Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah close to the Arizona and Nevada borders. This is the edge of the Colorado Plateau, where the lush high country meets the lower dry desert. Zion is roughly a 3-hour drive away from Las Vegas, Nevada and is one of the major attractions along the "Grand Circle Tour" -- a hit list of national parks that includes Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Grand Canyon. (Further to the east are more of Utah's desert wonders: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park to name a few.)
The #1 activity in Zion National Park is sightseeing! Visitors to Zion National Park will be mesmerized by the overwhelming beauty of Zion Canyon, from the deep orange glow of the towering sandstone formations to the delicate beauty of plantlife growing out of weeping walls and canyon streams. First-time visitors should start by riding the Zion shuttle from the Visitor Center. The shuttle buses take tourists up the main canyon, providing an audio tour introduction to the park and making several designated stops at scenic locations and trailheads. Make a point to get off the bus and take in the sights as much as you can. (Specific stops are discussed in detail later in this guide.)
Zion National Park has plentiful hiking opportunities for hikers of all abilities, from short family-friendly strolls to long strenuous hikes to remote viewpoints. The good news for casual hikers is that even the easy trails lead to fabulous scenery. And more seasoned hikers can find several longer and more remote hikes and backpacking routes that can take them away from the crowds and into the backcountry. With stunning scenery everywhere, photography is a very rewarding pastime in the park. Zion National Park is also the southwest's epicenter for canyoneering: the sport of exploring canyons that require one to scramble, rappel, swim, and/or climb, often using technical gear.
For those looking for more leisurely activities, horseback rides are available inside the park just across from the Zion Lodge. Some of the outfitters in Springdale also offer tubing excursions down the Virgin River. (Tubing is not permitted within the NPS boundary.) Fishing is permitted in Zion National Park (provided that you have a current Utah fishing license), but it is not a popular activity as the Virgin River and the other streams in Zion do not have any big game fish. Even more leisurely, one can relax on the great lawn in front of the Zion Lodge or stroll through the various artisan shops in the tourist town of Springdale.
Biking is also popular in Zion National Park. While bicycles are not permitted on most of Zion's trails, a cruise down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is a wonderful pastime. (Be sure to pull over for the Zion shuttle buses as they are not allowed to pass you while you riding on the road.) Outside of Zion National Park, nearby Gooseberry Mesa is a popular area for mountain biking. Bike rentals are offered by Zion Cycles.
Visitors to Zion National Park are required to pay for a standard "recreational use pass" when entering the park. Entrance booths are located at the south entrance near Springdale, the east entrance along Route 9, and at the separate Kolob Canyons entrance. As of 2023, the various passes and fees are:
Complete fee information can be found on the NPS's Fees and Reservations webpage. Note that there is no charge for riding on the Zion Shuttle bus system and no fees or permits are required for any single-day hike along any of Zion's trails. Backcountry permits are required, however, for any overnight trip (multi-day hike, backpacking, or climbing bivouac), any top-down hike through the Zion Narrows, any hike through the Left Fork of North Creek (the Subway), or any canyoneering route (a canyon hike that requires the use of descending gear or ropes). Permit fees are $10 for 1-2 people, $15 for 3-7 people, or $20 for 8-12 people. More information can be found on the NPS's Zion Backcountry Information page.
Zion National Park is open year-round with summer and early autumn being the height of the tourist season. Every time of year is a good time to visit Zion, provided you have a good idea of what to expect.
March through May mark the start of the spring thaw in Zion with seasonal waterfalls bursting through dozens of cracks throughout the main canyon. The Virgin River typically starts its grand spring runoff in April, rendering the Zion Narrows dangerously unhikeable until June or July. The cottonwoods start blooming in mid-April so the dreary gray tree skeletons of winter suddenly come back to life with color. Most of the main canyon and the Upper East Canyon are hikeable, but the Kolob Terrace and Lava Point may remain buried in snow until late April or May. Throughout the park, snow will still be found on the ground in shaded areas and at higher elevations.
Mid-June signals the start of summer and daytime highs commonly reach 90-105 degrees Fahrenheit. The Zion Narrows are typically open for business by mid-June, but this varies every year due to the amount of snow on the high plateau. All sections of the park should be accessible and all trails should be open, but hikes in the desert section or any hike under the open midday sun could be excruciatingly hot. Bring plenty of water and try to save your most vigorous activities for morning and evening.
Fall is a wonderful time in Zion and due to the various elevations within the park, you can enjoy a rolling color change for several months. In the higher sections of the park like the Kolob Section and the Kolob Terrace, leaves start to turn in September, but in the main canyon, the cottonwoods turn a golden yellow in mid to late October. All trails should be open, but any river hikes like the Zion Narrows may require better protection from the cold (wetsuits). All sections of the park will be open until that first snow (usually in November) signals the closing of the Kolob Terrace section.
December through February are the coldest months to visit Zion. The main canyon and Route 9 will be open, but many businesses in Springdale will be closed for the season. The shuttle system will not be running, so you will have a rare opportunity to drive your car down the main canyon. Daily high temperatures in the main canyon can reach roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit while nights dip just below freezing. The Kolob Canyons section is also kept open, but temperatures will be much colder. Sections of the park at higher elevations, like the Kolob Terrace and Lava Point, will be buried in snow and will not be accessible by car. Hiking is still possible in the main canyon and the Upper East Canyon, but patches of ice, snow, and/or mud may make some sections of trail treacherous.
Average monthly temperatures in Zion Canyon are listed below. Note: temperatures can be much colder in the higher elevation sections of the park like the Kolob Canyons and the Kolob Terrace.
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