Zion is one of the most popular national parks to visit in the USA. Recently, this park has been drawing record numbers of visitors. Because of this, you should expect big crowds waiting to board the Zion Shuttle.
By 8 am, the line to board the Zion Shuttle can be very long. We are talking a wait of an hour or longer, just to board the shuttle. For the best experience, plan to get here early, before or at the first boarding time of the day. This will save you valuable time waiting in line (and also makes it much easier to get a parking space at the Visitor Center).
If you arrive to the Zion Visitor Center and the line to board the shuttle is ridiculously long, here are 10 things to do in Zion if you don’t want to wait in line for the shuttle.
About the Zion Shuttle
For most of the year (mid-February through November and during the winter holiday season of Christmas and New Year’s), the Zion Shuttle is in operation. During this time, private vehicles are not permitted to drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
From this shuttle route, you have access to Zion’s most popular hiking trails, such as the Narrows, Angels Landing, the Riverside Walk, and the Emerald Pools.
Several hikes, such as Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, and Observation Point, have a long-term closure due to a rockfall. Observation Point can still be accessed from the east side of the park, which I cover later in this article.
You will board the shuttle at the Visitor Center, which is located at the park entrance. To get here, you can either drive to the Visitor Center and park your car, or ride the Springdale shuttle from town. Midday and on weekends, taking the Springdale shuttle is recommended because parking is limited at the Visitor Center.
Things to Do in Zion if You Don’t Want to Ride the Shuttle
If you don’t want to wait in line for the shuttle, there are still many things to do in Zion National Park.
1. Hire a Private Shuttle
There are several companies that offer a private shuttle service into Zion National Park. This is a great way to get to Angels Landing, the Narrows, and Emerald Pools without waiting in line for the shuttle. This saves you time, not only at the Visitor Center, but later in the day, when you have to wait in line to ride the shuttle back to the park entrance. Prices average $40 per person.
2. Bike into Zion Canyon
The next best way to access the hiking trails for the Narrows and Angels Landing is to get there by bike.
One-way distances to the trailheads from the Visitor Center:
EMERALD POOLS: The Emerald Pools trailhead is located 4.4 miles from the Visitor Center. This is also the location of the Zion Lodge and the Zion Lodge shuttle stop.
ANGELS LANDING: The Angels Landing trailhead is located 5 miles from the park entrance/Visitor Center. Park your bike at the Grotto picnic area. This is also the location of The Grotto shuttle stop.
RIVERSIDE WALK & THE NARROWS: The trailhead for the Riverside Walk and the Narrows is located at the very end of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the Temple of Sinawava). It is 8 miles, one-way, to get here.
Note: You can also get to these trailheads on foot, but you will do a lot of walking. To hike to Angels Landing, it is a 5.4 mile hike plus the 10 miles out-and-back along Scenic Drive.
Click here for tips on biking along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
3. Hike to Canyon Overlook
Distance: 1 mile round trip | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 1 hour
This is one of the best, easy hikes to do in Zion National Park. And since the trailhead is not located on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, you do not need the shuttle to get here.
Canyon Overlook is one of the best viewpoints of Zion National Park. From here, you look out over the twists and turns of the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway and Zion Canyon.
The trailhead is located on Zion – Mount Carmel Highway just east of the tunnel. The parking lot is small so keep your fingers crossed that you can get a space here.
For full details on the hike and information about parking, read our Guide to the Canyon Overlook Trail.
4. Hike the Watchman Trail
Distance: 3.3 miles round trip | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 2 hours
The Watchman Trail offers nice views over Springdale and the southern end of Zion National Park. This hike starts right at the visitor center, so no shuttle is necessary.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike the Watchman Trail
5. Hike the Pa’rus Trail
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 2 hours
This paved trail connects the Visitor Center with Canyon Junction Bridge. It follows along the Virgin River. This is a nice trail to walk if you want to take in the view from the Canyon Junction Bridge.
5. Watch the Sunset from Canyon Junction Bridge
This is the spot to capture the iconic photo of the Virgin River and Watchman peak. Expect big crowds at sunset. Get here by walking the Pa’rus Trail from the Visitor Center.
6. Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
This winding scenic drive connects the Visitor Center to the east entrance of the park. Stop along the switchbacks for photos, where you will have great views of Zion National Park. Cruise through the Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel and continue the drive through the beautiful landscapes on the east side of the park. Keep an eye out for Bighorn Sheep.
Zion – Mount Carmel Highway
7. Hike to Observation Point
Distance: 7 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Time: 3 to 4 hours
From Observation Point you have unbeatable views of Zion Canyon. The best way to get here is from the Weeping Rock trailhead…however, this trailhead is closed due to a rockfall. And since it is on the shuttle route, you need to ride the shuttle to get here.
Fortunately, there is another way to hike to Observation Point.
From the East Mesa Trailhead, it is a 7 mile round-trip hike to Observation Point. The East Mesa Trailhead is located outside of Zion National Park. You will park just outside of Zion National Park and then hike into Zion on the East Mesa Trail. From the East Mesa Trailhead, it is actually a shorter, easier hike than if you were to do this from the Weeping Rock Trailhead.
LEARN MORE: How to Hike to Observation Point
8. Visit Kolob Canyons
Kolob Canyons is a smaller section of the park that sits to the north of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This area has a few hiking trails and its own visitor center. If you want to avoid the crowds along the shuttle route, this is a great area of Zion to explore.
9. Hike the Subway
Similar to the Narrows, the Subway is a hiking and canyoneering route along the Left Fork of North Creek. It is located on the west side of the park and riding the shuttle is not necessary to access this hike. However, you do need a permit.
10. Take a Tour of Zion
If want to avoid riding the shuttle, consider taking a tour to go hiking, rock climbing, or canyoneering in Zion National Park. For those looking for adventure, this tour combines a UTV tour with a hike through a slot canyon. Or, take a guided hike of the Narrows. You can also go canyoneering, horseback riding, or take a Jeep tour of east Zion.
Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
The entrance fee is $35 and it is valid for 7 days.
As you plan your trip and just before your visit, get updates about trail closures, road closures, and park conditions on the official National Park Service website.
For more important planning information, read our article 5 Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park.
If you have any questions about things to do in Zion if you don’t want to ride the shuttle, let us know in the comment section below. If you want to share your experience, we would love to hear about that too!
More Information about Utah
ZION NATIONAL PARK: Check out our Zion National Park Travel Guide for important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
ZION ITINERARY: Learn how to plan your perfect Zion itinerary, whether you have a day or a week.
AMERICAN SOUTHWEST ITINERARY: If you have 10 days, learn how to road trip through the American Southwest, visiting several national parks, state parks, and scenic spots in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.
UTAH’S MIGHTY 5: Utah’s Mighty 5 is a collection of five national parks in Utah. Learn more about the parks and how to plan your visit in our Guide to Utah’s Mighty 5.
NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.
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