As the second busiest national park in the United States, visiting Zion National Park takes some preparation. When visiting in new area, it can feel daunting to figure out where to go and what to see in a given period of time. There are always factors like weather and availability, cell service and wildlife. At Zion, you also have the added layer of time entering the park, waiting in traffic by shuttle and by car, and the trouble of finding a parking spot. Good news, after reading this article you will have everything you need to make your next trip to Zion a visit full of exploration and peace. Everything that is expected from this glorious location.
Getting In, Parking & Shuttles
Depending on entrance closures, you could end up waiting over an hour to get into this park. If you enter early enough, it shouldn’t be a problem, and you may even make friends with others as you wait, like we did! If you entering during a busy time, expect the beginning to be slow. This was a welcomed slow down for us as we were just happy to take in the scenery. We enjoyed watching a family of big horned sheep safely from our car. We even got to witness a baby nursing from its mother. A beautiful moment that none of us will forget. Especially since a big horned sheep sighting was on my wish list as well!
Parking can be tricky. There are some great pull-outs for viewpoints and smaller hikes, but they are hard to come by. The parking lots are also very competitive and can have you circling for quite some time. But don’t give up! People are always leaving and with some patience, you will find something. Fortunately, the shuttle service is not something you will likely need to wait for. If you have the pleasure of staying at Mather’s Campground, you are in the heart of everything and can easily walk!
Zion is most well known for having one of the most dangerous public hikes in the states, Angel’s Landing. For some, this just isn’t an option. The good news is that there are still plenty of accessible hikes throughout the park. The park does a great job running highly staffed shuttles with short wait times. Just be sure to listen to when the last pick-up is! Please also listen to flood warnings from shuttle bus drivers and rangers. Flash floods happen frequently. If you have any questions about weather, level of difficulty and proper preparation, check with a park ranger. There are usually between 150-200 of them equipped and available! The Zion Information Guide also has great detail as well. Below are a few highlighted hikes, but that guide has may others to choose from.
Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Length: 3 hours roundtrip
This vigorous hike does require a permit. So that is something you will want to apply for in advance, or talk to a park ranger about getting the same-day depending on the time of year. This hike is known to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States, but the good news even as a beginner you can do a portion of it. The final summit may be too steep and high, so trust your instincts and know what you are prepared for. And please remember that the experience is more important than posting that selfie when ensuring your safely return home.
Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Length: 8 hours round trip
We visited in late May after a big rainy season, and the Narrows was closed. The park will close the entrance to this hike if the water levels exceed 150 cubic feet. While we were there, the water levels were over 800 cubic feet!
If making this trek is important to you, be sure to check the national park’s website for updates and recommendations for proper shoes and clothing. You are responsible for checking weather, water levels, and flash flood warnings before attempting this hike. You are hiking through the river, so it is subject to dangerous flash floods.
Emerald Pool Trail
Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
Length: 1-2 hours roundtrip
There are two ways to access this hike. The Lower Emerald Pool Trail is easy, while the Upper Emerald Pool Trail is a more moderate. Both will allow you to see the emerald pool and enjoy its beauty.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Length: 1.5 hours roundtrip
This is a lovely stroll that leads you to the beginning of the Narrows. There are a few places to stop and enjoy a break along the river with breathtaking mountains alongside of you. If a flash flood warning is in place, please proceed with caution and check with rangers to ensure proper safety. One of shuttle bus drivers shared with us that a woman was enjoying reading a book on a rock along the river when the winds shifted, the river took a jump, and the water swept her into the river. The rangers were fortunately nearby and were able to pull her from the river and revive her.
The campgrounds within Zion National Park are all fantastically located. You will be guaranteed breathtaking views and easy access to exploration. If you are not able to secure a campsite during the time you wish to visit, there are many locations within a short distance away as well. We recommend checking iOverlander or Campendium for great options.
National parks have become quite popular over the last few years. There are a few that are now requiring timed entry. I won’t be surprised if Zion becomes one of them soon. Especially during peak summer season. With a quick glance at their website, you can easily have a smooth trip to Zion. Be sure to check which hikes you want to visit are open, if any permits are required, and for flash flood warnings. If you have your heart set on a particular campsite, then you’ll need to plan for that. If you are more open, you have the information you need here.
In order to protect the wildlife and preservation of this beautiful national park, please follow the leave no trace principles and read and follow signs while visiting. It is home to luscious landscape and glorious wildlife. While we were there in the Spring, an egg was found in the California condor nest. As an endangered species, this is a very special moment! One can usually see peregrine falcons soaring high in the sky, and watch bighorn sheep and elk grazing on the cliff sides and meadows. Remember, this is their home and we are luckily enough to explore it.