Julie United States 2 Comments

If you are planning your Zion National Park itinerary, this is a great place to start.

Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise. This relatively small park is packed with some of the most thrilling hikes in the United States. From the awe-inspiring hike up Angels Landing to the bucket list-worthy Zion Narrows to the family friendly Riverside Walk, there is something here for everyone.

In this post, get all of the information you need to plan your Zion National Park itinerary. This includes the top hikes, the best viewpoints, how to get around, where to stay, and where to eat.

Let’s get started!

Important Note: Numerous trails are closed in Zion National Park. Hidden Canyon, Observation Point, and Weeping Rock have a long-term closure due to a rockfall. Lower Emerald Pools is closed for construction but should open sometime in 2020. Angels Landing (the chains section) and Canyon Overlook are closed due to COVID-19 precautions. Visit the national park website for updates. 

Zion National Park: A Quick Geography Lesson

There are two sections to Zion National Park: the “main section” of the park, which is located along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, and Kolob Canyons.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is the main road that runs through Zion National Park. It starts at the Visitor Center and ends at the Temple of Sinawava. It is along this road that you have access to the most popular hikes, such as Angels Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point.

For most of the year, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles and the Zion Shuttle carries visitors up and down this road. The shuttle is included with your entrance fee into the park.

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.

There are other hiking trails that start outside of the park, or near the boundary of the park, and end along the Scenic Drive. The Zion Narrows and the West Rim Trail are several examples. These are point-to-point hikes that require some advance planning (more on these later in this post).

Best Things to do in Zion National Park

Go Hiking

Without a doubt, hiking is the #1 thing to do in Zion National Park.

For many people, the main reason to plan a trip to Zion is to hike Angels Landing and/or the Narrows.

Here are 10 great hikes to do in Zion National Park:

1. Weeping Rock: This short but strenuous hike ends at Weeping Rock, a large overhang of rock that is dripping with water.

2. Emerald Pool Trail: This short, popular trail connects two pools of water, Lower Emerald Pool and Upper Emerald Pool. This hike is 1.5 to 3 miles, depending on how far you hike and where you start.

3. Canyon Overlook Trail: For one of the best views in Zion, put this short, fun trail on your list. It is only 1-mile round trip and starts near the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel.

4. Watchman Trail: This short trail starts near the Visitor Center and offers nice views over the southern part of Zion National Park.

5. Riverside Walk: This paved path is a beautiful walk that is perfect for all ages and ability levels. It is 2.2 miles round trip and ends at the Virgin River.

Riverside Walk Zion

Riverside Walk

6. Hidden Canyon: This is one of the most thrilling hikes in Zion. Sections of this hike are similar to Angels Landing, with vertigo-inducing trails that come with chains to help you keep your balance. This trail does not climb as high or have the panoramic views like Angels Landing, but Hidden Canyon also gets fewer visitors, which makes for pleasant, less crowded experience. It is 3 miles round trip and can be combined with Observation Point.

Zion Itinerary

Hidden Canyon

7. Angels Landing: This is the most popular hike in Zion National Park. The final climb involves scaling a narrow ridge high above the valley floor. With chain-assisted rock scrambling sections and stunning views, this really is a thrilling hike.

Best Hikes in Zion

Angels Landing Trail

8. Observation Point: For jaw-dropping views over Zion National Park, it’s hard to beat Observation Point. The entire hike is a beauty, but it is challenging. At 8 miles long and with 2300 feet of climbing, it is a steady climb to that final viewpoint.

9. The Narrows: Hike in the Virgin River through one of the most beautiful slot canyons in the USA. You can start at the Riverside Walk, hike upriver for several miles, and turn around when you are ready (this is the bottom-up version of the hike). But the ultimate experience is to hike the entire Narrows from the top-down, a journey that is 16 miles long and can be done as an epic day hike or two-day backpacking trip.

If you choose to hike the Narrows from the top-down, you will need to apply for a permit. If you choose to do this over two days, you will also need to apply for a campsite. Visit our Guide to the Narrows for full details on how to do this. 

