River running through mountains in Zion National Park

The Ultimate Guide for an Unforgettable Zion National Park Trip

AUTHOR: Connor Ursin with @nationalparktravelers

Zion National Park is one of the most unique places in the world, so get there in your own house on wheels! Famous for its reddish-pink hues of the cliffs, Zion embodies the image and memories of the canyonlands of the west — rugged and stunning.

Packed with epic hiking trails and endless photo opportunities, visiting Zion National Park should be at the top of every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. The sunsets alone are worth seeing!

Before you pack up and head to one of the Crown Jewels of the National Parks System, check out our Zion National Park travel guide. We’ve got everything you need to know from how to get there and where to stay, to which hiking trails you can’t miss.

River running through mountains in Zion National Park

What to Know Before You Go

Getting Around

Traveling around Zion National Park varies depending on what time of the year you visit.

There is one main road where most of your trailheads will start, and you can take the Zion Shuttle there from early March to mid-November. The shuttles leave at regular intervals, so catch them from outside the park in Springdale, or inside the park at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center (near the campgrounds).

Catching the shuttle is usually the best time to access the most sought-after hiking trails.

If you’re biking or staying at the Zion Lodge, explore in your own vehicle!

Another option is in the nearby town of Springdale there are multiple businesses renting bicycles. Keep in mind that parking in Zion National Park can fill up very quickly — so get there early or consider other options like the shuttle or bicycles. 

Permits

If you’re planning to hike the famous Angels Landing trail, check out the new permit system. Beginning April 1st, 2022, this will be the only way you will be able to make this hike, and you can find additional info regarding the permit at recreation.gov.

To enter Zion National Park, you’ll need to either purchase a $35, seven-day vehicle pass, or a $55 annual pass.

If you plan on visiting at least 3 National Parks/National Designated areas within one year, you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass at the entrance station for $80 — which will cover 12 months of entrance fees into any National Park in the U.S.!

Please Leave No Trace when visiting. We are all responsible for leaving these beautiful areas exactly how we found them and helping preserve the land for future generations ahead of us. 

When to Visit Zion National Park

Zion is open year-round, which provides different advantages to each season. So go in the spring or fall to avoid the extreme weather and larger crowds. 

  • Summer is the best time for you to visit Zion National Park and get the full experience. Warm weather is perfect for hiking the infamous Narrows, so you won’t regret it!
  • Spring is probably your best bet if you want to beat the crowds. You’ll also experience a nice balance between temps by avoiding winter and going before summer.
  • Fall is prime time for photography because the colors of the park are beautiful this time of year. You can’t beat the rich reds and oranges seen around the park.
  • Winter turns Zion into a snowy paradise as it sits in the high desert. You can expect the least amount of visitors during this time.

No matter the time of year, your Zion National Park visit will be unforgettable — it’s all in what type of experience you want to get from it. 

Closest Airports to Zion National Park

You can’t catch any direct flights to Zion National Park, but you can get pretty close.

The closest major airport is McCarran international airport in Las Vegas, so, after landing, you’ll have about a two hour and twenty-five minute drive ahead of you.

The next closest major airport option is Salt Lake City international airport. But you’re looking at a decently longer drive with four hours and fifteen minutes to go after landing.

Where to Stay Around Zion National Park

Zion Lodge is the only lodging available inside the park itself. Space is limited here, so you should book a room well ahead of your visit. If you stay here, you’ll also have the added benefit of being able to drive your own GoCamp camper van on Zion Canyon Road.

The closest city is the charming town of Springdale where you can find accommodations to fit any budget, and it’s less than a five-minute drive from the park entrance.

A narrow passage between red rocks navigated by knee-high water in Zion National Park

Campgrounds at Zion National Park

You need reservations for all campsites around Zion Park, so be sure you’re planning well in advance when looking at your options.

Watchman Campground

  • Located next to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
  • Quarter mile away from the south entrance in Springdale.
  • Tent and electric campsites are available year-round.
  • All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a picnic table, and access to a fire ring.

South Campground

  • Located near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
  • Half mile from the south entrance at Springdale.
  • Tent, dry RV, and group campsites are available from March through October.
  • All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a picnic table, and a fire ring.

Lava Point Campground

  • Located 7890 ft. above sea level, and off the Kolob Terrace Road.
  • Located 25 miles north of the town of Virgin, it’ll take you around 1 hour and 20 minutes to drive to the south entrance of Zion Canyon.
  • 6 primitive sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Pit toilets are available, but no water.

Zion National Park Hikes We Recommend

The Narrows 

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance: Can be as short as you’d like, but we recommend 6 miles roundtrip to see the Wall Street section.
  • Estimated hike time: 3-4 hours to Wall Street
  • Shuttle stop #9: Temple of Sinawava

The Narrows is one of the most iconic hikes in the world, and the slot canyons will have you walking knee-deep through the Virgin River!

Spend as long as you want venturing around — this is an out and back trail. You gotta go for about 2 hours to see the most scenic area, Wall Street.

Alternatively, get a permit so you can do this hike from the “top down” for a challenging 16-mile trip. 

Canyon Overlook Trail 

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Estimated hike time: 1 hour
  • Not accessible by shuttle: Located on Highway 9 just east of Mount Carmel Tunnel

This hike is a gem of Zion, and takes you for a short, fun for all ages hike. You’ll see an incredible overlook of Zion Canyon, so this quick hike is a must-add to your itinerary. 

Angels Landing 

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Estimated hike time: 4-6 hours
  • Shuttle #6: The Grotto
  • Permit required after April 1st, 2022

Angels Landing is one of the most memorable hikes you’ll ever accomplish, so you’ll see why visitors flock to this trail from all over the world.

The final mile of this hike involves climbing a narrow path with exposed cliffs on both sides, so don’t look down! With nothing more than a chain to hold onto, this is one of the greatest rushes of adrenaline you’ll ever feel.

The Watchman Trail 

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Estimated hike time: 2 hours

The Watchman trail is an easy one that gives you an introduction to the scenery of the park.

It’s located right by the visitor center and is a perfect hike if you’re looking to get warmed up for some of the bigger hikes later in your trip. 

Other Hikes to Try Out in Zion National Park

  • The Subway (permit required)
  • Observation Point Via East Mesa Trail
  • Emerald Pools
  • Kolob Canyon area of the park (to beat the crowds)
  • Kanarra Falls (located 45 minutes away and requires reservation)
A person with hiking poles hikes under a massive red rock while looking left into Zion National Park

Nearby Places to Go When Exploring Zion National Park

When you travel to Zion National Park, you’ll find out immediately that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. — but it’s not the only thing to see while you’re in the area.

If you have the time, be sure you visit some of the surrounding areas for even more natural beauty and unforgettable sights.

  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
  • Kanab
  • Valley of Fire State Park
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Horseshoe Bend
  • Lake Powell
  • Antelope Canyon
  • Sand Hollow State Park

Next Stop: Rocky Mountain National Park

Every National Park has their own unique beauty that makes each trip a new experience. And now that you’ve explored the high deserts and canyons of Utah, it’s time to head to the Rockies to see what majesty waits to be seen.

With its alpine lakes, jaw-dropping mountain peaks, and tons of wildlife, there’s tons to explore!

But before you hit the road, make sure you’ve got everything you need for an unforgettable camper van trip.

Read our Ultimate Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park >