CategoriesTravel Guide

A Travel Guide to Zion National Park

Driving into Zion National Park in Utah you are taken back by the commanding sandstone cliffs, dozens of desert waterfalls, serrated mountain ridges, weeping rocks and emerald pools that dominate the landscape. You can see why this is Utah’s most frequented National Park.

  

When to Travel to Zion

Most people book a trip from November to April to dodge the heat and the crowds, but I went in the end of May and every flower was in bloom! It was stunning. It was about 100 degrees desert heat with no humidity, so you need to do exposed hikes in the early morning but on the plus side, the Narrows hike was very refreshing!

Arriving in Zion

Zion National Park is divided into two sections. Arrive through the South Entrance, and you’ll find yourself in Zion Canyon, located just east of the small town of Springdale. The northern end of the park is the Kolob Canyon area. My favorite hikes lay in the Zion Canyon region, as well as more lodging options.

Zion Map

Traveling throughout Zion

From April to October, the park implements a mandatory shuttle system to reduce traffic congestion and make the park as accessible as possible for a higher volume of visitors during its busiest season. The shuttle is free, runs frequently and offers a nice place to rest your tootsies between hikes. As you’re plotting out your day, keep in mind the shuttle takes about 80 minutes to make its full loop, and double-check with the rangers what time the last run is. Also, the shuttle goes right into the town of Springdale so you can walk out of your hotel and take the shuttle into the park.

Shuttle System Details

Lodging & Food in and Around Zion

Zion has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons.

All campgrounds are often full by noon on weekdays and in the morning on weekends. From mid-March through November the campgrounds are full almost every night. Reservations at Watchman Campground are recommended if you would like to guarantee a camping spot. If you are unable to make a reservation, the earlier in the day you arrive, the better your chance of getting a campsite. I knew I was going to be arriving late on Friday so I made reservations at Flanigan’s Inn, in Springdale, and woke up early to go to Watchman Campground to get a first come first serve site before my hike. I would highly suggest Flanigan’s Inn. The rooms were great and they had an amazing pool with a beautiful view that was perfect for after-hike dips! Plus the shuttle stop was right across the street as well. The town of Springdale is a quaint little desert town with other lodging options, shopping, and restaurants. I ate at Oscars’s Mexican, it was packed with locals and tourist and I would highly recommend it. I also ate at the Zion National Park Lodge, which was touristy but had great views. 

In the park, I stayed in Watchman Campground 2 different times and truly lucked out with my both spots! The views were spectacular. The first time I was in B-Loop, overlooking a large field, the Virgin River and an unobstructed view of the orange desert cliffs in the distance. The first night I woke up to two-12 point mule deer grazing outside my tent and the second night I woke up to powerful winds, needless to say, the camping was pretty eventful! The second time I was a little close to the main road where people walked to and from the visitor’s center, in A loop, but the views were great. 

  


Hiking In Zion

 

Angels Landing

Distance / 5 miles RT
Time / 4-5 hours
Elevation Gain / 1,500 ft. climb 
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating / Strenuous
Trailhead / The Grotto

Angels Landing is one of the two most popular hikes at Zion National Park. The last half mile boasts a seemingly treacherous scramble over a sandstone ridge that requires holding on to anchored support chains. It boasts the most stunning viewpoints you will ever experience, but it’s not recommended for anybody with a fear of heights. There are chains bolted into the cliff to provide secure handholds and help ease the fears of intrepid hikers. People who have a severe fear of heights should not attempt the final stretch but can enjoy the trail all the way to Scout Lookout.

Trail Details

 


Watchman Trail 

Distance / 3.2 miles RT
Time / 2 hours
Elevation Gain / 534  ft. climb 
Route Type / Loop
Rating / Moderate
Shuttle Stop / Zion Canyon Visitor Center

Perhaps one of the most underrated trails at Zion National Park, the Watchman Trail is one of the best places to watch the sunset. At the top, you’ll find an optional loop leading out to several look-out points that are well worth the last bit of effort.

Trail Details


The Narrows

The Narrows is the most popular hike in Zion National Park, and one of the world’s best slot canyon hikes. It can be tailored to suit any ability level. The trail is essentially the Virgin River with 1000 foot canyon walls going straight up either side of the river’s edge. The canyon is so narrow, the river covers the bottom in many spots, which means you have to wade or swim to proceed. Plan on being wet! In fact, the cool water makes this hike particularly pleasant during the hot months of summer. During the cold months, you can expect to rent a wetsuit to protect yourself from the frigid water. You’ll mostly be in up to your ankles but a few stretches get waist-deep.

