June 13

10 Best Things To Do in Zion National Park

Known as one of the most famous National Parks in the country, Zion National Park is a stunning destination. Along with discovering the awe-inspiring canyons and sandstone cliffs of Southern Utah, there’s a wide range of things to do and experience during your visit. 

Visited by over five million individuals a year, Zion is a popular destination for nature lovers. Aside from its walking trails, find the best stargazing spots or take a thrilling 4-wheel drive tour to explore the park. With a little something for everyone, here are some of the best things to do in Zion.

10 Things to Do Near Zion National Park

Famous across the U.S. for its stunning landscape, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in and around Zion National Park. From the numerous hiking and biking trails and amazing sunset viewpoints such as Angels Landing, here are 10 of the top things to do when you visit this incredible park.

1)   4-Wheel Drive & ATV Tours

If you’re looking for an exciting outdoor adventure activity, a 4-wheel drive tour or ATV excursion is a top-of-the-list option. With a range of great off-roading trails both in Zion National Park and across Southern Utah, you can easily cover ground and have a blast while visiting the best spots in the area via ATV.

A variety of tour companies offer ATV excursions across Zion National Park, though many visitors opt to head east to an area called Kanab. Here, you can easily reach the Peekaboo Slot in the Red Canyon, Cutler Point, and the unique Coral Pink Sand Dunes in the surrounding areas.

2)   Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

Stretching over 40 miles, this scenic drive cuts through 10 miles of Zion National Park, providing stunning views of the steep cliffs and other natural surroundings. It typically begins at the South Entrance of Zion Park and ends at the Mount Carmel Junction with US Route 89 and connects both the South and East entrances to Zion National Park. This is also home to the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, running through the stone mountain and opening up to the incredible views Zion offers.

Dating back to 1930, this historic highway was originally created to link Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. So, if you’re looking to turn your visit to Zion into a road trip, head along this highway to visit more of America’s best natural attractions.

3)   Camping

Being able to sleep under the stars at a campsite in one of America’s best nature destinations is a truly unforgettable and unique experience. Zion offers a range of campsites accommodating both tents and RVs, both in and around the park.

Many campers choose to pitch up at the famous Watchman Campground or Lava Point Campground, both of which are located in the park.There are also many popular campsites in the surrounding areas, which are convenient if you’re looking for an overnight spot en route to your next destination. Some favorites include Zion Wright Ranch Eco-Camp, Zion Family Ranch Campground and RV, and Kolob Campground.

A welcoming camping tent and supplies look out over a green scene of Zion's valley and peaks

4)   Grafton

Dating back to 1859, Grafton is a historic Mormon settlement situated at the southern entrance to Zion National Park, just along the Virgin River.

The residents of Grafton didn’t stay long, however, as the flooding from the Virgin River and harsh winters made it difficult to thrive. By 1907, many settlers had left for the nearby town of Rockville, which promised a more stable livelihood.

Grafton provides historic scenery among the list of popular things to do outside Zion

The small town of Grafton has since been turned into a historical attraction, making it a major hit with history-buffs and nature lovers alike. You can see old cabins, homesteads, the cemetery, and the church building where you can find more information about this abandoned town.

5)   Stargazing

Whether you’re planning on camping or just looking for something to do once the sun sets, Zion’s remoteness makes it a great location for stargazing.

A great activity for night owls, Zion’s visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the night sky thanks to a lack of light pollution in the area. Some of the best stargazing spots include Zion Canyon, the Checkerboard Mesa Pull-Off, Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and Lava Point Overlook (Kolob Terrace Road), Kolob Canyons, and Timber Creek Parking lot.

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6)   Angel's Landing

Arguably one of the most incredible hikes in the world, Angel’s Landing is a phenomenal day hike with unmatched views. This can be a daunting trail, climbing over 1,500 feet in elevation along a narrow, rocky path with numerous switchbacks and drop offs. Come prepared and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the park.

Hikers must have a permit to reach the summit which can be obtained via lottery the day before your hike through the National Park Service website.

7)   Virgin River & The Narrows

One of Zion National Park’s most popular hikes is along the stunning Virgin River. One of the most popular spots in the park is located at the river’s most narrow section, aptly named ‘The Narrows’. From this point, you can admire towering red canyon walls stretching 1,000 feet tall and stunning formations around the river. 

Be sure to come prepared though—if you’re hoping to pass through this slot canyon, you’ll need to wade (or even swim) through to the opening. It’s recommended to visit during summer or late fall when the weather is warm and water levels are low. Be sure to check with a park ranger for the water flow rate to ensure your safety before passing through as the area is prone to flash floods.

8)   Biking Trails

Hitting the various biking trails of Zion is a great way to actively experience the park. You can bring your own wheels from home or rent a bicycle through the park to start exploring.

Although biking is not permitted everywhere in the park due to safety regulations, there are plenty of paved roads and trails to hit. The Pa'rus Trail and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are both popular routes in the park. The Gooseberry Mesa loop is another great spot for biking in Utah, which ranges from intermediate to difficult—but the views are worth it.

