The word Zion means kingdom of heaven in Christian terms.
I cannot think of a better word to have named this truly stunning national park in Southern Utah.
After attending a content creator retreat in St George, Utah in April 2021, I had my husband fly in to the St George airport to meet me and spend two days in Zion National Park with me before we drove home together.
To say it was EXACTLY what this couple needed at the time, is an understatement.
And I know 2020/21 have been challenging for so many. So I hope you are able to take a breather out in nature as my husband and I did. We certainly came back ready to face our challenges some more ;).
Be sure to pin the image below to save for your Zion National Park adventures!
Here Are My Tips for Spending Two Days in Zion National Park
- How to Get There
- When to Go and Park Entrance Fees
- How Long to Stay
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- What to Do
- Best Photography Spots in Zion National Park
- Things to Do Outside of the Park
How to Get There
As I said above, my husband flew into the St George Regional Airport (SGU) – but just a heads up this airport is SMALL! However, his puddle jumper flight did arrive on time from Phoenix and there’s something to be said for that!
Otherwise – the Las Vegas Airport (LAS) is 167 miles south (about 2.5 hours) and the Salt Lake City Airport (SLC) is 313 miles north (about 4.75 hours).
All airports have the large car rental companies to get a car from – I usually use Expedia to see who is available at whatever airport I am flying in to and then go directly to that rental car company’s site to reserve my car.
For informational purposes only- I used to work in the hotel and travel agency industry and having any complications with any reservations you make is easier to be taken care of when you have booked directly with the source. I know I have seen websites saying you get better deals, etc. from outside websites HOWEVER I am just giving you the insider scoop letting you know – hotels, car rentals, and airlines will be much more willing to work with you to solve the problem if you book with them directly.
The visitors center at Zion National Park is a 7 hour drive from my house in San Diego as well as a 7 hour drive from LAX International Airport if you are coming from California.
I will almost always choose driving to my destination over flying – especially if the hassles of security and getting to the airport two hours before your flight do not make the travel time significantly shorter than driving!
When to Go and Park Entrance Fees
Spring and Fall are the best times to visit Zion National Park if you plan on doing some good hiking.
I have been to Zion in mid April and early May and my husband has been in early fall. All of those visits have had perfect weather for us. 70’s in the day and 50’s at night.
A little bit on the windy side but as far as hiking goes – you really want those winds to cool you off when you are getting a tad too warm! Unless you are holding on to the chains at the top of Angels Landing – then you REALLY probably do not want any wind at all!!
My oldest daughter visited this last January and said her temps were in the 40’s and 50’s.
I know Southern Utah can get pretty dang hot in the summer months of June – September which would make for some uncomfortable hiking if you ask me. So if you can time it ideally- I would highly recommend avoiding those crazy hot months.
The fee to get into Zion National Park is paid at the visitors center and is $35 per car or $20 per person if walking in for a 7 day pass. There are multiple yearly pass options available too if you are planning to go to more than one park in a year!
How Long to Stay
Our first visit to Zion National Park was in April 2005 when our kids were 4, 7, and 9. We camped at the Watchman Campground for 4 nights with them which allowed 3 full days in the park.
Funny Story About Our First Zion NP Visit
My husband had been an active member in the YMCA Indian Princess/Guides programs and had been camping with our kids without mefor years already at this point. I had grown up tent camping with my parents in Grand Teton National Park so camping was second nature to me (by the way – did you read my Grand Teton NP blog post yet? It’s a great park to visit as well!!!)
Anyhoowww… so our family at this point owned a little tent for just my husband and one kid for their YMCA camping and a large family tent from REI that we had purchased the year before for our intended family camping trips. Zion National Park was our very first national park camping trip btw!
Well – for not recommended to all of you reasons – my husband kept the tent poles in separate bags from the actual tents themselves. In our quick to pack timing, guess which bag of tent poles we grabbed for our family tent?? If you guessed THE WRONG BAG than you are right 😳.
And of course, we didn’t actually know this until we went to pitch our tent on our first evening in the campground. My husband looked at me as we started pitching the tent and said “ummmmmm, we might have a problem. We only have pup tent poles.”
