Travels and Tourism

Zion National Park and it Spectacular views

zion national park

This park has so much more to offer outside of the main canyon. Golden meadows, sweeping vistas, red rock mountains, towering white temples, and powerful ancient rivers comprise this incredible treasure.

Location: Utah

Established: November 19, 1919

Size: 147,242.66 acres

Visitation: 5,039,835 (2021)

Zion National Park History

The earliest known human inhabitants of the area now conserved as Zion National Park were present about 8,000 years ago during the Archaic period. These peoples were primarily hunter-gatherers.

At around 2,000 years ago the inhabitants of Zion began building structures, planting crops, and settling in the area. Eventually the Anasazi people arrived to the area, approximately 1,500 to 800 years ago and inhabited the area for hundreds of years.

When the Europeans eventually arrived on the scene the native occupants of the area were primarily the Paiute people.

The Arrival of Mormon Pioneers to Zion

In the 1800s Mormon pioneers and explorers began to filter into the area settling the Virgin River area in 1847. They gave the area the name “Kolob” which in Mormon scripture is a heavenly place.

In 1851 Nephi Johnson, a Mormon missionary led by a Southern Paiute guide, entered the Virgin Canyon area for the first time and wrote about it’s agricultural potential.

Those reports reached Isaac Behunin who settled the Zion canyon floor in 1863 residing near the area where the Zion Lodge is located today. It was Behunin who is given credit for naming the area Zion after the biblical place of peace.

The Powell Expedition in Zion

In 1869 the Powell Expedition led by the famous John Wesley Powell entered the canyon for the first time bringing with them survey photographers.

One of these photographers, John K. Hiller, took photos (featured above) that eventually made it back east and stimulated excitement about the area.

Establishment of Mukuntuweap National Monument

In 1909 the hype around the Zion area (largely due to depictions of it being present at the 1904 World’s Fair) was sufficient enough for President William Howard Taft to conserve it as Mukuntuweap National Monument. The name coming from a word John Wesley Powell mistakenly thought was what the Paiute called the area.

The name was changed to Zion on recommendation of the acting park service director as a result of complaints by the local Mormon population.

Establishment of Mukuntuweap National Monument

In 1909 the hype around the Zion area (largely due to depictions of it being present at the 1904 World’s Fair) was sufficient enough for President William Howard Taft to conserve it as Mukuntuweap National Monument. The name coming from a word John Wesley Powell mistakenly thought was what the Paiute called the area.

The name was changed to Zion on recommendation of the acting park service director as a result of complaints by the local Mormon population.

A Presidential Visit

In 1923 the park was visited by it’s first sitting President of the United States, Warren G. Harding, as part of a larger trip to the west (a trip he would never return from). Harding toured the park on horseback and was deeply impressed by what he saw.

Entrance Fees

The entrance fee for Zion National Park is $30 per vehicle. If you plan on visiting more than 1 national park this year I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check the rules before bringing along your furry friend.

Things to Pack When Visiting Zion

  • Map
  • Guide
  • Sandals
  • Insect Repellent

Where is Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Utah near the Las Vegas and Arizona borders.

Zion By Season

Spring in Zion is lovely with rising temperatures, beautiful bright green spring foliage, and far less crowds than Summer. In Spring the cottonwoods begin to get their leaves back giving the canyons a splash of vivid bright greens.

This time of year is far less popular to visit due to vacation schedules and those who choose to visit will be rewarded with more solitude. Highs will get up into the 80s with lows in the 40s & 50s.

Zion Seasons & Weather

Zion’s weather quite variable day by day. Extreme weather events like flash floods happen here often so it is crucial to be vigilant of current conditions. Even on clear days, flash floods can come seemingly out of nowhere.

Always have a plan in case of unexpected storms or weather. I’ve even been caught in a random near white-out snowstorm in the park before! While that’s somewhat rare, unexpected weather is not.

Summer in Zion National Park

Summer in Zion National Park ushers in hot weather and massive crowds. Days are hot and nights are warm with highs reaching into the 100s and lows in the high 60s.

Every Summer millions of tourists pack in to the 15 mile long Zion Canyon so trails, shuttle stations, and roads are typically quite crowded.

Luckily, Zion has instituted a wonderful shuttle system to keep cars off the road in the main canyon and improve visitor experience.

Fall in Zion National Park

Fall in Zion National Park is lovely with the hot temperatures of summer cooling off, crowds diminishing, and stunning fall foliage popping. Cottonwoods turn a striking golden yellow/orange  this time of year adding something extra to every photo.

Winter in Zion National Park

Winter in Zion National Park can be beautiful with temperatures cold enough for snowfall. It may be hard to conceive during the extreme temperatures of Summer but Zion National Park sees occasional snow in Winter months.

The contrast of the white snow against the red rock is the perfect fodder for stunning photos.

Best Time to Visit Zion National Park

The best time of year to visit Zion National Park is September and October as visitation wains, temperatures cool off, and fall foliage (yes, foliage in Utah!) is dazzling.