Zion Hike

The Narrows

10. West Rim Trail: The West Rim Trail is a long-distance hike through Zion National Park. With amazing views, very few hikers on the trail, and a chance to walk the length of Zion National Park, this hike rewards your efforts. The West Rim Trail can be hiked as a long day hike or as a two-day backpacking trip.

You do not need a permit to hike the West Rim Trail. But it is a point-to-point hike, so you will need to arrange a shuttle service in advance. Get the details on how to do this here. 

For more information on the hiking trails in Zion, read our post 10 Great Hikes in Zion: Which Ones Will Be Your Favorite?

Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

This winding scenic drive connects the Visitor Center to the east entrance of the park. Along the switchbacks between Canyon Junction and the tunnel you have great views of Zion National Park.

Zion Road

Between the tunnel and the east entrance the landscape is beautiful, with striated sandstone rocks, like those of Checkerboard Mesa. Keep your eye out for Bighorn Sheep.

Zion Mount Carmel Highway

Note: There is $15 fee for oversized vehicles to drive through the tunnel. An oversized vehicle is any vehicle that is 11 feet 4 inches or higher and 7 feet 10 inches wide or wider. If your vehicle is taller than 13 feet 1 inch you cannot pass through the tunnel.

Watch the Sunset from the Canyon Junction Bridge

This is the place to capture the iconic photo of the Virgin River and Watchman peak. Expect big crowds at sunset.

Zion Human History Museum

If you want to learn about the American Indians and the pioneers who lived on this land, then the Zion Human History Museum is worth a visit. It is one of the first stops on the Zion Shuttle.

Best Viewpoints in Zion National Park

If you want a spectacular view of Zion National Park, here are our top 5 viewpoints:

  • Observation Point
  • Angels Landing
  • Canyon Overlook
  • Canyon Junction Bridge
  • West Rim Trail

Canyon Overlook

The view from Canyon Overlook Trail

 West Rim Trail Zion

View from the West Rim Trail

How to Get Around Zion National Park

For most of the year (mid-March through November), the Zion Shuttle is in operation. During this time, private vehicles are not permitted to drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Park at the Visitor Center or take the Springdale Shuttle to the main entrance. You can hop on the shuttle at the Visitor Center and ride it to the Temple of Sinawava. If you are heading into the park to go hiking, make sure you know the correct shuttle stop for your hike.

The shuttle is included with your park entrance fee. Shuttles run frequently, about every 10 minutes during peak times. Even then, you could have to wait in line, especially mid-morning at the Visitor Center.

You are permitted to drive from the Visitor Center to the east entrance all year.

When the shuttle is not in operation (December, January, and February) you are permitted drive along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Just be aware that parking is limited so it still helps to get an early start.

There is a second shuttle system, the Springdale Shuttle, that connects the hotels in Springdale with the main entrance of Zion.

Walters Wiggles

Walters Wiggles (on the hike to Angels Landing)

How Many Days Do You Need in Zion?

Ideally, you need at least two to three days to visit Zion National Park. This gives you enough time to hike the longer, more popular trails, such as Angels Landing and the Narrows, and you can also add in a few of the shorter, easier trails, such as the Riverside Walk and Canyon Overlook.

When deciding how much time you should spend in Zion, pick out the hikes you want to do. For each big hike (a hike 5 miles or longer), add one day to your itinerary.

If you plan to hike Angels Landing, the Narrows, and Observation Point, you will need three days in Zion.

Pro Travel Tip: I recommend checking the Zion National Park website for updates on trail closures to avoid any surprises. Do this when planning your Zion National Park itinerary and just before your visit.

Angels Landing Zion

Angels Landing

A Sample Day in Zion National Park

Start early!! Being on one of the first shuttles is the key to having a great hiking experience in Zion. This well help you avoid the crowds on the trail, which is very important if you plan to hike Angels Landing or the Zion Narrows.

In the spring, the first shuttle leaves the Visitor Center at 7 am. In the summer, the first shuttle is at 6 am. I recommend getting in line 15 minutes before the first shuttle of the day if you plan to hike Angels Landing or the Narrows. By 9 am, the line can be very long to take the shuttle into the park.

