Zion National Park, Zion Canyon: What You Need To Know Before Visiting!

Zion National Park is one of the most gorgeous parks in the National Parks System. The park lives up to its name, with towering cliffs overhead wherever you go. Trees and plants grow straight out of the rocks, and sweeping views of the canyon are abundant at every point in the scenic drive. There’s birds flying by, deer by the roadside and in the campgrounds and barely a flying insect in sight. It’s serene, and far too beautiful.

The Virgin River in Zion Canyon, Zion National Park.

Camping and Lodging

If you’re visiting Zion Canyon, you’re likely going to want to stay in the Park or just outside of the park entrance. There are two campgrounds in Zion National Park: South Campground and Watchman Campground. Both are fairly well developed and have hundreds of available sites. However, since Zion is busy year-round due to excellent weather, make sure you plan your trip well in advance in order to secure a campsite!

When I looked in February for sites in July and August, nearly everything was booked save for a few random openings in the middle of the week. Set your reminders early and plan your trip out further in advance than you think you need to!

Our spot in Watchman Campground.

The same goes for the Zion Lodge, which is up Zion Canyon a little ways. Make sure to book this far in advance in order to ensure a spot. They go quickly! Outside of these options, thee are no more spots in order for lodging inside the park. There are other options in the nearby town of Springdale, including several hotels, motels, and B&B options as well.

Getting Around in Zion Canyon

There’s a couple different ways to get around in Zion Canyon. The first option is by private vehicle. One thing to note here is that private vehicles are not allowed on the route up the canyon towards the Zion Lodge. This route is only offered through shuttle services offered by Zion National Park or private agencies that have agreements with the Park Service. You can access the scenic drive, and the fork in the road that leads to the Zion Tunnel.

As stated before, the Zion Canyon scenic drive is only accessible via shuttle bus. Zion National Park does run two types of shuttle buses up and down the canyon: a regular shuttle bus that departs from the Visitor Center and returns to the Visitor Center, and “circulator” buses that do not go back to the Visitor Center. It’s important to note the difference! Make sure you take a shuttle well before the last shuttle of the day – depending on the time of year, the last shuttle bus will depart, and you will have to walk the 8-mile road back down!

A newer, more accessible alternative to seeing the canyon is by bicycle. They are able to be rented through several companies in Springdale, and bringing your own is also an option. This may be the most ideal way to see Zion Canyon since you can pull over whenever you want for a break or to take pictures of the gorgeous scenery! Be aware that you must pull over and stop for all passing shuttle buses, as they have right of way.

Finally, the last option is walking! It might be a long day, but you could definitely choose to walk partway up the canyon. There are plenty of other chances to walk and hike in and around Zion, so unless you’re in the park for an extended period of time, definitely consider one of the aforementioned methods of transportation.

Walks and Hikes

Throughout the park, there are numerous walks and hikes to take part in. They’re there for a reason, after all! I’ll go over some of the more popular hikes, and also cover the hikes I have personally done. I’ll keep it short and sweet for the most part, and refer you to longer, more detailed blogs I’ve written about these hikes already! But, for now, let’s go over some of the must-see hikes in Zion Canyon.

The Narrows + Riverside Walk

Along the way to the Narrows of Zion Canyon!

This trail is quite a fun one if you want to get your feet wet! A short 1.0 mile walk along a paved trail gets you to a small assembly area. From there, hike nearly 4 miles through the river and into the chasms of the canyon. At times, the river can be up to your knees, and you may need to swim through certain deep sections of it! Be aware that because of these features, this hike is rated as strenuous.

As is with all hiking and backcountry exploring, never go further than you feel is fit! Turn back if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable wading through the high waters.

Emerald Pools Trail: Upper, Lower, and Middle

Views from the Emerald Pools Trail

I don’t want to give away what the Emerald Pools look like, so here’s a photo to get you enticed regarding the spectacular views you can see during this trail! Hiking to the pools themselves is not a difficult task, and there’s ways to loop them all together so you can see them all on one hike. Seeing the pools can range in mileage from 1 mile to just under 4 miles roundtrip.

Make sure to bring lots of water on this hike, as there is a lack of shade. I did this trail in very late October and that sun still beats down on you!

Angel’s Landing

Angel’s Landing is a 5,0 pretty heavily trafficked trail with an elevation of 1,630 feet. It features some pretty technical hiking and climbing, including a long stretch of chain areas. This trail is usually very crowded during peak season, so get to this trailhead early if you want to be a little more secluded on this hike!

Observation Point via East Mesa Trail

Spectacular views of the Virgin River!

This viewpoint has been made very difficult to reach due to major rockfall years back. The only way to access Observation Point is via the East Mesa Trail, a 6.7 mile trail with an elevation gain of 695 feet. There is parking available at the trail head, which is located outside of the park. However, if you do end up doing the trail you’ll be greeted with some absolutely spectacular views!

Canyon Overlook Trail

This trail is perhaps one of the best trails in Zion! It’s super short and it leads to a spectacular view overlooking the scenic drive in the east part of the park through Pine Creek Canyon. It’s only 1.0 mile roundtrip and the elevation change is 163 ft. Parking is rather limited at this part of the park, so either arrive here early or prepare to add an additional mile or mile and a half round trip to your distance!

I’ve written more details on this hike in another blog. Check out my Canyon Overlook Trail Guide!

That wraps up Zion Canyon in Zion National Park! I have an entire separate blog regarding Kolob Canyon, also located inside of Zion National Park, so be sure to check out that blog if you’re going to try and hit another section of Zion.

Be safe out there, plan out your route, bring lots of water and have a blast on the trail! Remember your trail etiquette and don’t forget to bring a camera!

Parting shot:

The glorious Virgin River running through Zion National Park.

Next blog: Skiing or cookies? Who knows!?

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