No fear – my husband has MacGyver skills that solved this problem eventually 😬.
Until he was done with the tent pole problem and turned to me again and said “sooooo – how important do you think a tent fly is?” For those of you not familiar with what a tent fly is – it’s the top layer that you put over your actual tent to keep the rain out and to just plain keep the tent warmer. So yes – it is a crucial part of camping when you are camping in 50° temps…
This is when my kids learned mommy knows alot of swear words 🤷♀️.
Long story short (not really – sorry about that!) – we had the most unique tent in the campground. So much so that the kids in the campsite next to us told our kids how much they loved our “colorful” tent 😂.
And here it is for you to get a good laugh…
Visits After That Experience
My second visit was just recently in April 2021 for 3 nights with 2 full days to enjoy the park.
My recommendation in order to get the full experience of Zion National Park for your first visit is definitely to have 3 full days – four if possible. You can obviously do a quick one day stopover in this park but you really will only get a very small glimpse of everything this park has to offer…
My husband takes a boys’ hiking trip every fall with his buddies and they have gone to Zion three times in the last 15 years to do the signature hikes of Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Observation Point.
He also took a father – son trip there with our son about four years ago and had an amazing time!
Can you tell the boys in my house love Zion???
My husband and I are hoping to get there together way more often than once every fifteen years!
Where to Stay
If you are camping – this is THE place to be! Honestly there isn’t any place more convenient in the park (besides the lodge) than this campground! Highly recommend making reservations as soon as possible for this park as it does sell out!
You can’t beat your views at this campground either…
The only lodging in the park. My husband and son stayed here in 2017 and said it was decent accommodations but nothing spectacular about it besides the location and the views!
This is where we stayed on our last visit in April 2021 and was our first experience with glamping. I am hooked! There are multiple Under Zion properties throughout the US, and I am hoping to stay at more than this one in my future.
My only problem was the pull string shower and washing my hair 🤪. Luckily we were only there for 3 nights so I just used some dry shampoo and called it a day!
My husband on the other hand LOVED the pull string shower after we would return from our days of exploring!
This property is about thirty minutes away from the Zion National Park Visitor Center but right at the Kolob Valley entrance which was perfect for us and our plans while visiting the park.
Another glamping suggestion with canvas tents, covered wagons, and bungalows. My daughter and her friends stayed here in a bungalow on their January ’21 trip and my daughter said she gives it a 10/10!
Out of all the lodging I saw as we spent time in Springdale, Utah after exploring the park, this is the one I liked the best (that is if we are judging a book by its cover 😳).
I have Instagram friends who have stayed here and enjoyed their accomodations. Besides the Zion Lodge above, this is the closest you can get to the park as it is right next to the visitors center and where the park shuttle begins.
You will also find all the common hotel chains in this town – Hampton Inns by Hilton, Holiday Inn Express, Fairfield Inn by Marriott, and plenty of Best Westerns. All of these accomodations would really just be to have a place to put your head at night. I suggest using Expedia to find what fits your needs best if staying at one of these properties.
Where to Eat
We had dinner here our first full day at the park – they have really good cocktails and chips and salsa!
My husband says he eats here every time he goes to Zion. Good food and based on what I saw – word is out that it is the place to eat in town 😂.
Another delicious restaurant we ate at on our visit – get the crepes!! They are delicious!
Best place in town for coffee and breakfast and lunch too!
What to Do
Zion Shuttle Tickets
So here is the current deal with shuttle tickets in Zion National Park because of the Covid Pandemic – they are harder than usual to get… DO NOT PANIC if you do not get them!
The park road is closed to private vehicles March through November. If you are staying at Zion Lodge, you can drive to the lodge.
You can get them at Recreation.gov on either the 16th or the last day of the month before your visit. If that doesn’t work – they release more tickets the day before you need them at 5pm at the visitors center and online.
Do Not Panic If You Don’t Get Shuttle Tickets!