In the morning, hike one of the longer, more strenuous trails.

Midday, have a picnic lunch in the park or grab a bite to eat at the Zion Lodge or at the Visitor Center. You can also exit the park, have lunch in Springdale, and relax in your hotel for a few hours. This is what we do and it works great because we avoid the hot temperatures and high crowd levels midday.

Mid to late-afternoon, we re-enter the park and hike a shorter, easier trail. Canyon Overlook, Emerald Pools, and the Riverside walk all fall into this category. This is also a great time to watch the sunset from Canyon Junction Bridge.

Have dinner in Springdale.

Observation Point

Observation Point

Planning Your Zion National Park Itinerary

One Day Zion National Park Itinerary

With one day in Zion National Park, getting an early start is critical for the best experience.

Take the first shuttle of the day and hike the trail of your choice. For most people, that would be Angels Landing or the Zion Narrows.

If you are fit and fast, you can hike both trails on the same day. Hike Angels Landing in the morning, take a break and recharge midday, and hike the Narrows from the bottom-up in the late afternoon.

Or, hike a longer trail in the morning, have lunch midday, and then hike a short trail in the afternoon. Watch the sunset from Canyon Junction Bridge and have dinner in Springdale.

Two or More Days in Zion National Park

Here are sample daily Zion National Park itineraries. You can piece these together depending on your interests.

Reminder: Numerous trails are closed in Zion National Park. Hidden Canyon, Observation Point, and Weeping Rock have a long-term closure due to a rockfall. Lower Emerald Pools is closed for construction but should open sometime in 2020. Angels Landing (the chains section) and Canyon Overlook are closed due to COVID-19 precautions. Visit the national park website for updates. 

1 Day:  Angels Landing + Canyon Overlook

Hike Angels Landing in the morning. You have the option to add on Emerald Pools after Angels Landing, since the trailheads are located near each other. Take a midday break. In the afternoon, drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Road and hike Canyon Overlook.

1 Day:  Observation Point, Hidden Canyon and Weeping Rock

You can combine all three of these hikes into one long day hike. These all start at the Weeping Rock trailhead. Be on one of the first shuttles of the day. Hike Hidden Canyon first, followed by Observation Point. At the end of the hike, you can add on Weeping Rock before walking to the shuttle stop.

By putting Weeping Rock at the end of the hike, you have the option to skip it. If you are totally worn out from hiking to Observation Point, skip Weeping Rock. You’re not missing much, especially after the thrilling views you just had from Hidden Canyon and Observation Point.

1 Day:  The Narrows from the Bottom-Up

Be on the first shuttle of the day. Get off at the Temple of Sinawava and walk the Riverside Walk to the Virgin River. Hike the Narrows as far as you like, or until you reach Big Springs.

1 to 2 Days:  The Narrows from the Top-Down

This is one of the most epic hiking experiences in Zion National Park. You can do this over two days, camping along the Virgin River, or you can do it as a big day hike.

1 to 2 Days:  West Rim Trail 

This long-distance trail starts near Kolob Canyons and ends near Angels Landing. You essentially hike from one side of Zion to the other. Like the Narrows from the top-down, this can be done as a two-day backpacking trip or as a massive day hike.

Putting This All Together: Sample Itineraries

Popular Hikes + Zion Narrows Day Hike

Day 1: Angels Landing, Emerald Pool, Canyon Overlook
Day 2: Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Weeping Rock
Day 3: Zion Narrows Bottom-Up OR Zion Narrows Top-Down Day Hike
Day 4: West Rim Trail as a Day Hike
Days 4 & 5: West Rim Trail as a backpacking trip

Popular Hikes + Zion Narrows Backpacking Trip

Day 1: Angels Landing, Emerald Pool, Canyon Overlook
Day 2: Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Weeping Rock
Days 3 & 4: Zion Narrows Top-Down Backpacking Trip
Day 5: West Rim Trail as a Day Hike
Days 5 & 6: West Rim Trail as a backpacking trip

These are long days with lots of back-to-back hikes. Consider adding an extra day for a little relaxation, to recharge your legs. You can hike a short trail, explore Springdale, or visit the Kolob Canyon section of Zion. If you plan to hike the Narrows, you will need some time in Springdale to get your gear, if you do not have your own.