The best season to visit Zion National Park is Autumn with stunning foliage, cooler temperatures, and smaller crowds. Spring is also a lovely time to visit with smaller crowds and bright spring greens filling the canyons.

With that being said, each season brings something different and beautiful to Zion National Park.

Death Valley National Park | The hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States

Best Things to Do in Zion National Park

There are so many incredible, breathtaking, and life-changing things to do in Zion National Park.

Whether it’s exploring slot canyons like The Narrows or The Subway, hiking to stunning overlooks like Angels Landing, and scenic drives like the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway.

  • Hike the Narrows

The Narrows is one of the absolute coolest hikes and things to do in Zion National Park and the entire national park system for that matter. Hikers hike, walk, and wade through a narrow canyon of massive red rock canyon walls where the Virgin River has been at work for millions of years.

Distance: 16 miles (but most only hike the first few miles which are incredible)
Time: Typically 2-3 hours depending on how far you go

The total hike is 16 miles long but most folks only do the first few which are incredible. You’ll need some good water shoes for this hike and a hiking pole is recommended although most folks go without (water shoes can be rented in Springdale at a number of places). The deepest the water gets is about 3-4ft but most of the hike is in ankle deep water.

  • Ascend Angels Landing

Angel’s Landing is the most popular, well-known hike in Zion National Park leading to one of the most iconic views in all the National Park system. The Angel’s Landing trail is a steep 5 miles with about 1,500ft of elevation gain.

Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Time: Typically 3-4 hours

This hike is not for acraphobics or the faint of heart as one section of the trail involves holding onto a chain bolted onto a cliff side with sheer drop offs

  • Soak it all in at Canyon Overlook

Canyon Overlook is one of the most spectacular and relatively easy to access overlooks in all of Zion National Park. Located on the Zion Mt. Carmel (East) side of the park, the Canyon Overlook Trail is a popular one.

Distance: 1 mile roundtrip
Time: Typically 1-2 hours

The trail itself is about a mile round trip with little elevation gain. Hikers will be rewarded with sweeping views of Zion National Park.

  • Explore Pine Creek Gorge Slot Canyon

Pine Creek Gorge Slot Canyon is one of the most popular technical canyoneering spots in Zion National Park. If you’re not up for technical rappelling then  no problem!

Drive toward the east entrance a bit and find another part of the Pine Creek Gorge to hike around. The creek bed is long and provides lots of great entry points for hikers.

  • Catch a Sunset From Lava Point

Lava Point is best spot in Zion National Park to watch a sunset. Located in the Kolob Terrace section of the park, this lesser-visited destination is worth a stop.

Escape the crowds here with a very different kind of beauty than the red rock canyons. This overlook does not require any sort of a hike and is situated next to our favorite campground in Zion National Park, Lava Point Campground.

  • Drive the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway

The Zion Mt Carmel Highway Scenic Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire national park system. Massive colorful rock formations and lots of beautiful hikes abound in this section of Zion National Park.

The drive is located on the lesser explored (than the main canyon) east side of Zion where the bighorn sheep roam.

Where to Stay at Zion – Camping & Lodging

Watchman Campground
  • 203 sites
  • Year-Round
  • Standard $20 / Electric $30
  • First come
South Campground
  • 117 sites
  • March-October
  • Standard $20 / Electric $30
  • First come / Reservation
Lava Point Campground

6 primitive sites
Year Round
Standard $20
First come-first serve

For tent options see our camping section above.

Lodging options inside the park include:
  • Zion Lodge

Lodging options just outside the park include

  • Holiday Inn Express (Springdale)
  • Hampton Inn (Springdale)
  • Springhill Suites (Springdale)

Where to Eat – Restaurants & Food Options

  • Sol Foods Market (Springdale)
  • Meme’s Restaurant (Springdale)
  • Oscar’s Cafe (Springdale)
  • King’s Landing Bistro (Springdale)
  • Centro Woodfired Pizza (Cedar City)

Zion National Park Driving & Transportation

Zion Shuttle System: is a great way for visitors to visit the main (zion) canyon which holds the majority of the most popular attractions in Zion National Park. This convenient mode runs daily and currently visitors must acquire $1 tickets prior to boarding. 

Zion National Park has a few different transportation options that add convenience for the visitor. Visitors can experience the park on foot, by bike, by car, or by shuttle. Visitors should know that no cars are allowed inside the main canyon unless you have reservations at the Zion Lodge.

Zion National Park Driving

Driving in Zion National Park is limited to all the areas outside of the main canyon.

This includes:

  • Zion Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway
  • Kolob Terrace Road
  • Kolob Canyon

What Makes This One of the Best National Parks

While the park is jaw-droppingly beautiful and home to world-class recreational opportunities, it’s also completely choked with tourists on every trail and crowding every vista. Buses, lottery systems, permits, closures, and still the crowds swarm like moths to a flame.

All that said, we gave it a half point on crowds because there actually are a few areas of the park that are not completely overrun, like Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons.

Getting to Zion – Directions & Location

Closest Airport: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) – 3 hours driving (172 miles)

The fastest way to get to Zion National Park is by plane, flying into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. From there, the drive to the park is typically around 3 hours.




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