The red cliffs of Zion National Park is majestic! It’s my favorite place in all of Utah. I went here twice and I was just as amazed by its beauty the first time.
It’s 2 to 3 hours drive from Las Vegas. A park great for canyoneering (also known as canyoning), which is navigating a canyon by hiking, swimming, abseiling, cliff jumping, and/or climbing. My first experience of this was a guided experience at Blue Mountains in Australia.
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If you need to fly, the nearest major airport to Zion is McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. Other nearby major airports are in Salt Lake City (SLC) and Phoenix (PHX).
There is a regional airport in St. George, Utah (SGU) and Cedar City (CDC) that some of the U.S. based airlines fly into.
Zion is open every day all year round. Hottest month to visit Zion is July. During the summer, temperature can exceed 100°F (38°C) depending on elevation and time of day.
Be sure to check the weather forecast because there is a possibility for flash flooding if there is heavy rainfall. This occurs particularly in the summer. Make sure to check NPS for current conditions.
The park is far less busy between November and February.
The park has a free shuttle system and runs from March till October from 6 am till 9 pm. You can only access the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive by shuttle during the months of May and November. When the shuttle is running, vehicles are not permitted on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The shuttles leave every 7 to 10 minutes from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and at every stop.
Parking lots are full between 10 am and 3 pm. You can catch the Springdale shuttle if you park in Springdale (nearest town to the park). Operates in the summer and fall.
Entrance fee is $35 per vehicle. If you buy America the Beautiful Pass ($80), you can enter as often until you reach the 12-month mark from purchase date and covers up to 4 persons, including the passholder.
DAY HIKES IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
For Zion Canyon, there are 15 hiking trails ranging from easy to strenuous. There are hiking trails at Kolob Canyons but are less popular.
Canyon Overlook Trail
Hike Date: December 2018
Distance: 1 mi (1.6 km) roundtrip
Hiking time: 1 hour roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
You cannot get here via the shuttle. The Canyon Overlook is a short hike to one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the park. I highly recommend this hike. Most of the trail is rocks and gravel.
The trailhead is located right before the Mount Carmel Tunnel if you’re coming from the East entrance on Mount Carmel Highway. There are two parking spots but very limited so it’s best to arrive early.
You might see some bighorn sheep on the trail. You can also hear the water stream along the trail. The trail ends at a cliff with a majestic view of Zion Canyon.
Hike Date: December 2018
Distance: 2.2 mi (3.5 km) roundtrip
Hiking time: 1.5 hours roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy
This is stop #9 (last stop) on the shuttle. If you don’t want to hike through the Narrows, you can just do this trail. It’s very popular and was crowded when I was there in September.
As you walk further along, you’ll see the Virgin River to the side. The paved trail is scenic all the way and leads to the Narrows.
Hike Date: September & December 2018
Distance: Up to 16 mi (26 km) roundtrip
Hiking time: Varies (8-10 hours roundtrip)
Level of Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
The Narrows can be hiked either from bottom-up or top-down. The distance varies depending on which direction you start from.
I did bottom-up, which starts at the Temple of Sinawava (Riverside Walk). Most hikers do this and you can turn back at anytime.
The top-down hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch. It’s one-way, requires a permit, and a private shuttle to the trailhead.
The river bottom has large, slippery rocks so I would advise you wear shoes with a good grip and ankle support. That’s one of the reasons this hike is strenuous.
As for shoes, I noticed some hikers with canyoneering gear, which I had no idea about on my first visit. You can rent out canyoneering gear from Zion Outfitters.
Hiking through the Narrows was super fun. Going in early fall and winter were two different experiences. Read more below.
I walked through the Narrows barefoot in September and it was somewhat uncomfortable. There is a lot of sand and rocks in the river but the rocks are slippery. So it’s very easy to fall or slip. Thankfully I didn’t.
The reason I went barefoot was I realized after arriving to Temple of Shinawa that I forgot my water shoes in the car. By the time I catch the next shuttle, get to the car, catch another shuttle back to the Riverside, I will lose at least 2 hours and it was mid-afternoon. And I was short on time.
I hiked till the first waterfall, Mystery Canyon waterfall.
Two biggest downsides to hiking the Narrows during peak season is the crowd and potential flash flooding.
In December, I rented from Zion Outfitters their dry suit package. Includes a walking stick, canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and dry pants.
The water was more cold so I recommend renting the dry suit package. Underneath the dry pants, I wore thermal pants. Together with my down coat, I felt warm enough. The temperature that day was about 45°F (7°C).
I liked having the stick because I did not slip at all and it gave me confidence knowing that my chance of slipping is very low and I could move faster. In some parts of the river, the river will reach your hips depending on your height. The good thing about hiking the Narrows in December was there were very few there.
Stopped at the third waterfall before heading back in the opposite direction. Took about 3 hours roundtrip from the parking lot.
Lower / Upper Emerald Pool Trails
Hike Date: September 2018
Distance: 1.2 mi (1.9 km) to Lower roundtrip / 2.2 mi (3.5 km) to Upper roundtrip
Hiking time: 1 hr roundtrip / 2 hrs roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
To get here via the shuttle, stop at #5 (Zion Lodge). I only did the Lower Pool because the Upper Pool was closed at the time. To get to the Upper pool, you have to hike through the Lower Emerald Pool trail.
The Lower Pool trail is paved so it’s handicap/stroller-accessible. Very easy for all. There is some shade and gets crowded.
Other Hiking Trails To Consider
- Weeping Rock
- The Watchman
- Angels Landing
- Observation Point
- Hidden Canyon
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
- Red Cliffs Recreation Area
- Snow Canyon State Park
WHERE TO STAY
I recommend Hampton Inn & Suites Springfield. Spent 2 nights there in a 2 queen beds room. The room had sufficient space, clean towels, clean pillows, and clean sheets. No complaints.
They are a mile away from Zion and surrounded by red cliffs. The breakfast area is fancy. Free continental breakfast is available daily. They even provide free sanitary tampons and pads in the lobby bathroom.
To book your stay at Hampton Inn & Suites or anywhere else, book here or below.
The park was free of crowds early December compared to September. But the weather was drastically different.
As I stated in the beginning, this is my one of my favorite parks in America. It’s a tie with Glacier National Park.
I definitely want to re-visit Zion and hike the Narrows bottom-up as far as I can and do Angels Landing. Who wants to come?
Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you do book through my link, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!
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