Zion National Park is located in SW Utah about an hour west/northwest of St. George, Utah.
GETTING THERE: Las Vegas is the closest and most economical airport for flying to Zion. Though St George has a Regional airport, the smaller airports are typically more expensive to fly in to. Las Vegas is about a 2 hr drive from St. George. We flew into Vegas and arrived around noon, got our rental car, had lunch and drove to St. George for the night. St George has plenty of chain hotels as well as the Wal-Mart Supercenter. We made a trip into Walmart that evening for picnic supplies after we arrived. Though it was a full day, it wasn’t difficult. The next morning, we had a 2 hr drive to the Park. If you prefer staying closer to Zion, choices include Springdale, LaVerkin and Hurricane. They have limited accommodation options…and prices will be a little higher.
Visiting Zion National Park: The Park is in THREE sections with 4 different entrances/roads. The “Main” road which most people consider “Zion National Park” is on highway 9 west of Springdale. This road will be the busiest and most congested.. If you have the time to explore the other “less traveled” roads, you’ll find a more solitary, “connect with nature” experience.
THE SHUTTLE: Private vehicles are only allowed up to Canyon Junction (the turn off to Mt Carmel Highway) except for those with confirmed reservations at the Lodge. A shuttle takes visitors beyond that point. Shuttles run every 7-10 min during the summer so this is really not an inconvenience. We were there in Sept and seemed to never wait more than 4-5 min. for the next shuttle – just long enough to pull out the water bottles or snack. 🙂 The shuttles are not air conditioned. In Sept, it did get a little warm in the afternoon. I wonder how uncomfortable it would be during the summer months… The windows open so there is airflow when the shuttle is moving. The greatest advantage though is that the shuttle gives the family’s driver the chance to enjoy the scenery rather than worrying about narrow twisting roads, traffic or pedestrians. It also eliminates fender benders or rear end collisions that would totally shut down this narrow 2 lane road for ALL visitors. It’s a ‘positive’ thing. 🙂
Zion National Park Map – shows the roads, Visitor Center and guest areas as well as park features
PARKING: During the busy tourist season, parking at the shuttle embarkation point is at a premium. The parking lots are usually full from 10 am-3 pm. Visitors who arrive at the park after the lots are full will be directed back to Springdale to park there and catch a shuttle into the park. This shuttle is FREE too…but inconvenient…imho. 🙂 Arrive early (prior to 9 am) to (hopefully) avoid this happening to you. We got to the park by 8:30 and had no problem entering and finding a parking place at the Visitor center. It was nice to beat the heat too! I noticed that by afternoon, people were ‘illegally’ parking along the road – the VERY NARROW, twisting, 2 lane road…. Apparently, they didn’t turn away as many visitors at the gate as they should have….ha! 🙂
Hiking is the best way to see any National Park. Hikes are listed in the Park Newspaper given at the Park entrance – with information about each hike’s length, time required, elevation change (strenuous level) and difficulty level. If you have any health concerns (diabetes, heart conditions, knee or back/hip issues, etc…) consult this chart before starting any hike. Actually, consult it even if you DON’T have any of these issues. 🙂 You always need to know what you’re getting in to.
One Note About This: Our family has started many a hike that was 8 miles…10 miles…26 miles..with no intention of walking that far. We didn’t want to completely miss the beautiful vistas just because we couldn’t hike 26 miles. We go as far as we want to, see some beautiful things, then turn around and go back. I think many people may avoid those hikes because they’re intimidated by the “26 miles” number and miss out on wonderful vistas. Don’t skip the “Rim” hikes. They’re beautiful!!
The ‘most popular ‘longer’ trails in Zion are Angels Landing (5.4 mi.) and The Narrows (9.4 mi). Though they are spectacular, several rangers we spoke with said there are more beautiful breathtaking hikes in the park. They BOTH recommended Observation Point Trial Its one of those long hikes – (8 miles) but as I stated above, you don’t have to go the entire length….just a portion of it. And for those avid hikers, it’s only 2.5 mi. longer than Angels Landing (not significant to a seasoned hiker) and well worth the extra time and effort.
The Narrows (9 miles) is the ‘other’ popular hike in the park, but is NOT recommended for those with diabetes/neuropathy/circulation issues…OR for children. About 60% of it involves wading (possibly knee to thigh deep) through swift currents in the river. These are too swift for children, and the amount of time spent with wet feet precludes it for those with circulatory issues. The park newspaper and website gives more information advising those who DO choose to take this hike. NEVER head out on The Narrows without checking with the Rangers at the Visitor Center!!! This is important!!!! (read my comments in red below)
Now….you CAN take the beginning portion of this hike – up to the river crossing and canyon. (about 1.5 mi.) We did that. Then I looked ‘longingly’ into the Canyon. I wanted so much to go further, but we fit into the category of those who should NOT take this so we just looked and ‘longed’. 🙂 We thoroughly enjoyed the portion that we hiked.
IMPORTANT: Before setting out on any canyon hike, check with the rangers about weather conditions. The day after we left the park, (YES…..the VERY next day…..) 6 seasoned, experienced hikers were killed by a flash flood in Keyhole Canyon. These were not novices. They were men in their 30’s…40’s…who had a great deal of hiking experience and skill. It’s not always about the weather where you are. Sometimes it’s about the weather 200 miles away. Rain from that distance can (and will) SWIFTLY run INTO the canyons and cause a flash flood…all while the skies over Zion are blue and clear. The park rangers are watching the weather events at great distances to determine the risk of flashfloods in the canyon. Do NOT just look at the sky and say “It’s clear; therefore we’re fine”. CHECK with the Rangers!
