20 Things To Do In Zion National Park

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Zion National Park takes one of the top spots for the best national park in the United States. Famous for its breathtaking scenery, including towering rock formations, bright green pools, waterfalls and scenic viewpoints, the park has an almost endless range of activities and ways to explore. Just over a 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas, Zion National Park makes for the perfect long week, an overnight getaway or even a day trip from the city.

Driving to the park is the easiest way to arrive, but once inside, the Zion Shuttle, plentiful hikes, kayaking and more provide exciting ways to see the park. The best time to visit Zion is year-round, as it is equally magical in winter as in summer. However, many of the hikes may be impassable during the winter months due to snow, flooding or storms, so if your heart is set on Angel’s Landing or The Narrows, then the rest of the year offers excellent conditions.

Zion National Park, Utah

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20 Things To Do In Zion National Park

1- Stock Up On Gear In Springdale

Most visitors to Zion arrive from Las Vegas, and if you plan to spend the night, Springdale is where you should stay.

Springdale has accommodation for all budgets, great local restaurants and souvenir shops.

Set against sheer red cliffs, it’s a great introduction to Zion.

More importantly, there are lots of places to gather supplies before exploring, including shops selling hiking gear and waterproofs for hikes, such as The Narrows, as well as companies that can rent out kayaks, e-bikes and more.

Some restaurants and shops can be pricey, but Hoodoos on the main road sells a great selection of camping snacks, sandwiches, hot food and ice cream.

2- Drive The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

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This is one of two tunnels on the drive to Zion Canyon from the East Gate entrance.

Although many people choose to park their car in Springdale for the duration and catch the shuttle into the park, driving the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which runs from the South to the East of the park, is a must-do.

With winding switchbacks and panoramic views, it passes many of the park’s most iconic sights and there are lots of places to pull in and take photos on the way if you arrive reasonably early.

This is also the road you’ll drive if you plan to explore without the shuttle, as many parking bays and trailheads are on this highway.

The highway’s famous tunnel, which only allows single-lane traffic, runs straight under the beautiful Checkerboard Mesa.

If you continue going (and going) out of the East exit, you would eventually reach the equally stunning Bryce Canyon National Park.

3- Hike Angel’s Landing

top things to do in zion national park
Angel’s Landing Trail.

Angel’s Landing is notoriously known as one of the most dangerous hikes in America, mainly due to the steep climbs, narrow ledges and sharp drop at its finish.

For this reason, Angel’s Landing now requires hikers to have a permit that can only be secured by entering a lottery.

For those lucky enough to get one, the hike is around five miles long, climbing to around 1,500 ft (457 m), and all you can hold onto is some chains bolted into the ground.

Nevertheless, it is the most popular hike in Zion and the view from the end is spectacular, overlooking almost the entire park.

Although beautiful in the snow, Angel’s Landing is generally not recommended in winter, and the path can be extremely slippery.

4- Hike The Narrows

things to do in zion national park besides hiking
Hiking the Narrows is one of the top things to do in Zion National Park, Utah.

The Narrows frequently challenges Angel’s Landing as Zion’s most popular hike, and it is certainly one of the most unusual in the park.

On this 16-mile hike, you’ll adventure, wade, walk and maybe even swim through a huge red rock canyon with sheer rock faces on all sides.

Most people only venture a few hours into this trail, rather than the whole 16 miles and on average, two to three hours is sufficient to experience it.

The canyon is filled with water almost all of the way through, ranging from ankle to waist deep, depending on how tall you are, so proper water shoes are required, as is a permit for some sections.

This hike is off-limits at certain times of the year due to the amount of water, essential information can be found on the National Parks Service website, as after stormy conditions, some hikers have had tragic accidents.

5- Enjoy The View From Observation Point

best things to do in zion national park
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Zion National Park, to really see the stunning landscape.

Observation Point has you covered for arguably the best hike in the park, or if you’re not lucky enough to win the Angel’s Landing lottery.

Observation Point is the highest viewpoint in the park and overlooks not only the whole of Zion but also Angel’s Landing, so it is a far more impressive and less dangerous hike.

There are two ways to go about the hike, with the classic route starting on the valley floor. It is an 8-mile (12 km) hike with a 2,000 ft (609 m) elevation gain and at the top, you’ll be standing at over 6,500 ft (1981 m).

This trail is sometimes closed due to rockfall, but there is another, quicker route in the east of the park via the East Mesa Trail.

This route is just 1.7 miles (2.7 km) and is around a three-hour roundtrip, offering the same epic views for far less effort.

6- See The Emerald Pools

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Cooling off in the Emerald Pools is one of the fun things to do in Zion National Park, Utah.

One of Zion’s easiest and most beautiful hikes, the Emerald Pools trail is paved the entire way and it only takes around 20 minutes to reach the lower pool.

