Zion is a very popular park, for good reason. A number of our small group tours include Zion, and we plan a lot of private custom trips to Zion. It can be a wonderful family destination, or a place where hikers go to find thrilling adventure (have you heard of Angel’s Landing?). Here are some tips for really seeing the park, avoiding the crowds, using the shuttle—and getting out hiking!
- Timing is Everything. As is our recommendation with all national parks, your best bet for avoiding the crowds is to get up and go. Traveling in the park early in the morning or later in the afternoon and early evening will allow you to enjoy the trails and sites in a quieter environment.
- Which Way Should I Go? The Virgin River-carved Zion Canyon holds the most “must see” spectacles. This is an “up and back” road that takes you to the park’s pools, waterfalls, wildlife, and the most spectacular trails. Kolob Canyon, in the northwest section of Zion, has an entrance of its own and is worth visiting if you want to avoid the crowds and take a hike in solitude. It’s beautiful with minimal fanfare. It’s a 45 minute drive from Springdale.
Using the Zion Canyon Shuttle
- Zion Canyon Shuttle System. The shuttle runs from late March through the end of October, and during this time no private vehicles are allowed in Zion Canyon. Don’t fret! The free shuttle system is incredibly well-run and convenient, and you may get on and off whenever and wherever you’d like. Shuttles stop at any given stop every seven minutes, so there’s no need to “hurry to catch the shuttle.” There is some interpretation on the shuttle, and it’s actually a great way to sit back, look out the window, and relax.
- Parking your Car for the Shuttle. You can park your car at a variety of places. The best thing to do is to leave it at your accommodations and walk to the nearest shuttle stop. You may also choose to park at a designated shuttle parking spot in Springdale or at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, though the lot fills up early.
- The Springdale Shuttle stops at six locations in Springdale, and connects you to the Zion Canyon Shuttle at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
- The Zion Canyon Shuttle makes eight stops between the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the end of Zion Canyon, and connects you with the Springdale Shuttle at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
Hiking in Zion
- Weeping Rock Trail (0.5 miles, trailhead at Weeping Rock) leads to a rock alcove with cliffside springs and lush hanging gardens.
- Gateway to the Narrows and The Narrows Trail (2 miles round-trip for the Gateway trail and 16 miles one-way for the Narrows Trail, trailhead at the end of the Zion Canyon Road) is one of Zion’s most popular and strenuous treks—if you do the entire thing, which is a very serious outing of 16 miles one way, requiring at least one full day and a permit from the Park Service. Otherwise, do what most do and hike the well-traveled trail to the river and if the weather is right, continue as far as you’re comfortable wading through the river. If flash floods threaten, the Narrows are closed to hikers. If you do go exploring farther up the Narrows, take a walking stick from the pile at the first river crossing and return it on your way out. You will want to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.
- Emerald Pools (1.2 miles one way and quite steep, trailhead across the river from Zion Park Lodge or opposite Grotto Campground) leads you along springs to beautiful pools. The Grotto trail is less traveled than the one that begins opposite Zion Lodge, and with the shuttle system it’s easy to begin at one trailhead and end at the other. If it’s early enough in the season or there’s been recent rain, you’ll really enjoy the destination.
- Angel’s Landing (5 miles round-trip, strenuous and not for the faint of heart, Trailhead at Grotto Picnic Area) takes you up switchbacks (including Walt’s Wiggles, which resemble Lombard Street in San Francisco) to a steep, narrow ridge with drop-offs of 1,500 feet on both sides. The last half-mile of the trail comes complete with chains for people to hold onto, as the exposure is severe. Some people, young and old, crawl part of the way. From atop Angels Landing, Zion is all around you. It slips away beneath your feet to the depths of the canyon and the river. Vertical red cliffs of sandstone encircle you at eye level. Cathedral Mountain, Observation Point, Cable Mountain, and the Great White Throne rise hundreds of feet above you. This hike is not for everyone, but if you don’t have a fear of heights or drop-offs, reaching the landing is perhaps Zion’s most rewarding destination.
- Echo Canyon to Observation Point (3.7 miles, 2,200 foot climb, trailhead at Weeping Rock parking area) takes you through a narrow, intimate canyon with wonderful rock formations to the East Rim where you can take in powerful views. Hidden Canyon starts from the same trailhead and is only 1.1 miles—also spectacular.
- Watchman Trail (Two miles each way, trailhead from the service road east of the Watchman Campground) takes you up 368-feet to views of Oak Creek Canyon, the Streaked Wall, the Sentinel and the Watchman. This trail is best at the end of the day if it is the heat of summer, because there is no shade.
- Canyon Overlook (Short, round-trip, trailhead at east end of Zion at the tunnel entrance) takes you up steep switchback steps for about 20 minutes. At the end of the trail you will be standing on top of the Great Arch, from where you can look down into Zion, with the Streaked Wall in the foreground, the East Temple to your right, and Pine Creek canyon on your left.
- West Rim Trail (All day, trailhead at Grotto Picnic Area) takes you up switchbacks over beautiful rock, and follows along the base of tall rock towers to a magnificent plateau on top where you can view miles and miles of spectacular country. You can add a loop on top of the plateau, but you must come down the same way you go up.