This is a guest post by Kassidy Olson.
Are you planning a visit to one of Utah’s most beautiful parks and are looking for things to do in Zion National Park? I’ve got you covered!
This park is packed full of amazing hikes, viewpoints, wildlife, and more. It’s everything that an outdoors lover dreams of. During my recent visit, I was able to check out some of the best parts, and I already can’t wait to go back.
Here are some of the best activities for your trip to Zion, so you can experience some of the reasons why people come from all over the world to see this national park:
1. Hike to Angels Landing
One of the most popular things to do in Zion National Park is to hike the iconic Angels Landing. This hike is well known around the world for a reason.
It’s a tricky trail, covering 1,800 feet of elevation in just over four miles. A lot of that elevation is seen in a section called Walter’s Wiggles, a set of 21 steep switchbacks that lead up to the start of Angels Landing.
After that, you’ll climb up a steep cliffside with chains to help you reach the top. When I took that final step to Angels Landing, I was truly breathless. I was left looking down into Zion Canyon, and it just blew my mind to be standing up there.
It’s truly such a beautiful place, and although it’s tricky, if you’re able to manage the climb, it’s worth having sore legs the next day.
2. Watch Sunset at Canyon Overlook
One of my favorite parts of traveling is watching a sunset every night. And in Zion, there are quite a few spots where you can catch one.
Canyon Overlook is one of the best places for relaxing and watching as the sun sinks beyond the horizon. The trail is really short, just over one mile, so it’s easy to get there and back before it gets too dark.
Because of the way Zion Canyon is situated, you won’t actually watch the sun go down, but you’ll get to see the amazing colors that fill the sky. The red sandstone cliffs of the canyon and valley seem to light up even more and create the most stunning sunset.
3. Hike through the Narrows
One of the most unique hikes that I’ve ever done is the Narrows. This “trail” leads you through Zion Canyon as you wade through the Virgin River. Yes, you read that right! You’ll want to strap on some sturdy and waterproof shoes, as you’ll be hiking right through the river.
The most popular route into the popular Narrows hike starts at the Temple of Sinawava and is known as the “bottom-up” route. The hike begins on the Riverside Trail, which is a paved walkway leading up to the canyon. Eventually, you’ll run right into the river!
There are quite a few landmarks in the Narrows that you can use to gauge your distance and when you’re ready to turn around. A few of the most popular are Mystery Falls, Floating Rock, and Wall Street.
When we visited recently, we walked all the way to Wall Street, which ended up being about an eight-mile round-trip. It wasn’t exactly easy, as there are lots of slippery rocks in the river, and the water was sometimes up to my chest! But I think that it’s worth the long day, because Wall Street is the narrowest part of the canyon.
It’s a difficult hike, just like Angels Landing is, but they’re both so worth the effort and are once-in-a-lifetime hikes!
4. Take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
If you’re lucky enough to visit when you can take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, you’re going to be in for a treat. This road is closed to private vehicles most of the year for the shuttle to operate, except for January-March.
We took the shuttle to our destinations in the park and still thought that it was one of the most beautiful scenic drives, so I can’t even imagine what it would be like when you can take your time!
This is the road that takes you to most of the popular hikes, including Angels Landing and the Narrows. So if you do end up having to take the shuttle, you simply hop on at the visitor center, ride until the stop that you need, and then hop on the next one after your hike.
5. Go Stargazing
Zion is a certified International Dark Sky Park, so another of the best things to do there is to go stargazing. If you’re able to stay up past dark, then head into the park and find an open place to watch the stars and gaze at the Milky Way. If you’ve never seen it with your own eyes, now’s your chance.
A few of the best places to go include Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, Watchman Campground, and the Desert Lowlands. Just be sure to park in pull-offs and carry a light with you at all times.
6. Enjoy the Views from the Watchman
If you want to embark on a trail that doesn’t require taking the shuttle, then check out the Watchman Trail. The trailhead is right near the south entrance to the park, so you don’t have to wait in line for the shuttle bus.
It’s a fairly short and moderately challenging trail that leads you to a viewpoint above the canyon. You won’t actually hike all the way to Watchman Peak, because that’s another 2,200 feet of elevation. But you’ll have amazing views of the rugged mountain from the overlook! Look around and you’ll see endless miles of red rock, green shrubs, and amazing vistas. It’s really one of the best views out there without having to hike a crazy distance!
7. Watch for Wildlife
While Zion National Park isn’t the first park that most people think of when they think of wildlife, there are some pretty great chances of spotting animals. Zion is home to more than you think, including the two most common, mule deer and desert bighorn sheep.
During my recent visit, I spotted a few bighorn sheep relaxing on the side of a cliff near the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. We also ended up seeing a few lizards scurrying up trees, and tons of little squirrels and chipmunks begging for food. (Don’t feed them!)