The pools are aptly named, sparkling bright green contrasting the deep red rock surrounding them.

There are three pools, with the second two slightly harder to reach.

The second is around 150ft (46 m) high, while the third is around 350ft (107 m).

The trail can also get slippery and congested, especially in the summer when hundreds of people flock to see the pools.

The best time to go is in the early morning to enjoy it without the crowds.

7- Be Amazed At Checkerboard Mesa

fun things to do in zion national park
Seeing the strange shapes of Checkerboard Mesa, a rock formation in the eastern portion, is one of the things to do in Zion National Park in Utah.

Checkerboard Mesa is one of Zion’s most iconic landmarks and a hotspot for photographers and hikers.

The huge rock formation is made of sandstone which is cracked in such as way that it looks like a grid.

The Mesa stands high above Zion’s main canyon, around 900ft above the Mt. Carmel Highway.

Although you can see the Mesa from the road, there are other options, such as the easy Canyon Overlook Trail, which has panoramic views of Checkerboard Mesa.

Try the eight-mile (13 km) Checkerboard Mesa Canyon Trail for a more challenging route to see sweeping mountain views from the top.

8- Go Rock climbing

cool things to do in zion national park
Zion National Park’s dramatic landscape on a sunny day.

Whether or not you’re already into climbing, you should try it if you’re visiting Zion.

With so many rock faces, cliffs and boulders in the park, it is unsurprising that it’s a popular place for pro climbers, and in Springdale, you’ll find lots of places to rent gear.

For beginners, there are also climbing schools and tours which cover some of the easier climbs in the park, such as in slot canyons and on smaller cliffs, so that you’ll be in safe hands.

For expert climbers, the best places to hit the rocks are The Great White Throne and Mountain of the Sun.

Plan ahead to ensure you have the correct permits, gear and supplies.

9- Go Camping

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Admiring the view of the Virgin River at sunset is one of the iconic things to do in Zion National Park.

Zion National Park has three main campsites with more than 300 spots for campers.

The two main campgrounds are Watchman Campground and South Campground, which are nestled amongst the beautiful surroundings of the canyon.

Both campgrounds are not very far into the park, meaning they are easy to access and you can still visit Springdale if you’ve forgotten any supplies.

There is also a smaller, much more remote campground called Lava Point, which sits at 8,000ft (2438 m) and has some amazing views.

Camping in Zion is one of the best ways to experience the park, whether in a tent, van or RV, as you’ll be immersed in nature, spot wildlife wandering past and be up early enough to explore without day trippers.

10- See The Jagged Rocks Of Kolob Canyons

The Kolob Canyons are in the northwest of Zion National Park, meaning they are far less visited but just as beautiful as other attractions.

The views here are of huge jagged rocks towering above you, green forests and deep gorges, best seen via the Kolob Canyons Road, which passes all the best lookout points.

The area has many hikes, including the easy one-mile Timber Creek Overlook and Taylor Creek trails.

The 14-mile (22 km) La Verkin Creek trail is the most challenging trail, which leads to one of the world’s largest stone arches.

As this area is off the beaten track, it can’t be reached by shuttle and you’ll need to enter via the west entrance – but you’ll find almost no crowds spoiling the view.

11- See The Sunset At The Watchman Trail

The Watchman is one of the most iconic rock formations in Zion National Park, but most people don’t climb and instead opt for the Watchman’s Trail, which ends in stunning views over the spire.

The Watchman Trail begins right at the Visitor’s Centre, making it easy to access, and it takes one to two hours to hike the 3.3-mile (5.3 km) trail.

You can also head to the Canyon Junction Bridge, which offers the best views in the park over The Watchman, but if you’re planning to go, leave more time than you think.

It is extremely popular with photographers, particularly at sunrise and sunset, so ensure you arrive early enough to secure a spot.

12- Go Stargazing

Like many of America’s National Parks, Zion is protected and has nothing in the way of light pollution, making it one of the best places to stargaze.

On a clear night, you’ll see thousands of stars without needing a telescope, and sometimes even the Milky Way.

If you’re not an astrologer, don’t worry, the park offers a range of guided stargazing tours who will point out the incredible planets and constellations above you.

The best places for stargazing are Kolob Terrace and the lesser visited east of the park.

There are also several Astro-photography tours you can book if you’re handy with a camera.

13- Explore Pine Creek Gorge Canyon

For those who are outdoorsy, Zion is a haven for canyoning, with a huge range of slot canyons to explore.

Pine Creek Gorge is a popular canyoning spot in the park, although only for those who are experienced.

The canyon regularly changes between seasons, requiring thick wet suits in winter due to cold temperatures, higher water levels, and plenty of supplies in summer when the canyon can dry up completely.