9)   The Emerald Pools Trail

One of the most spectacular sights of Zion National Park are the Emerald Pools. This breathtaking oasis sits just opposite Historic Zion Lodge, making it easily accessible and a must-see on your trip. Follow the trail along the stream and the pools will quickly come into view.

There are three of these Emerald Pools within Zion National Park, with the lower pool being wheelchair accessible via the Lower Emerald Pool Trail. The Middle Pool is a little trickier to reach, and the hike to the Upper Emerald Pool can be rather aggressive, especially for new hikers.

It’s important to note that the Emerald Pools are currently closed, indefinitely, due to flooding. Please check the NPS website for updates.

The still waters of the emerald pools sit beneath green forest scenery

10)   Visit St. George or Cedar City

If you’re looking to venture outside of the park, there are a few cities not far off to enjoy after a day of exploring. Both St. George City and Cedar City are great options for an overnight stay, with excellent hotels and restaurants, and intriguing ghost towns.

Hikers stand atop rounded and wonky sandstone structures within Zion National Park

St. George is a great option for those looking to enjoy even more of Utah’s gorgeous outdoors, with many great hiking trails right on the doorstep. Some of the best nature spots include Snow Canyon State Park and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. If you’re traveling with children, St. George is also a great hit with families. Be sure to visit the children’s museum, ride the carousel at Town Square Park, or experience a fun escape room!

Cedar City, on the other hand, is absolutely brimming with culture, making it a lovely stop if you’re interested in visiting a great art gallery or enjoying a night at the theater.

What to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park

Being prepared for your trip will help you get the most out of the experience. Here are a few things to know before heading to Zion National Park.

How to Get to Zion National Park 

Zion National Park is located on State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah and is easily accessible by road. Directions to the park from the nearest airports and cities can be found on the official Zion National Park Website. 

The park is open 24/7, all year round, though it’s important to keep in mind that some trails and areas may be closed due to adverse weather. You can check the zone weather forecast to ensure you pack the proper essentials with you, and the park’s website is frequently updated with notifications of any closed trails or adverse weather conditions.

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park 

The best time of year to visit Zion National Park is during the shoulder seasons—the months between the peak season—in both Spring and Fall. This is when the temperature is mild and the crowds start to die down, resulting in quiet, peaceful trails. 

That said, every season has its perks, with Summer bringing warm weather for outdoor activities and Winter being a prime time for photographing the stunning snow-capped mountains. Fall is best for hiking with minimal water runoff and Spring is a great time to spot various species of birds and wildflowers.

Zion National Park Tickets 

Park visitors must present a valid pass upon entry. These vary in price and can be purchased in advance, while day passes can be purchased on-site at the visitor center upon arrival. Check the Zion National Park Website for more information on entry passes and fees.

Once you’re in the park, you can get around easily via the free shuttle system. The shuttle buses arrive at regular intervals throughout the day and provide access to the main canyon. Be sure to check their operating dates and times before your visit as they vary by season.

Experience Zion National Park a New Way

A solo runner heads towards Zion National Park during a Vacation Races half marathon through Utah

If you’re looking to push your limits beyond walking the trails, consider signing up for a race near the park. You can take in the scenery, explore trails you may have otherwise missed out on, and meet new friends along the way.

Whether you’re looking to participate in a fully paved half-marathon at Zion or a more challenging dirt trail with our Zion Ultras, you can race by the beautiful National Park to give yourself a challenge and a change of venue from your normal runs. 

We offer a few other half marathons in Utah, including races at Bryce Canyon and a Trailfest where you can experience some of the best local trails.

Traveling elsewhere and looking for more race options? Check out some of our other half-marathons located around other national parks across the U.S.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Should Not Be Missed in Zion National Park?
What’s not to be missed really comes down to what you enjoy doing. That said, if you’re looking for the best nature spots, The Narrows and The Emerald Pools are both some of the spots most popular with hikers. Frequent visitors often state that both of these spots are not to be missed, especially if you’re visiting Zion National Park for the first time.
How Many Days in Zion is Enough?
How long you choose to spend in Zion National Park is ultimately down to how much you want to see and do. You can’t experience every trail in just a couple of days, so be sure to plan ahead what you’d like to see before setting off.

We recommend staying for two days at the very least, in order to see some of the park’s best sights. Here is a recommended itinerary of how best to spend a weekend in Zion. If possible, stay up to around 5 days to truly make the most of your visit.
What Should I Do With One Day in Zion?
If you just have one day to spend in and around Zion National Park, what you spend your time doing is important. If you love hiking in nature, then picking out a couple of the most popular trails, or selecting a challenging day hike is an excellent way to spend your time. Alternatively, if you’re simply looking for a fun day, seeing as many sights as possible in the area, then taking an ATV tour may be one of the best ways to spend the day.
Are There Guided Tours in Zion National Park?
Yes. There are plenty of different tour types in and around Zion National Park to choose from. Attend a free ranger-led activity or choose from a variety of tours from trusted operators.

Emily Adam

Author

Emily is a travel writer from the UK with a passion for exploring a variety of country’s foods, traditions, architecture, culture, and history. She has a degree in Asia Pacific Studies, has lived in South Korea, and has traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, and America. 


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