseback riding tours take guests for a scenic one-hour ride along the Virgin River, through one of the most beautiful areas of the park. Longer tours are also available for more experienced riders.
This can be a nice alternative to, or a break from, hiking and sightseeing. It's also a popular family activity. It's advisable to book tours in advance to secure a spot. All tours are operated by an authorized concessioner of the National Park Services.
10. Canyoneering and Rock Climbing
Zion's slot canyons and unique landscape make canyoneering a popular activity in the park. A variety of outfitters in nearby Springdale offer courses, equipment rentals, and general information on canyoneering in the area. Courses for beginners through to advanced enthusiasts are offered. Even if you are not interested in lessons, these outfitters are also good places to start - especially if you are not familiar with the area.
If you look up as you're driving through the park (or from the shuttle bus), you are likely to see rock climbers on some of the sheer walls high above. Climbing trips can also be arranged through outfitters in Springdale.
Spending a night under the stars and canyon walls of Zion National Park is an experience worth pursuing. There are campgrounds outside the park gate, but camping within the park is a whole other experience. Watching birds and wildlife flitting about the campgrounds, sitting around a fire ring in the evening after dark, and peering up at the night sky create a different set of memories than simply exploring Zion by day.
Watchman Campground and South Campground are the two main camping areas in the park, and both offer beautiful natural surroundings and well-spaced sites. These two campgrounds are close to each other, near the West Gate entrance to the park. This is also near the town of Springdale, so you can still easily pop into town for anything you need.
A third much smaller and more isolated campground is located in a separate section of the park, at almost 8,000 feet. This is Lava Point Campground, on Kolob Terrace Road, about 50 minutes from the Zion Canyon section of the park.
- Read More:
- Best Campgrounds near Zion National Park
Where to Stay near Zion National Park
The town of Springdale is located right outside the South Entrance of Zion National Park and is the most convenient place to stay. From your hotel in Springdale, you can even hop on a free shuttle bus to the park. For better hotel rates you can also stay in St. George, a little less than an hour away.
- Luxury Hotels: Located in Springdale, the quaint riverside Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens offers a tranquil retreat on the edge of the Virgin River. A heated outdoor pool, hot tubs, and a riverside beach grace the property, and luxury rooms and villas come in a variety of sizes. Another outstanding accommodation option is the nearby Cable Mountain Lodge, also with a full range of suites and studio options. Both of these properties are set in beautiful surroundings and feature outstanding views.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Mid-range hotels in Springdale are slanted towards the upper end. The recently renovated Holiday Inn Express offers an outdoor pool, remodeled rooms, and beautiful common areas with huge windows and wood décor that blends in well with the setting. The Majestic View Lodge is another property to consider in this category, with, as the name suggests, spectacular views, along with an outdoor pool. For a more moderately priced mid-range option, La Quinta Inn & Suites St. George is a good choice, about 55 minutes from the park.
- Budget Hotels: Two popular budget hotels in nearby St. George, less than an hour from the gates of Zion, are the Howard Johnson Inn & Suites and the recently remodeled Chalet Motel.
- Camping: For a detailed look at campgrounds in and near Zion, see our article on the Best Campgrounds near Zion National Park.
More Great Places to Explore in Utah
Places to Visit in Utah: One of the highlights of any trip to Utah is exploring Utah parks. For hikers, this is a dream destination. To get started see our list of Utah's best hiking trails. For a general overview of places you shouldn't miss in Utah, see our list of best places to visit in Utah.
If you are traveling through Southern Utah and interested in hiking, you'll definitely want to check out the best hiking trails in Bryce Canyon NP.
Camping in the Southwest: One of the best ways to experience the parks is through camping. Wake up each morning on location. You can find all the best places to camp in our articles on the best campgrounds near Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab. A little less discovered but perhaps equally impressive, is camping around St. George.