One bit of information that we did not find anywhere online was that you can also use private shuttles to get into the park! Now mind you they are quite a bit more expensive than the $2 NPS shuttle bit still – if you have someone with you that just can’t bike or e-bike into the park, this is a good alternative.
The place we rented our bikes also had private shuttles into the park and let me tell you – if I wanted to take a shuttle into the park – I would have preferred this private shuttle than the park shuttle based on the RIDICULOUS lines we saw for the park shuttles!
Those lines were crazy long and in the heat of the hot desert sun. Glad it didn’t work out for us when I tried to get the shuttle tickets! Forgot to tell you – my reason for missing the sale time on March 16th? Oh – I forgot about the time change between Utah and California! So if you really want those shuttle tickets – pay attention to the time change if you have one!!
We did not get them for our last trip and ended up having an AMAZING time. We both even feel it forced us to find ulterior ways to have our adventures. It also made us explore parts of the park that we honestly were not even aware of!
Bike Through the Park
As I said above – we did not have shuttle tickets and after I got over my initial panic of what on earth are we going to do in the park, we realized it was for the best!
You can rent e-bikes or touring bikes at multiple places in town but I would certainly suggest making a reservation! We made our reservation the night before we wanted the bikes at Zion Cycles in Springdale and could not have been happier with their customer service and how easy it was!
As I mentioned earlier – this company also runs private shuttles in and out of the park so if you prefer that to biking or walking into the park – I would check them out.
Our bike adventures truly allowed us to see the park from a different view – and by park – I mean THE ENTIRE PARK – from start to finish on the park road. We are not bikers AT ALL. In fact, it has been over five years since I have even sat on a bike (stationary or not).
We started on our bikes in town at the shop and just rode all the way to the end of the park road. You take the Pa’rus Trail behind the visitors center for the first couple of miles and then you bike along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
We stopped when we wanted to stop. Took many (MANY) pictures along the way. And just seriously had one of the most fun and relaxing days we have had in a very long time. Did I tell you we did NOT have e-bikes but just good old fashioned touring bikes. And those gears took me a bit to get used to TBH. But once I did, it was smooth sailing!
We stopped for lunch at the balcony at Zion Lodge and that hamburger tasted amazing!
Then we kept on riding our bikes all the way to the last shuttle stop which is Temple of Sinawava (also the shuttle stop for the Narrows hike). The shuttle ride from the Visitors Center to that last stop is 45 minutes. We slowly took about 3 hours to ride our bikes that distance including our lunch stop at the lodge…
Here is a list of the best hikes in the park – click on the link above to find out more about these hikes as well as plenty of other hikes in the park (there are just too many to list them all here!!)
View from the top of Angels Landing:
- Angels Landing – 4.4 miles/1600 ft elevation gain. This is the most strenuous hike in the park. It can be VERY hot and uncomfortable in the summer months. I have heard of people starting before sunrise for this hike in the summer to avoid heat exhaustion. My husband and daughter have both done this hike and said it is not for the faint of heart. Rumors have it, the hike got its name because it was once said that the trail is so high, only angels could land there.
- The Narrows via Riverside Walk (otherwise known as Bottom Up) – about 9-10 miles/600 ft elevation gain. 60% walking in water. When my husband did this hike with his buddies, they rented water hiking gear from Zion Adventures in town. The Zion National Park website says to always check the weather for flash flood potentials and cyanobacterial warnings for the water doing this hike.
- Middle Emerald Pools Trail – 3 miles/620 foot elevation gain labeled a moderate hike. We did this hike with our kids back in 2005 and it was a breeze for all of us. The views are stunning – but of course, you can’t really go anywhere in the park without a photogenic view 😉
- Riverside Walk – 2.2 miles out and back/57 feet elevation gain. Another trail we did with the kids in 2004. Very flat the entire way – the above Narrows Trail starts at the end of this walk so you can do a little bit of that trail on this hike if you want (we did that with our kids!).
- Pa’rus Trail – 3.5 miles/50 feet elevation gain. This is the trail that you walk to get into the park if you do not get on the shuttle. We rented bikes on our one day in the Zion Valley and rode them along this trail all the way up the park road.
