Discover Zion: the complete guide
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Zion National Park is located approximately 2.5 hours from Las Vegas and 1 hour from Bryce Canyon National Park. It is the first National Park created in Utah in 1909 and one of the most beautiful National Parks in the Western United States! It is visited each year by 2.5 million visitors.
The park is famous for its deep canyons and challenging hikes. These canyons were shaped by the Virgin River, which carved out this eight-mile long, steep-sided defile. The impressive cliffs, with steep walls whose height varies between 610 and 910 meters, make this park a place rich in geological diversity, but also in fauna and flora. Halfway between desert landscapes and rocky mountains, Zion is very different from other arid parks in Utah. And the greatest particularity is perhaps that we discover the canyons from below before climbing to the heights to be able to admire the view.
The park is divided into 2 parts: Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons.
- Zion Canyon (south and east entrance): The vast majority of visitors go to this fairly restricted area of the park, but which has the advantage of being located on the road connecting Zion to Bryce and Lake Powell. This is the most emblematic sector, the most photogenic and therefore the best laid out.
It is this part of the park that I detail in this article.
- Kolob Canyons (north entrance): less spectacular and therefore less touristy but this makes the park very enjoyable. There is also no infrastructure, except the Visitor Center. From Springdale, it takes 45 minutes by car to reach the north entrance of the park.
What to see and do while in Zion?
- Park Entrance (Zion Canyon): One can enter from the south, coming from Springdale, or from the east, coming from Mt. Carmel Junction
- Price: $35/vehicle, $30/motorbike, $20/person on foot or by bike. Entry valid for 7 consecutive days.
The Pass America The Beautiful (also called Interagency Annual Pass) is ACCEPTED.
- Visitor Center: At the south entrance of the Canyon, just past the park entrance gate.
May-Sept, daily 8am-7pm;
Oct-Apr, daily 8am-6pm.
More informations: https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
- Recommended visit time: most visitors are content to discover the park over half a day or a day. It is doable, but the landscape is so fabulous that I recommend that you stay there for at least a day and a half (with 2 nights there) to take the time to appreciate the park in its entirety.
- RVs and Bikes: Coming from Bryce Canyon or Kanab, you will have to go through a tunnel (Zion-Mount Carmel). Bicycles are prohibited.
For motorhomes, you will have to inquire because depending on the size of the vehicle you will have to pay, in addition to the entrance to the park, a tunnel permit. In addition, you cannot use the tunnel whenever you want (timetables to be respected).
- Parking: Free parking at the entrance to the park is available next to the Visitor Center. The latter is quickly full in the morning (you really have to get there before 9am, or even 8am). Otherwise you will have locations in Springdale, along the 9, count around $15-$20 a day.
- Shuttles to Springdale (Springdale Shuttle): a 1st shuttle provides the connection between Springdale (where the majority of accommodation is located) and the Visitor Center. This shuttle leaves from the station at the Majestic View Lodge and serves around ten strategic points. It runs approximately every 15 minutes (from 7:10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in high season). It is a good alternative if you spend a night in Springdale because you can leave your car in the parking lot of your accommodation and take the shuttle to the park.
- Shuttles inside the park (Zion Canyon Shuttle): From March to the end of November, free shuttles serve the interior of the Canyon, making round trips between the Visitor Center and the bottom of the Canyon (Temple of Sinawava). Allow 45 minutes one way. The road serving the interior of the Canyon is therefore closed to cars from mid-March to the end of November. Bus times in high season: 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (departing from the Visitor Center).
1 | Marvel at the panoramic road UT9 and admire one of its most beautiful viewpoints
The scenic route UT-9 (Scenic Byway 9 or Zion-Mount Carmel Highway) is a must when visiting Zion National Park. It crosses the southern part of the park from west to east for about 17 km and allows in particular to reach Zion Canyon National Park. This is one of the most scenic drives in the United States. The landscapes are absolutely beautiful, the colors and shapes of the mountains very varied! This sector is generally only visited by car, as parking lots and viewpoints are rare. Coming from Bryce, this road passes through a tunnel (Zion-Mount Carmel) cut through the mountain and then plunges into Zion Canyon via large switchbacks.
I highly recommend that you stop just before going through the tunnel (when coming from Bryce Canyon) to do the Canyon Overlook Trail. This hike is definitely worth it as it offers great views of the park and its mountains. On the other hand, the possibilities for parking are really very limited (no more than ten places!).