While you won’t see the amount of wildlife that you would in Yellowstone, there’s still a chance! So keep your eyes open.
8. Wander through Springdale
Although I love national parks, sometimes I need a little rest day thrown in to get energized for my next full day of hiking. And exploring the small town of Springdale was just that! It is right outside of Zion’s south entrance, and there are tons of shops and restaurants to check out. We also loved visiting the art galleries, which were filled with paintings and photos of Zion — it was a lot of fun to pick out the places that we had seen!
For a meal, there are many options, but we went with MeMe’s Café, and it was so good! We also grabbed ice cream at Zion Park Gift & Sweet Treats, because it wouldn’t be a trip without a treat!
9. Hike to Observation Point
If you’re up for a longer adventure, then check out the 7-8-mile hike to Observation Point along the East Rim and East Mesa Trails. Along with the distance, you’ll also cover around 2,700 feet of elevation, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
There are quite a few switchbacks that you’ll have to climb, and you’ll also pass a small waterfall called Weeping Rock. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll be in awe! Observation Point is actually located above Angels Landing, so you can look down at everyone else wandering around on the top of the lookout.
The view of the canyon is just stunning, and you’ll be able to see where the Virgin River flows along the canyon walls. It really feels like you’re on top of the entire canyon! (Some may even argue that this is better than Angels Landing.)
10. Take the Riverside Walk
While the Narrows is the most popular way to really see Zion Canyon, sometimes it isn’t accessible, because you do have to walk in the water. The rocks are really slippery, and it can be tricky and dangerous for kids or people with limited mobility.
So if you’d like to see parts of Zion Canyon without doing the Narrows, you can always take the Riverside Walk! This is the easy, paved, one- mile trail that leads from the Temple of Sinawava to the entrance into the canyon. It’s still a beautiful walk through the towering red rocks of Zion. You’ll follow along the Virgin River and watch as it meanders into the canyon. You can just stop as soon as the paved portion of the trail ends.
There is a short part of the Narrows that is just slightly underwater, so if you’re up for it, you can walk a short distance into the river.
Be prepared for crowds at the end of this walk though, because it’s where everyone is putting on their shoes and gear for the Narrows.
11. Drive to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
If you aren’t able to take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive due to it being shuttle season, try going for a scenic drive on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This stretch from Springdale to Mount Carmel is an absolutely breathtaking drive through the red rocks of Utah.
It’s not an easy road to navigate, with some of the first challenges being the hairpin turns that come shortly after Springdale. But then you’ll come along the famous 1.1-mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which people drive from all over to see.
After the tunnel, you’ll continue and make your way past many viewpoints and trailheads. Feel free to stop at any of them!
This road eventually takes you to Mount Carmel. From there, you can also head on over to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is another of Utah’s Mighty Five.
12. Visit the Zion Human History Museum
If you like learning about the history of a place, check out the Zion Human History Museum. It’s just a short walk on the Pa’rus Trail from the main visitor center, or you can get off the shuttle at stop 2.
Inside the museum, there are artifacts from Zion that showcase when humans first came to the park, as well as how nature has impacted it over the years. The museum’s main talking point is about how water has carved and created so much of Zion National Park.
13. Hike or Bike the Pa’rus Trail
If you’re looking for a nice, easy trail that almost anyone can do, be sure to check out Pa’rus. This paved trail starts from the south entrance of the park and winds along the Virgin River near Zion Park Boulevard.
It’s a nonstrenuous way to see some beautiful views without having to embark on any of the more difficult hikes that require you to take the shuttle.
The Pa’rus Trail is also dog-friendly and great for biking. Biking is allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive year-round, so many cyclists are headed to this part of the park.
There’s also a connecting trail that leads you to the Zion Human History Museum, so you can see that along the way as well!
Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
One of the best parts about Utah’s national parks is that you can visit them year-round, for the most part. Once in a while, they will get snow, but it’s typically not enough to cause a problem.
But if you’re looking for the best time to visit Zion, it’s typically considered to be in the shoulder seasons, which are in March, April, May, October, November, and December. During these months, the temperatures are much cooler, there are fewer crowds, and you’ll be out of flash flood season.
I visited in June, and although the park was still beautiful, the weather was really miserable. The temperatures are very hot and can be dangerous.It can sometimes reach 100 degrees F or hotter! Plus, there’s not much shade to take cover under. So I’d really recommend not visiting during the summer.
With so many amazing hikes and views, there’s no way that you could be disappointed at Zion. Even though the park is busy, it’s still so worth going! Just be sure to plan all of your accommodations and any permits that you might need in advance, so you don’t find that they’ve sold out!
About the author: Kassidy Olson is an avid hiker and spends all of her spare time exploring national parks around the world. She loves sharing her adventures over on her blog, The Hiking Helper.
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