Only 50 people are allowed in the canyon per day and if you plan to visit in summer, advanced booking is needed as it regularly sells out.

14- Look For Bighorn Sheep On The Canyon Overlook Trail

free things to do in zion national park
Flying over it is another thing to do in Zion National Park. Here’s an aerial of the Canyon Overlook Trail.

Canyon Overlook trail is a popular hike in Zion due to its easy access and relatively easy path.

Located almost immediately after exiting the Mount Carmel Tunnel, the trail is only one mile long, passing steep rock faces and hidden caves.

However, most people complete it in one to two hours, mainly stopping to enjoy the epic views from the top.

At the summit, you’ll have views across the whole of Zion Canyon.

This trail gets very busy mainly because it is so accessible and is a great option for families, inexperienced hikers and those short on time.

Although the trail doesn’t involve much elevation gain, the summit is very high and has no railing, so care should be taken here.

If you’re lucky, you might spot some local wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, on the way back down.

15- Visit The Zion Human History Museum

Although Zion National Park is certainly all about outdoor exploration, you might be interested in learning more about the park’s history, even just to escape the heat or cold.

Hidden inside the park’s Visitor Centre, the Zion Human History Museum has a great range of interactive exhibits about Zion’s geography, geology and anthropology, as well as stunning photography of the area.

In the museum, they also show a short educational video for a quick way to learn some information before setting out and a great book and souvenir shop.

16- Hike The Pa’rus Trail

zion national park things to do in one day
The breathtaking scenery along the easy and accessible Pa’rus trail in Zion National Park.

The Pa’rus trail is far less visited than many of Zion’s other hikes, but it is one of the most enjoyable.

3.4 miles (5.5 km) long, the trail is flat with almost no elevation, although this doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent views on the way.

The trail runs alongside Virgin River, near the base of Zion Canyon and much of it is paved, making it popular for walking, jogging, and cycling trips – you can rent e-bikes in nearby Springdale for an even easier ride.

The trail remains open between March to October and is especially popular with wildlife photographers, as the area is home to bighorn sheep, deer and more.

17- Be Amazed At The History Of Petroglyph Canyon

With its spectacular cliffs and unique rock formations, Zion National Park encompasses millions of years of history.

At Petroglyph Canyon, you can glimpse some of the ancient carvings made by American Indians around 1,000 years ago.

The basic carvings include pictograms of animals, writing and symbols, which you can also learn more about in the Visitor Centre or museum.

The canyon is just a short five-minute walk from the car park so it’s very easy to visit, however, there are not many signs, so many people miss it.

It is around 2.5 miles (4 km) east of the Mount Carmel Tunnel on H9, close to a roadside log fence and has a visitor’s book at the entrance.

The petroglyphs are protected artefacts, so visitors should not touch or damage them in any way.

18- Admire The Temple of Sinawava

top 10 things to do in zion national park
The Temple of Sinawava’s stunning red and white rockface in Zion Canyon National Park.

The Temple of Sinawava is a beautiful natural landmark that most people see while completing The Narrows, however, you can also see it on other hikes and routes, such as via the Zion Shuttle, which stops very close by.

The Temple of Sinawava is a deep red rock face that rises almost 3,000ft (914m) above the canyon, with a jaw-dropping waterfall and lots of plant life.

The natural amphitheatre has been carved out of rock over millions of years by the Virgin River, and is one of the nicest places to visit in the park, whether you head out on a longer hike via The Narrows or just stop here for a quick photo.

19- Go Wildlife Spotting

Zion National Park, much like other parks, is home to a diverse array of wildlife.

There are many wildlife-watching tours that you can go on that are dedicated to catching a glimpse of the bigger animals, but you’re just as likely to spot them while hiking or driving through the park.

Some of the most common animals to see are deer and bighorn sheep, which often wander around in packs, however, you can also spot ringtails, coyotes and, very rarely, mountain lions.

Zion is also a haven for bird watchers, with over 291 species living in the area, including condors, falcons and hummingbirds.

Between April and October, you’re most likely to spot rarer species, as this is migration season, but try to have a pair of binoculars handy whenever you visit.

20- Go Rafting Along The Virgin River

top 5 things to do in zion national park
The lush mountains of Zion National Park in summer.

Virgin River runs along Zion and has been the cause of many of the dramatic rock formations within the park.

The river offers a huge range of activities if you want a break from hiking or a complete alternative day out to Zion.

You can try out kayaking, tubing, swimming and fishing, or alternatively, attempt white water rafting, for which you’ll require a permit.

There are also several scenic walks alongside the river, with picnic spots and rest areas where you could paddle, such as at Pine Creek Waterfall or enjoy a bite to eat. 

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India Jayne trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.