Weather will make or break your trip. Hiking is not permitted when the river is high from runoff or flash flooding. Runoff mostly occurs in April and early May. Late summer thunderstorms occasionally produce flooding. Check at the visitor center or outdoor shops for current conditions. Hiking is usually very pleasant during summer and fall. Few people hike during winter and spring when the water is cold, but some go in wearing wet or dry suits. Best light for photography is between 10 am and 3 pm, May-Sept.

Gear is very important on this hike. You will be going against the current, walking in sometimes deep water with no vision of what’s ahead, and walking on slippery rocks. Pack items that can be carried overhead in deep water. Wear or rent shoes that have heavy-duty traction. Wear or rent proper clothing for the cool water temperatures. Bring or rent 1 or 2 walking sticks for navigating the current and feeling for large rocks ahead in the river. Outdoor stores in Springdale have all these items available for rent and give you descriptive tutorials about the hike when you pick up your rentals.

Zion Adventure Company / Zion Outfitter / Zion Mountain School

 Different ways to hike the Narrows…

 

The Narrows Bottom Up

Distance / Variable up to 16 miles
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating /
Easy to Strenuous
Shuttle Stop /
Temple of Sinawava

The best way for first-time river hikers and those with only a short time in the park. Depending on water flow, this hike is easy to moderate in summer and ok for most kids 4 feet or taller. You can hike in as far you would like and turn back at any time. From the parking lot, it is usually only 2-3 hours into the section of Narrows known as Wall Street. Return hikers find it takes 2/3 the time to hike back as it did to hike in. Average hikers travel 3-4 miles up the canyon and then 3-4 miles back. Bottom-Up hikers are only permitted to hike as far north as Big Springs.

 
The Narrows Top Down 

Distance / Variable up to 16 miles
Route Type / One Way
Rating /
 Strenuous
Shuttle Stop /
Chamberlain’s Ranch

This 16-mile hike as a one-day event is the most strenuous option. For athletic people who are very agile hikers. Best done May through September when days are longer. Usually a 10-14 hour hike for most athletes. Very scenic if you take the time to look up. Permit required. Max group size is 12 persons.

 
The Narrows Top Down – Overnight

Distance / Variable up to 16 miles
Route Type / One Way
Rating /
 Strenuous
Shuttle Stop /
Chamberlain’s Ranch

With the only disadvantage being the extra weight of overnight gear, this is the way to have the full Narrows experience. Spend one night under a blanket of stars in the canyon in one of 12 designated sites. Plan on hiking 6-8 hours each day with enough time to check out Deep and Kolob Creeks on day one, and Orderville Gulch on day two. Permit required. Max group size is 12 persons. Make sure to pack light (under 25 lbs.). Best time is May-September.  

Trail Details

View more photos from The Narrows

Photography Journal

 


Riverside Walk

Distance / 2 miles RT
Time / 1 hour
Elevation Gain / 400  ft. climb 
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating / Easy
Shuttle Stop /Temple of Sinawava

The Riverside Walk is the short, yet beautiful trail out to the start of The Narrows, Zion’s most popular attraction.

Trail Details


Observation Point

Distance / 8 miles RT
Time / 5 hours
Elevation Gain / 2,000  ft. climb 
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating / Strenuous
Shuttle Stop / Weeping Rock Trailhead

Observation Point commands a view of nearly every major attraction in the canyon. 4 miles out (all uphill) and 4 miles back (all downhill). The hike itself is very steep, with short sections of inviting, level strolls through beautiful Echo Canyon. Hikers ascend nearly 2,000 feet during this trek; this is definitely not a trip for the casual, ridiculously-out-of-shape tourist. This trail is exposed to the strength of the sun for nearly the entire route, I would take plenty of water and recommend leaving early in the morning.

Trail Details

 

 

 


Trail Sources:

Read more about Zion National Park hiking trails on these websites  Utah.com  / All Trails  /  Modern Hiker


Follow my Zion Pinterest Board for more trip ideas!  

 


View more photos from Zion National Park 

Photography Journal



2 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing all this awesome information! I am wondering which hike through the Narrows you chose – I love your photos and would love to capture similar areas. Thanks, Anne!

    1. Katie – We chose to hike the short river trail to the river and hiked bottom up. But I love forward to doing an overnighter next time!

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