Zion National Park Travel Guide

Zion National Park Travel Tips

This section lists essential tips for planning a successful visit to Zion National Park.

Quick Finds

Where is Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is located along Highway 9 in Southern Utah. The closest town to the park is Springdale, and the nearest city is St. George, Utah. Las Vegas is 2.5 hours southwest of Zion National Park (165 miles), Death Valley is 4.5 hours east (276 miles), and  Salt Lake City is 4.5 hours to the north (308 miles). 

approaching zion national park

When is the Best Time to Visit Zion National Park?

Zion’s geological and geographical diversity also applies to its weather. Generally speaking, the best time to visit Zion National Park is spring and fall. Here’s what to expect during each season in Zion.

Winter: cold weather, snow, and rain keep the crowds away. Access to the park’s higher elevation and some trails might be restricted, but you can drive your car on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive except for holiday periods when park shuttles briefly come to life. This is an excellent time to visit Zion if you enjoy winter desert scenery, detest crowds, and aren’t planning action-packed days since they are short.

Spring: the days are getting longer and the temperature is rising, though nights are still cold. Wildflowers are blooming, especially during May, but the melting snow could put a damper on plans to hike the Narrows. Park shuttles are back in operation and starting in March, visitor numbers begin to spike.

Summer: it’s hot but the days are long, so a lot can be covered in a single day. However, do the “heavy lifting” before the frequent late-afternoon thunderstorms hit and hope they don’t cause a flash flood in the canyon. Be prepared to share the space with hoards of other visitors, allow extra time to find parking, and wait for trail “traffic jams” to clear. Are you planning to hike to Angel’s Landing? See if a permit is required and plan accordingly.  

Fall: this is a great time to visit Zion National Park. The days are still long and the temperature is pleasant, though with varying degrees between elevations. Fall colors can be seen along Kolob Terrace Road and by late fall inside the canyon. Though it’s still busy inside the park in early fall, you’ll have more space to yourself as winter approaches.

Virgin River Zion Canyon

How Many Days Are Needed for Zion National Park?

Zion National Park, especially Zion Canyon, is not very large but there is a lot to see. I recommend spending at the very least one night in the area so you’ll have a full day to explore Zion Canyon. Here’s what you can expect when planning how many days to spend in Zion National Park.

Day trip or a one-day visit: relevant if you aren’t planning to do “heavy” hiking. This should be enough time for a rapid visit of the major viewpoints along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, plus perhaps a short hike.

Two-day visit: you can comfortably cover all the significant highlights inside the canyon and one or two hikes. 

Three-day visit: fully explore Zion Canyon, including hiking to viewpoints on its rim. You can also devote one day to exploring the Kolob region of the national park and get away from the crowds.

Pro Tip

See how to organize your time in Zion with these sample itineraries (one day, two days, three days).

Zion and Bryce Canyon

Combining a visit to Zion National Park with Bryce Canyon is a very popular option as only 72 miles (116 km) separate the two. Here’s a sample itinerary for Zion and Bryce Canyon in a single trip.

How to Get to Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is reached via State Route 9 near the town of Springdale. The Kolob section of the park is reached via Kolob Terrace Road and Kolob Canyons Road. The closest major airports to Zion are Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, but smaller regional airports are at St. George and Cedar City, Utah. 

The drive to Zion National Park is quite pleasant and scenic from any other point of interest nearby, including Las Vegas and the beautiful engineering-marvel section at Virgin River Gorge (Arizona), the Grand Canyon via Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Bryce Canyon, and Page

Virgin River Gorge highway arizona

Entering Zion National Park

The park’s prime highlight is Zion Canyon and its scenic drive. If arriving from the south, the main entrance and visitor center lie on the outskirts of Springdale. If coming from the east, you’ll need to cross the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (fee required) and work your way down to the canyon floor. This is a scenic experience in its own right. 

Park fees vary according to use type. In general, if you enter the park in your car, the fee is higher than if entering on foot. For example, let’s say that the Zion Canyon shuttle is in operation (see next section), but you want to drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel just for the sake of it or to exit the park heading west. In this case, you’ll purchase a vehicle pass for one vehicle. But let’s say you’re just visiting Zion Canyon (not the Kolob region) and will use the free shuttles to get around. In this case, you can purchase a cheaper pass valid for just one person.

Pro Tip

If you plan to visit multiple national parks, pre-purchase the America the Beautiful Pass.

Advanced Entry Reservations

When writing this guide, it was not necessary to make advanced reservations to enter Zion National Park. Stay up to date on the park’s official website for the latest information. Due to the increase in visitor numbers, park officials are constantly optimizing the visitor experience so things can change.

Getting Around Zion National Park

For most of the year, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicle traffic, so you have to use the free shuttle buses. There are two shuttle lines, one running from the outskirts of Springdale to the visitor center and one running from the visitor center up Zion Canyon and back. Using the shuttle is convenient to maximize your time in Zion Canyon. When the shuttle is not in operation, you can enter with your car. When you enter the park, pick up a copy of the information guide containing all relevant shuttle info.

Pro Tips

(1) A vehicle pass allows entering Zion Canyon only to get to/from the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Park shuttles do not serve this section. (2) If you’re staying at the Zion Lodge, you can enter the canyon with your car but only drive to the lodge’s guest parking. (3) You can cycle on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and load your bike to the free shuttles.

public shuttle bus in zion national park
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cycling in zion canyon


Parking is a serious challenge in Zion National Park for visitors who aren’t sleeping in Springdale or at the Zion Lodge. There is one free parking lot just next to the visitor center (Zion National Park Visitor Parking), but you need to get here before 7:30 am during the busy season to have a shot at catching a spot.