CANYON OVERLOOK TRAIL
(1.6km round trip | 1 hour | Easy)
The trail begins with small steps along the road. The path is very easy and pleasant, even if some passages are quite aerial and can impress people who fear heights. Barriers are present to secure the most dangerous passages.
2 | Discover The Great Arch and its fabulous cliffs
After going through the tunnel, the winding road is just spectacular. You can also admire The Great Arch, a huge arch carved into the cliff, located just below Canyon Overlook (road between the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel and the Visitor Center). I advise you to go through it twice at two times of the day, the colors vary, it’s magnificent!
3 | Visit Zion Canyon, the most beautiful area of Zion National Park
It’s hard to capture the beauty of this park with its deep canyons and high cliffs colored in red, white and green. The best way to discover it is to embark on the hiking trails.
The park is traversed by around twenty marked trails of varying difficulty. I suggest a small selection of marked hikes/walks:
(3.5km round trip | 1 hour | Easy | Temple of Sinawava bus stop)
This ride follows the Virgin River. It is a very easy path to access because it is tarmacked and fairly flat all the way.
The end of the Riverside Walk is the start of the famous walk called The Narrows.
(Temple of Sinawava bus stop)
This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, but rather atypical since it involves feet (see legs) in the water. There really is no end and you can turn around whenever you want. The walk takes place in the canyon where the Virgin River flows and where, as you progress, you find yourself between the giant walls of the canyon. The gorges are increasingly spectacular and colorful, the walls are tinged with red and orange, and sometimes glisten in the light.
This hike is unfortunately a victim of its own success. Indeed, when we arrived (around 8:30 am!) at the end of the Riverside Walk and therefore at the start of the Narrows, there were already a lot of people starting the Narrows hike. Even though the scenery is worth it, we didn’t feel like doing this hike with everyone, so we decided to turn back.
Note 1: this hike must be done with a good pair of shoes (no tap shoes as we have seen) and a walking stick (the stones can be slippery). And for those who don’t have shoes, you can rent equipment in Springdale. Also remember to protect the photo equipment in waterproof bags…
Note 2: Be careful not to undertake this hike on rainy days, or the day after heavy showers, the river is prone to “Flash Floods”. It can become very dangerous. A “Flash Flood” occurred a few days before our visit to Zion and caused the death of one person (we received several “Flash Flood” alerts during our stay in early September). Do not hesitate to consult the rangers at the Visitor Center to find out about the conditions and before committing to the hike. It is also for this reason that we chose not to do this hike.
EMERALD POOLS TRAILS
(3km | 1h30 | D+90m | Easy | Bus stop: Zion Lodge or The Grotto)
This trail gives access to 3 natural green pools (lower, middle and upper pools). In fact, as far as color goes, the pools were more brown than emerald! The hike is still very fun to do and it is really enjoyable! On one part (near The Grotto stop) you will even have a very photogenic panorama of the Virgin River.
ANGEL’S LANDING TRAIL
(9km round trip | 4 hours | D+490m | Difficult | The Grotto bus stop)
It is the most famous of the park since it offers a fabulous 360° view of the valley and the Virgin River. However, it is not recommended for everyone. Indeed, this rather sporty walk is technical on certain passages especially on the last 800 meters where you are on a very steep ridge, overlooking a ravine. It is still possible to stop before this last part. If you plan to go all the way, leave early to take in the views before the canyon fades into shadow.
Information: Angel’s Landing is an extremely popular hike. In high season, traffic jams of hikers form, among other things, during the final climb to Angel’s Landing (on certain passages, it is not possible to pass two abreast. You must therefore wait before you can commit). A PERMIT SYSTEM has therefore been in place since April 2022. Without this permit, you will therefore not be able to access the final ascent of the hike, that is to say from The Chains to the top of Angel’s Landing. However, access remains free to reach Scout Lookout.
The allocation of these permits is done online via a system of lotteries: seasonal lotteries (seasonal lottery), which open several months before the planned hiking dates, or daily lotteries (day-before lottery) which make it possible to obtain a permit for the next day. To enter the lottery, go to Recreation.gov. If you obtain a permit, you will need to start your hike within the time slot indicated on your permit.
My most beautiful photos are on Instagram
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