- The Subway Trail – 9 miles/1300 feet elevation gain labeled strenuous. PERMIT REQUIRED. You do not access this hike in the Zion Valley- rather from the Kolob Terrace part of the park (which was also where Under Canvas is located!).
- Taylor Creek Trail – 5.6 miles RT/843 feet elevation gain. We did this hike on our trip in April 2021. It is also not located in the Valley but is in the Kolob Canyons portion of the park.
- The Wave Trail – 6.7 miles/1233 feet elevation gain. PERMIT REQUIRED – you can get one here (if you are lucky!). My neighbor did this hike last year and the pictures were absolutely stunning!
Explore Kolob Canyon
The entrance to this part of the park is further north on I-15 than Zion Valley. The two visitors centers are 39 miles apart (about 50 minutes driving). But definitely a part of the park worth exploring. You see a whole different view of the Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau.
You will find the Taylor Creek Trail listed above on this entrance to the park.
If you keep driving to the end of the Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive – you will have an incredible overlook view at the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint. This is also an incredible place to catch the sunset!
Drive the Zion – Mt Carmel Tunnel
If you are entering the park from the east side, you will drive through this 1.1 mile long tunnel. Bicycles are not permitted in the tunnel.
The Wave hike mentioned above and Canyon Overlook Trail listed below for an amazing photo opp spot are on the eastern side of the tunnel.
If you are visiting from Bryce Canyon National Park, this is the quickest way to the Zion Valley.
We have a family tradition of honking our horn in the middle of any tunnel we drive through 🤪. So if you are ever in a tunnel with me- don’t worry – I’m not honking at you to get out of my way! My dad started this tradition when I was a kid – no idea why but it stuck 👍🏻.
Drive the Kolob Terrace Road
Our accomodations at Under Canvas were about 4 miles down this road. The views from this road are truly incredible. It is also the road where you will find the start to the Subway Hike. It is not a very populated road which makes for a much more peaceful experience than in the Zion Valley.
You can find all the hikes available in this area here.
Canyoneering and Climbing
See this page on the Zion National Park website for more information on permits required and where you can do these activities.
Best Photography Spots in Zion National Park
- Watchmen from Junction Bridge – technically you are not allowed to stop on this bridge. We saw this view from the Pa’rus trail but have read the view on the road is better.
- Kolob Terrace Road – mentioned above for Under Canvas accommodations
- Angels Landing
- Checkerboard Mesa – if you are a super talented photographer, the night sky photos from this location are gorgeous!
- Canyon Overlook Trail
- Double Arch Alcove at the end of Taylor Creek Trail in the Kolob Canyon area of the park
- Observation Point
Things to Do Outside of the Park
Another gorgeous national park in the area. The two visitors centers are 85 miles apart (about two hours driving). We combined this park, Zion National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park in a ten day park loop back in April 2005.
Snow Canyon State Park near St George, Utah
56 miles west (about one hour driving).
I recently did some hiking in this park – it has some amazing trails to explore!
Las Vegas, Nevada
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Enough said.
166 miles south – about two and a half hours driving.
180 miles south – about three hours driving.
Built during the Depression on the Colorado River, this dam is worth touring!
57 miles east – a little over an hour driving
My husband’s boys annual hiking trip was to this park last year to hike the Coyote Gulch trail. The photos he kept sending me were just remarkable…
110 miles southeast – about 2.5 hours.
Our 2005 spring break road trip had this park as our first stop for two nights, then Bryce Canyon National Park for three nights, and lastly Zion National Park for four nights. Of all these parks, I honestly love Zion the most. I will likely continue going back to ZNP often and cannot really say the same for the other two 🤪.
But Grand Canyon is one of the 7 National Wonders of the world and should most certainly be seen at least once in your life 😎.
There is so much to see and do in Zion National Park!! I really hope a visit here is on your USA bucket list!! It is well deserving of that spot! And if you are only able to do a short trip here for your first visit, I hope it is enough to make you realize this is most definitely a place to return to!
Who knows – maybe we will see each other there??!!