If the free parking lot is full, there’s a costly paid parking lot in front of Zion Canyon Village by the visitor center. A better option is to find a spot along Zion Park Boulevard and purchase parking credit using one of the machines. The receipt must be displayed on the dashboard. The closer the parking spot is to the park’s entrance, the higher the fee. 

Where to Stay Near Zion National Park?

Lodging of all types comes at a premium in Zion. Here’s a rundown of the most popular options.

Zion Lodge: the only accommodation inside the national park. You can enter the canyon with your car, even during shuttle season if you’re staying at the lodge.

Camping: Watchman Campground and South Campground are the two campsites at the start of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Both are hugely popular and require reservations during busy parts of the year. The Lava Point Campground is in a more remote section of the park off Kolob Terrace Point. 

Springdale: this small town’s sole purpose is to cater to park visitors and staff. Advanced reservations are needed during busy months, and accommodation comes at a premium. However, all or part of this premium might be offset by using the free shuttle to reach the park entrance, thus avoiding the high cost of parking. 

Pro Tip

A popular Springdale option is the Zion Canyon Lodge. Here are additional Springdale accommodations that can be booked online via Booking.com.

Nearby towns: If you didn’t find a suitable option in Springdale, look for places in La Verkin or Hurricane. Both towns are only about 30 minutes away from Zion Canyon and feature plenty of accommodation and dining options at reasonable prices. I stayed at the Best Western Plus in La Verkin, which was very comfortable and convenient. There are also a few bed and breakfasts in the small villages between La Verkin and Springdale.

Pro Tip

Here are all the Zion National Park region accommodation options that can be booked online via Booking.com.

Zion lodge - where to stay in zion national park - by McGhiever

Planning Your Day

Even on a hot day, mornings in Zion can be cold, even inside the canyon. So pack something warm for the start of the day. Moreover, try to do activities that do not require good lighting in the morning. Zion Canyon should be appreciated when the sun is high in the sky. Activities such as visiting/hiking the Narrows, Riverside Walk, or spending the early morning hiking to Angel’s Landing (and reaching it in the late morning hours), are good examples.

Angel's Landing trail - zion national park - cactus

Dining & Shopping

You’ll find a few restaurants and cafes at the Zion Canyon Village by the visitor center to go along with a small supermarket and gear rental outfits. Further up the road by the Zion Lodge, there’s another restaurant and a cafeteria. The lawn just in front is a prime location for lunch.


Water filling stations are available at several main shuttle stops. They are marked on all park maps.

Hiking in Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise but be advised that trails in Zion Canyon during the busy months of the year are very crowded. The best hikes in the park are inside the canyon or on trails hiking to views from above. Check this travel guide covering some of the best hikes in Zion National Park, focusing on Zion Canyon hikes.

Here are a few hiking tips:

  • You’ll find trails on all levels in Zion Canyon.
  • Do some research before but in any case, chat with park rangers at the visitor center to “sanity check” your wishlist.
  • Check trail conditions before arrival on the park’s website or the visitor center. Some trails might be closed for maintenance or search and rescue missions. 
  • Plan to do at least one hike to the higher ground where sensational views of Zion Canyon are the reward. 
  • If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, the Kolob Region (i.e., anything west of Zion Canyon) might have the answer.
  • Download trail maps to your smartphone so you’ll be able to navigate even if offline.
Hiking in zion national park - angel's landing
Angel’s Landing Hiking Permit

During my visit to Zion National Park, no permit was needed for the Angle’s Landing hike. However, shortly after my return, a pilot program was started to control congestion on the trail, parts of which can be pretty dangerous when overcrowded. So if you’re planning to hike to Angel’s Landing, see if a permit is required and plan accordingly.

Mobile Reception & WiFi in Zion

Mobile reception and data came in and out, and there were many spots inside Zion Canyon with no reception. In the Kolob area, I experienced havier offline spells. 

Download an offline Google Map of Zion and mark the points of interest you wish to visit before heading out. That way, you’ll still be able to navigate from point to point even without reception. I also highly recommend purchasing All Trails Pro and downloading trail maps of the hikes on your wishlist so you can navigate offline.

Hiker in Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Tours & Scenic Flights in Zion

Southern Utah as a whole is a playground for adventurous travelers, and the Zion region is a hub for thrills on the ground and above. If you want to explore remote sections of the area, consider joining organized adventure tours. Check out UTV Adventure Tours and Zion Jeep Tours for options. If you want to take it to the sky, scenic helicopter and small-craft flights are available from Hurricane. Flight options also include Lake Powell and even Bryce Canyon. Check out Hurricane Airport and Zion Helicopters for more information.

What to Pack for Zion National Park

Listed below are some items to pack for a visit to Zion. Get them on Amazon!

Lonely Planet guide to Zion & Bryce Canyon
  • Get your copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Zion & Bryce Canyon. If your visit to Zion is part of a more extended road trip, the Lonely Planet guide to Southwest USA is a good alternative.
  • Dress in layers, preferably sweat-repelling clothing (mornings are chilly)
  • Light rain gear with hood
  • First aid kit
  • Proper hiking shoes, preferably high shoes
  • Thick socks (for foot protection during hikes)
  • Lip balm (must) and hand cream (optional), especially during summer and early autumn, as the air can be dry.
  • Toiletries
  • Lock(s)
  • Flashlight and headlamp
  • Pocket knife
  • Picnic gear
  • Walking poles (optional)
  • Waterpack
  • Alcogel
  • Ziploc bags
  • Foldable day pack
  • Food and snacks
  • Earplugs if overnighting in tents of any kind
  • Hat and sunscreen
  • Photography gear
Pro Tip

Check out the X Days In Y Travel Gear page for more ideas!