Zion National Park Itinerary for Summer 2020

Due to the numerous trail closures, here is a Zion National Park itinerary for summer/fall 2020. Before you go to Zion, check the website for updates on closures.

Day 1:  Hike the Watchman Trail or hike Angels Landing to Scout Lookout. Prepare your gear for the Zion Narrows (find out what gear you need in this post).
Day 2:  Hike the Zion Narrows from the bottom-up. Expect big crowds since this is only one of a few trails that are open in the park. 
Day 3:  Hike to Observation Point on the East Mesa Trail.
Days 4: Hike the West Rim Trail as a day hike (do the Watchman Trail on day 1 since you will hike to Scout Lookout on West Rim Trail). 
Days 4 & 5: West Rim Trail as a backpacking trip. Reserve your campsite in advance. 

Zion Itinerary with Zion Narrows

Zion Narrows

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park

You can visit Zion National Park all year.

Spring is a wonderful time to visit Zion. The weather is pleasant, with warm daytime temperatures and cool nights. Just be aware that you may not be able to hike the Narrows. In the spring, flow rates in the Virgin River will be high and the trail most likely will be closed (the Narrows usually reopens in May).

During the summer months, expect big crowds and very high temperatures. Zion is the most crowded from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day.

Fall is a spectacular time to visit Zion. The weather will be warm during the day and cool at night. September and October are the best months to visit Zion, in my opinion. Crowds are thinning, the weather is spectacular, and in October you can see the fall colors.

If you don’t mind cold temperatures, winter is a very nice time to visit Zion. Crowds will be low and hiking trails will be empty. The Zion shuttle does not operate in the winter so you can drive through the park in your own vehicle.

Zion National Park Itinerary

View from Angels Landing

Where to Eat

King’s Landing Bistro. This is our favorite restaurant in Springdale. This restaurant has a “fine dining” feel to it with an amazing menu. 

Café Soleil. This place is quick, reasonably priced, and serves delicious sandwiches.

Oscar’s Café. The perfect spot after a long day of hiking. Oscar’s café serves great nachos and huge portions of Mexican food.

Zion Pizza and Noodle Café. This is another budget friendly place that serves pizza, pastas, and salads.

Where to Stay

Zion National Park Lodge. This is the only lodge inside of Zion National Park. Due to its excellent location, make your reservations far in advance (at least 6 months in advance).

The remainder of these properties are in Springdale.

Holiday Inn Express. This is our go-to hotel in Springdale and highly recommend it. The staff is friendly, the rooms are clean and quiet, and it has an excellent location in Springdale. It is located on the Springdale Shuttle Route, so you can get around town without a car.

Flanigan’s Inn. This very highly rated property has a wide range of room types. Some rooms can accommodate up to six people and you also have the option to stay in your own private house. Prior guests love the location and state that they could walk to Zion National Park.

Red Rock Inn Cottages. Stay in a one or two-bedroom cottage. Some cottages have a seating area and kitchen. Free breakfast is offered daily.

Cable Mountain Lodge. This is as close as you can get to Zion National Park without staying inside of the park. Located near the Visitor Center, this highly-rated hotel offers some rooms that can accommodate up to 8 people.

Hotel Cable Mountain Lodge

Cable Mountain Lodge

Practical Information

Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The entrance fee is $35 and is valid for 7 days.

Pro Travel Tip: Check for trail closures, road closures, and get important updates before your visit on the official national park website.


If you have any questions about planning your Zion National Park itinerary, let us know in the comment section below. 

More Information About Zion National Park:

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Destination Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

Visit More National Parks:

 

Zion National Park Itinerary Travel Guide

 

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Comments 2

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      Author

      You can stay at the Zion Lodge, inside of the park. Just outside of Zion is the town of Springdale and there are many options here. Cheers, Julie

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