Last but not least….KNOW the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These are listed in the park newspaper you will receive at the entrance. Read through these to be informed so you can take care of your family.
This park is beautiful and can be enjoyed at all times of the year, but like anything else, you MUST understand the dangers present in order to stay safe.
WHAT DO YOU TAKE ON A HIKE?
- Backpack: It doesn’t have to be an expensive hikers pack…. We used the kids school backpacks. 🙂
- Water…. WATER!!! WATER!! This is SOOO important. One gal/pp is the recommendation. Because our hikes are usually short, we may only take a few bottles per person in the pack, but the rest is in our car. I freeze these and place in plastic Walmart sacks 🙂 to keep everything else in the pack dry. You can place the frozen water bottle on your neck to bring down body temperature. Then as the ice melts (which it will do rather quickly) it becomes water to drink. 🙂 🙂 Do NOT try to conserve your water throughout the day. Drink It! OFTEN! Before you get thirsty. Here’s another tidbit…Thirst is the body’s signal that it is ALREADY dehydrated. Drink your water BEFORE you get thirsty.
- Protein snacks (Sugar actually harms the muscles during strenuous activity) We like to take almonds, cashews & peanuts. Protein bars (withOUT a coating that would melt) are nice too. 🙂 I make my own trail mix of nuts and dried fruits rather than buying the pre-packaged ones….those are rancid. ha!!
- ‘High water content’ fruit – Fruit is what we crave in the heat. Bananas, peaches, grapes, etc… are good, but apples or oranges travel better. Place these next to the frozen water bottles in your pack and they’ll stay cold for a while
- Extra socks if there is a chance your feet will get wet (Talk to the Rangers at the Visitor center.)
- Of course, cameras, etc… and binoculars. That’s the ‘fun’ stuff. 🙂
- Most of us rarely go anywhere without our cell phones, and certainly if your cell is your camera, you’ll have it along, but realize that you may or may not have service in Zion….especially on hikes. Use good judgement and don’t get yourself into unsafe situations thinking your cell phone will be there to call for help…..
- Small flashlight – or headlamp just for emergencies. Make it a small one… Don’t add unnecessary weight to the backpack with this. Obviously, for longer day hikes, a good flashlight with extra batteries is needed.
- Trail map (for longer hikes). Shorter, more popular trails are paved and self-explanatory, so a map isn’t necessary. Again, rangers at the Visitor Center will tell you if this is necessary.
- Last but not least: LEAVE NO TRACE! Pack out whatever you pack in…and No, there are no waste baskets on back country trails. 🙂 Leave what you find. No collecting! 🙂
Bottom Line: Rangers are your friend! Utilize their knowledge and skill. Talk to them…and listen & follow any advice they give. 🙂
MEALTIME/DINING IN ZION:
Like most National Parks, dining areas are limited. There is a restaurant and small cafe at the Zion Lodge but that’s all. Most National park visitors bring a picnic lunch to avoid wasting time leaving the park to find something to eat. 🙂 (That’s another reason I wanted my car parked INSIDE Zion – to have easy access to my cooler and picnic lunch.)
OTHER ROADS INTO THE PARK
NOTE: The entrance fee to Zion covers ALL of the Park entrances for 7 days, but you MUST keep your receipt. You can also purchase the America the Beautiful Nat’l Park pass for entrance into ALL National parks for 1 year (cost $80) This is a good choice if you’re visiting several of the Utah Canyon Nat’l Parks. (there are 5) After visiting 3 Nat’l Parks you break even on the cost of the pass…If you visit 4 parks (in Utah or elsewhere) during the year, you’ll save money with the Pass purchase.
MT. CARMEL HIGHWAY:
- This road connects the South and East entrances. It’s a 12 mi road (continuation of highway 9) and travels up steep switchbacks and through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. The tunnel is quite an engineering masterpiece – it’s 1 mile long. Traffic runs one way through there with park employees stopping and directing traffic. Both times we went through, we never waited more than 5-10 min. Large vehicles (RV’s) will have to be escorted through and that incurs a fee. Check the website for details on this. It’s a beautiful drive and worth it if you have the time! 🙂
KOLOB CANYONS ROAD
- I LOVED this little section of the park! It’s a 5 mi. road – right off of I-15 (Exit 40) and is totally removed from everything down south…including the crowds!!! 🙂 You see vistas of the red rocks of Kolob Canyon and end at the Kolob Canyon viewpoint and Timbercreek Overlook Trail (1 mi).
- We spent about 2 hours driving this road because we like to stop and enjoy! You COULD cover it in less time, but WHY would you want to? 🙂 There are only 3 hikes in this area – one of which is the La Verkin Creek Trail (14 mi) which crosses the northern part of the park exiting on the east side. Again, this is one of those you could take partially then turn around. There’s also a mule trail that looked interesting but alas, we did not have time for that.
Point to be noted: Mules and horses always have the right of way in a Nat’l Park 🙂
KOLOB TERRACE ROAD
- This is a steep 20 mi. road that is currently under construction. (Check the website for more information) It begins in the town of Virgin and climbs north to the Aspen -covered plateaus of the higher elevations. I’m hoping to drive this on our next visit to Zion. NOTE: This road is NOT recommended for RV’s or vehicles pulling trailers.
As with all National Parks, visit the U.S. National Parks website National Parks – Zion for complete information – maps, shuttle schedules, camping/lodging info etc….