Zion National Park is breathtaking and one of those national parks that must be on everyone's national park bucket list. We had been trying to go there for two years but had to cancel every time. Finally, though in January 2021, we spent two weeks in the area and it was everything we imagined and more. With super fun hikes and amazing drives, you must do Zion National Park!
Did you know that it wasn't originally a national park or named Zion? Zion was first called Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1919, the name was changed and Zion became a national park, the first of Utah's many national parks. At 229-square-miles, Zion is a wonderous landscape filled with red rock canyons and plateaus and the beautiful Virgin River flowing through it.
Zion National Park is open every day of the year, which is great because it is extremely busy during peak season. Peak season varies but is usually from March-November. Check the Zion NPS website for the most accurate information. Parking at Zion NPS can be tricky as parking is very limited. If you are an early riser, you can attempt to park at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center but it fills up quickly. Alternatively, you can pay to park in Springdale and catch the Springdale Town shuttle from one of 9 stops (this shuttle is free and you don't need a reservation). The shuttle will bring you to the pedestrian entrance near the Visitor Center. Don't forget your National Park Pass as you will still need to pay an entrance fee into the park. If you haven't checked out the National Park Pass, click here for more information on how to get one and which one you qualify for.
During peak season, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles and you must ride the Zion shuttle bus to enjoy any of the hikes and sights (this is only for Zion Canyon). Tickets for the shuttle bus must be reserved ahead of time at recreation. gov and the cost is $1.00 per ticket. When you reserve your shuttle ticket, you'll select a one-hour time slot to board the shuttle at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center stop. You can get in line at any time during the time slot and you can ride the shuttle all day long and do all the hikes you wish. Check out these 8 outstanding hikes/drives you must do at Zion NPS!
The Pa'rus Trail is an easy, paved trail that allows pets and bicycles and is wheelchair-friendly. Starting near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, it goes along the canyon walls and the Virgin River and has many different exhibits along the way, including the ranger station where you can get your child's Jr. Ranger Badge packet. At 3.5 miles long, it's a good family-friendly trail that gives you beautiful views and access points to the Virgin River and the surrounding red sandstone cliffs.
The Emerald Pool Trails are great for families and are hikes you must do at Zion! Our 8-year-old son really enjoyed the 2-mile hikes because of all the cool formations and water features. The Lower Emerald Pool Trail is a relatively easy hike that takes you to, wait for it… the emerald pools. The water flows down from the rocks above the trail into a pool below. It is a pretty greenish-blue from the algae. After the pools, you will find the Middle Emerald Pool Trail which is a little more challenging with lots of stairs but also has beautiful views from the top. There is a nice rocky area where you can sit and have lunch while viewing the middle emerald pools. After, you can continue to go up and finish with the Upper Emerald Pools Trail, but we decided instead to continue onto the Kayenta Trail.
The Kayenta Trail is a more moderate trail that leads from the Emerald Pool Trails down to the Grotto Trail. This trail is a well-traveled, 2-mile dirt path with magnificent views, following along the red sandstone cliffs, overlooking the Virgin River and canyons. The trail was a really fun hike with lots of amazing things to see and keep your children entertained. The Grotto Trail leads from the Kayenta Trail to the Zion Lodge. It's an easy, 1-mile trail that has lots of wildlife viewing opportunities and follows along the road. We were pleasantly surprised that Corbin didn't complain at all on these trails even though we started at the Lower Emerald Pool Trail and still had to go all the way back to the truck!
The Riverside Walk is located at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and is quite a fun trail. This is a 2.2-mile paved trail that goes along the Virgin River through a narrow canyon. There are lots of places to go off-trail and to follow along the sandy beach of the river. The canyon walls offer some pretty sweet views as well as a variety of plant life and water features. The trail does have some steep grades and may not be totally wheelchair accessible, especially when wet or icy. This trail also leads to the Bottoms-up Narrows Trail and is the only part you do not need a permit to hike.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive goes from one end of the Zion Canyon main park to the other. During peak season, you must ride the shuttle bus to enjoy this beautiful drive. But in the off-season, the shuttle doesn't run, so you can drive all the way to the Temple of Shinawava. This is where the Riverwalk Trail begins. The views along this drive are really awe-inspiring with many different stops and hikes along the way. Whether you drive it or take the shuttle, you definitely must do the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Another drive you must do at Zion NPS is the Zion/Mt Carmel Tunnel. It provides a way to enter Zion NPS from the east and made this isolated park more accessible for everyone. This magnificent drive, full of switchbacks through red rock canyons, leads from just past the Zion Visitor Center to Zion's East Entrance. If you continue on the road, it will allow you to easily access Bryce Canyon and Utah's other national parks.
As you zigzag up the mountain, you can see the tunnel openings in the red sandstone peeking through the mountainside. While the tunnel is open year-round, it does have specific hours of operation for oversized vehicles as they must be escorted through the tunnel. Depending on the traffic, you may have to wait a bit to get into the tunnel but the views while you wait are quite stunning. Make sure you check out the views through the tunnel cutouts while driving. Once you get through the tunnel there are some truly amazing views and trails to go on, but be aware that parking is limited due to the dangerous curves and hills through the canyon. It is well worth the time to see the beauty of the red rock sandstone canyons.
Kolob Canyons, located 40 miles northwest of Zion Canyon, is another part of Zion NPS that you don't want to miss. After stopping at the Visitor Center (required stop! ), you begin the Kolob Canyons drive. This scenic drive is 5-miles out-and-back with fantastic, panoramic views of the red sandstone canyons. There are also hiking trails that follow along the canyons and you can even see one of the world's longest natural arches, Kolob Arch.
Zion is a national park you must do. Every hike, drive, and sight you see is completely amazing and awe-inspiring with its red sandstone cliffs and canyons to the Virgin River. Taking the time to plan ahead will allow you to experience Zion without missing any of the best stops. Make your reservations today!
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