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The Zion National Park Road Trip Guide

The Zion National Park Road Trip Guide

Zion National Park is one of the most talked-about national parks in recent years, and for good reason.

This Utah park, centered around Zion Canyon, offers dramatic landscapes, and unique and thrilling hikes.

It’s additionally a chance to experience incredible stargazing. So join us as we spend a day in Zion.

Let’s explore!

About Zion National Park

Zion National Park was established on November 19, 1919. Therefore protecting more than 200,000 square miles of breathtaking and unique terrain centered around the Zion Canyon. Humans have lived in the area of Zion National Park for more than 8,000 years.

Several different Native American groups came and went from the region before Europeans first arrived in the late 1700s. Mormon groups that settled in the 19th century near the park gave the area its name.

However, it was initially called Mukuntuweap National Monument when the federal government first created it. 

Zion’s popularity has exploded in recent years as more people learn about Utah’s “Big 5” parks and the incredible landscapes they contain. Nearly 4.5 million people visited Zion National Park in 2019, up from just 2.7 million a decade before. Popular hikes can be crowded and parking limited.

So the park has implemented a shuttle system during most of the year to keep private cars off park roads. 

You can visit Zion in all four seasons. Though spring and summer see the most crowded conditions as tourists flock to the park. Winter low temperatures drop into the low to mid-30s, and summers peak in the high 90s or low 100s. Zion averages less than two inches of precipitation a month, meaning lots of clear days. 

Pro Tip: The weather at Zion can be extreme. Plan your trip for the weather you want and double-check the weather ahead of time.

Morning at Zion National Park

Catch the Sunrise at the Canyon Overlook Trail

There’s no better way to start a day at Zion than watching the sunrise from one of the park’s breathtaking vistas.

This short, relatively easy trail is just a one-mile round trip. It winds up stone steps and through trees before arriving at the overlook.

The view is unlike any other in the park. The sun’s first rays strike Zion Canyon, whose walls stretch thousands of feet into the air. This is a very popular trail, and parking is limited, so plan ahead and get there early.

Hike The Narrows

Hiking The Narrows is one of the most unique experiences in the entire National Park System. It’s a can’t-miss on your day in Zion. As the name implies, The Narrows is the narrowest part of the canyon. In fact, it’s sometimes just 20 or 30 feet wide with canyon walls 1,000 feet tall!

To hike The Narrows, you’ll need to wade into the Virgin River and walk directly upstream in sometimes knee-deep water. This means your feet WILL get wet, something to keep in mind if you’re hoping to do this hike during cooler weather.

Hiking The Narrows will also depend on the weather, as the canyon is closed during periods of high water flow or potential flash floods. But if conditions are right, this hike offers you a view you’ll never forget of one of the world’s most striking slot canyons.

Most hikers start at the Temple of Sinawava and walk upstream and turn around at their discretion. Without a permit, you can hike as far as Big Spring, a 10-mile round trip. 

Afternoon at Zion National Park

Eat lunch at Castle Dome Cafe at Zion Lodge

Menu Options: Typical lunch options are available, like hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, hotdogs, BBQ pork sandwiches. Customers also enjoy ice cream, smoothies, baked goods, and coffee here.

Reasons to love it: The Castle Dome Cafe at Zion Lodge is one of the best places in the park to grab a quick, tasty, and quality lunch.

You’ll be able to enjoy your lunch on the cafe’s large outdoor patio to soak in even more of the park’s natural beauty. Castle Dome Cafe also lets you taste some local flavor with a cart serving local microbrews. 

Drive the Zion and Kolob Canyon Scenic Drives

After two great hikes in the morning, rest your legs after lunch with a scenic drive through this amazing landscape. Get in the car and head to the Kolob Canyons area of the park, about 40 miles away.

The scenic drive through this area treats you to once-in-a-lifetime views of canyon walls stretching thousands of feet over your head with awe-inspiring panoramic views all around. This wild and rugged area of the park may be closed during the winter due to snow or ice, so check on conditions before heading over.

In the event you’re at the park in the winter and can’t see Kolob Canyon, you may be able to drive through Zion Canyon itself.

For most of the year, roads in the park’s main section are only accessible via a shuttle system, designed to prevent overcrowding on the small streets. However, during winter, when fewer tourists come to the park, you’ll be able to hit the road in your vehicle and absorb some of these fantastic sights in comfort and solitude. 

Not Afraid of Heights? Hike Angels Landing

Feeling extra adventurous today? Experienced and daring hikers can hike Angels Landing – as long as they don’t have a fear of heights.

This 5.4-mile round trip trail is a strenuous trek, but most notable are the final sections as the trail weaves along a narrow ridge. Step carefully and hold tight to the chain provided as you walk along steep, long dropoffs right at the trail’s edge.

Keep onward because views from the summit are truly the best in the park. 

Evening at Zion National Park

Dinner at Red Rock Grill Dining Room

Menu Options: Start your meal off with appetizers like salmon cakes or soup, or head to the salad bar. House specialties include a Navajo taco (Navajo fry bread topped with ground beef and taco toppings) and the veggie-heavy Pa’rus Pasta, filled with zucchini, squash, and asparagus.

Other entrees like Kayenta Beef Tenderloin Medallions, Kolob Rosemary Grilled Chicken, and Trout Anasazi are also available.  

Reasons to love it: After a long day of hiking and exploring, you deserve to treat yourself to the finest restaurant Zion National Park has to offer. The striking dining room is decorated with stone and features large windows overlooking the floor of Zion Canyon.

It also provides outdoor seating during the warmer seasons, allowing you to dine in the middle of the incredible natural world you spent your day exploring. 

Catch the Sunset on the Museum Patio

After dinner, enjoy spectacular sunset views from the patio of the Zion Human History Museum. You’ll have unobstructed panoramas of Bridge Mountain and the East Temple.

This spot is convenient, located just a half-mile from the park entrance. Due to Zion Canyon’s geography, you won’t see the sun itself, but the astounding show it paints on the canyon walls is a sight worth seeing. 

Go Stargazing in the Park

Stick around once the sun goes down. The stargazing in Zion is as impressive as the sunrises and sunsets. Zion National Park has taken extensive steps to protect the park’s dark skies, and the effects are noticeable just about everywhere.

The Pa’rus Trail also offers famously good stargazing. Just make sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp if you’re heading out after dark! 

Know Before You Go: Check out the Zion’s tips for safe and fun stargazing!

Where to Stay

North Creek BLM Boondocking

Location: GPS: 37.2203, -113.1616

About the Park: This isn’t really a “park.” It’s actually glorious off-grid boondocking! You won’t find any amenities here, so be prepared to supply your own power, water, sewage, and trash holding.

You’re about 10 miles from the nearest town if you need supplies or laundry facilities. 

Why you’ll love staying here: Located just a dozen miles from the entrance to Zion, it doesn’t get much better than pet-friendly free camping in beautiful natural surroundings.

Trees and shrubs between sites help provide a bit of privacy from any neighbors, and those in need of cell service will be happy to know the area has strong signals for AT&T and T-Mobile.  

A Day in Zion National Park

Zion is often considered one of the National Park System’s crown jewels, standing out even against its fellow Utah parks. After a day there, it’s hard to disagree.

This breathtaking landscape offers amazing hikes that take you from the very bottom to the very top of the canyon and journeys through landscapes you’ll never forget.

One day in Zion National Park will have you vowing to come back time and time again to experience more of this one-of-a-kind place. 

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