Last updated on June 9th, 2022
Perfectly carved out of reddish Navajo Sandstone and still fine-tuned by the forces of the Virgin River, Zion’s beautiful desert oasis is a worthy reason for sharing your visit with millions of annual visitors who flock to Southern Utah. In this two days in Zion National Park itinerary, we’ll cover all the highlights in and around Zion Canyon, including a few memorable hikes, both on your feet and your soul.
Marvel at Zion’s star attraction from magnificent vistas on the canyon floor and above. Its reddish sandstone walls tower beyond 2,500 feet above the Virgin River, eroded to perfection by nature’s finest artists.
Zion is relatively compact compared to other national parks. It also offers many opportunities for every visitor type to enjoy the incredible natural beauty.
From the famous Zion Narrows to breathtaking Angel’s Landing, Zion offers plenty of ways to explore its beauty on foot, with easy trails on the canyon floor and challenging hikes to its rim.
Two sections make up this two days in Zion National Park itinerary.
Check out the Zion National Park travel guide collection for additional information, including Zion planning tips, the best hikes, and top things to do. Then, leverage additional Southern Utah guides to create a memorable road trip in one of America’s prettiest corners.
Find all of the places mentioned in this Zion itinerary on this companion map. Simply click on the image to open it in Google Maps.
Spending two days in Zion National Park means you’ll need to overnight at least once. Here are the best options.
Inside the park: the Zion Lodge is the only place to stay inside Zion Canyon. Even during shuttle season, when cars cannot drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, lodge guests receive a special pass and can park their car at the lodge.
Outside the park: sleeping in Springdale is the most convenient option if not staying at the Zion Lodge. The park’s free shuttle operates a dedicated line that travels between the edge of Springdale and the visitor center. Though accommodation prices are slightly higher, using the free shuttle eliminates paying for parking. Beyond Springdale, the best options are at La Verkin and Hurricane. Both towns are only about 30 minutes away from Zion Canyon.
Camping: the Watchman and South Campgrounds are Zion Canyon’s campsites. A third campsite is at distant Lava Point along Kolob Terrace Road.
Here are all the Zion National Park region accommodation options that can be booked online via Booking.com.
Today, we’ll focus on highlights along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, using the free shuttles to get around. The day will mix visiting scenic viewpoints and light hiking.
For most of the year, private vehicles cannot enter the canyon (except for Zion Lodge guests and getting to/from the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel). However, the free park shuttles run the length of the scenic drive from the visitor center to the Temple of Sinawava.
Pack something warm but lightweight for the morning hours, as even during the hot summer months, it can be pretty cold in Zion Canyon until the sun fully rises.
Consider rising early and catching the sunrise in Zion Canyon if you have the will. The best-known spots for watching the sunrise in Zion are at Canyon Overlook Trail (but we’ll hike this trail tomorrow) and on the canyon floor at the Court of the Patriarchs (see if the free shuttle schedule allows).
Zion Canyon is at its prettiest when the sun is high in the sky, and all the interesting features of the reddish sandstone cliffs are visible. The Riverside Walk is a good morning option as it is beautiful and enjoyable even in the shade.
Take the shuttle to the last stop at the Temple of Sinawava. There’s an interesting rock formation near the shuttle stop, but the goal is to pick up the trail to the Riverside Walk. This is an easy two-mile (return) hike on a paved path parallel to the Virgin River. In the early morning hours, watch for deer on the sandy riverbank.
The Riverside Walk ends where the famous Zion Canyon Narrows begins. Many hikers continue the push upstream from here, feet in the water. Before turning back, check out the towering Mountain of Mystery.
From the end of Riverside Walk, continue upstream and explore the narrowest section of Zion Canyon on the Narrows, one of Zion’s top highlights. Special gear is needed to hike the Narrows, as you’ll walk in the river over an uneven rocky surface. In addition, the water can sometimes be waste-high. Therefore, you’ll need to bring or rent a wooden pole, protective clothing, and boots from one of the outfits near the visitor center.
Hiking the Narrows can take the better part of the day, but many simply hike for about an hour and turn back. At times, thousand-foot walls are separated by just twenty feet, leaving hikers feeling like ants as they make slow progress in the water.
The next shuttle stop is at Big Bend, where the Virgin River makes… a big bend. You’ll better appreciate the symmetry of this spot from above the canyon floor on the Angel’s Landing hike, but stop to see some of the canyon’s famous “residents”, the Organ, the Great White Throne, and Angel’s Landing in a single frame. Also, be on the lookout for condors, often spotted patrolling the skies.
The next shuttle stop is at Weeping Rock, but you can also walk here from Big Bend. If the trail is open, it’s a brisk walk to this interesting moist depression in the canyon wall. A more impressive “sister” is on the Emerald Pools trail.
We’ll return to the Grotto shuttle stop tomorrow morning to hike to Angel’s Landing, but for now, we’ll stop at this popular picnic spot to spice things up by walking to the next shuttle stop on the Grotto Trail to Zion Lodge. This easy trail presents a tempting opportunity to ditch the shuttle, enjoy the view at your own pace, and listen to the sound of the birds. This trail runs parallel to the main road, and it only takes about twenty minutes to complete.
The Grotto Trail ends at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop. Cross the small bridge, and pick up the trail to the Emerald Pools. On this popular hike, discover Zion Canyon’s desert oasis with a visit to three natural pools.
The first of the three pools is the Lower Emerald Pool, fed by a picturesque waterfall cascading from the canyon wall. During the dry months of the year, the waterfall slows to a trickle, but it still flows constantly and makes for a pretty scene.
The Middle Pool is not that impressive, and things become slightly more challenging on the leg to the upper pool. Turn around and return to the trailhead if you find it too difficult. The Upper Emerald Pool is more secluded than its “sisters”. This stunning oasis reflects its surroundings like a perfectly polished mirror.
After the Emerald Pools hike, it’s time for a well-deserved lunch. Together with the Grotto, the Zion Lodge shuttle stop is a popular spot for a picnic lunch. At the Red Rock Grill, enjoy a sit-down lunch on the terrace with lovely views of the west rim. For a picnic lunch, grab something from the cafeteria (queues can be unbearable) or your packed lunch and find a shaded spot on the lawn.
Fancy experiencing Zion Canyon on horseback? One or three-hour trips are available, departing from close to Zion Lodge.
Get back on the shuttle at the Zion Lodge stop and get off at the prettiest viewpoint on the Zion Canyon floor. Named for three towering figures from the Old Testament, sandstone cliffs called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hold court over Birch Creek Canyon. All three peaks rise to nearly 7,000 feet in height.
If you’re interested in learning about the area’s Native American and pioneer history or in need of a break from the rain or the heat, pay a visit to the Zion Human History Museum. Check out the various exhibits and watch the popular short film.
We’ll wrap up the first of our two days in Zion itinerary with a hike on the Watchman Trail. The trailhead is right next to the visitor center, so you’ll be able to make a quick exit out of the park after seeing the picturesque views of Zion Canyon. This moderate hike reached its climax at a scenic overlook, but getting here requires overcoming some switchbacks. However, the views from the top are well worth the effort.
If you’re staying outside the park in La Verkin or Hurricane, head to Lonny Boy’s Barbecue or the Stage Coach Grille for an authentic southwest dinner. The Stage Coach Grille also has a Springdale location.