10 Best Tips For Exploring Zion National Park
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19th Jun | 15 min read

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    As Utah's first and most visited national park, Zion offers legendary hikes, spectacular views, and a picturesque scenic drive that cannot be matched.  If you're planning to visit Zion National Park for the first time, this post can help you plan the perfect trip. From the best time of year to visit the park, to the best hiking routes, restaurants, places to stay, and so much more, this guide has it all covered. 

    With these helpful recommendations, you'll be able to explore Zion National Park like a pro.  

    At the end of this post, I’ll give you a detailed cost breakdown of my recent trip to Zion National Park. We were three friends traveling on a budget and we split all of our costs to keep them as low as possible.

    If you're planning a trip to Zion National Park, GAFFL can help you find travel companions from over 190 countries to share costs and experiences with. 

    These are our 10 best tips for exploring Zion National Park.

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    Best Starting Off Point

    Las Vegas is the best place to begin your trip to Zion National Park, and it is also an excellent starting point for visiting several other national and state parks in a single trip.We planned an epic road trip that began in Vegas, with Zion National Park as our first overnight stop, followed by Moab and the Grand Canyon, which will be covered in future posts. 

    In total, we were able to explore Zion National Park, Valley of Fire, Capitol Reef, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and the Grand Canyon on this one road trip alone. Not to mention, Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon when we got back to Vegas.

    We rented a car in Las Vegas and started the almost 2-hour and 40-minute trip to Springdale, the gateway town just outside of Zion National Park.

    But we didn't just go straight to Zion; after all, what's a great road trip without some amazing stops along the way? On our route to Zion, we made a quick stop in Valley of Fire for a fun day hike.

    Best Places To Visit Along The Way

    We hiked the Fire Wave Trail, which was well worth the stop. The trail is spectacular, and it's easy to see why it's known as the fire wave, with its wavelike patterns and brilliant orange and red rocks all around. The sun was also shining brightly, with limited possibilities for shade, so be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen! This place is so breathtaking and you'll be able to snap some fantastic scenic shots while you're here.

    We were back on the road after our quick stop in Valley of Fire, but all the hiking had made us hungry, so we wanted to stop for food before getting to Zion. We made our way in St George, which was about a 90 minute drive from Valley Of Fire along the way to Springdale. 

    We had delicious Indian Food at a restaurant called Red Fort. For anyone doing a similar trip to ours, St George is a fantastic place to stop for food, with many different options for people who love all types of cuisine. 

    After the meal, we were finally off to Springdale. We arrived at our hotel after dark and decided to spend the night there, getting some work done and hanging by the fire afterwards. This hotel was really great and everyone who worked there was super nice. I’ll talk more about the hotel later on in this post.

    Best Time To Visit Zion National Park

    The best time to visit Zion National Park, in my opinion, depends on how well you can brave the cold. If a little winter chill doesn't bother you, I recommend visiting Zion National Park between December and the end of February. 

    If you don't mind crowds and spending a bit more money, spring and autumn are also good options. 

    But I personally wouldn't go or recommend you go in the summer because along with huge crowds and  the steep prices, the scorching heat of Zion summer days can at times be unbearable for hiking. Not only do summers in Zion get really hot, afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September which can also produce flash floods in the park.

    There are several advantages to visiting Zion National Park in the winter, with a main one being lower costs. Our flights to Vegas, car rental, and hotel rooms were all cheaper than they would have been during peak season (more on this in the cost breakdown). There were also fewer people when we visited in the winter. My two friends had previously done Zion National Park in the summer and autumn, and they were both blown away by the winter experience. Because the trails weren't overcrowded, we were able to see everything we wanted to see without having to wait at all. Also, we were able to drive into the park, complete the scenic drive in our car, and park at all of the trailheads, which is not permitted most of the year when the shuttles are running.

    How To Get Around Zion & Places To Park

    The best way to get around Zion is to do the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which connects to the park's top trailheads as well as the Zion Lodge.

    During shuttle season, the Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles. The park is vast, and you can drive on all open park roads except the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive during the shuttle season. 

    Springdale offers a number of paid parking lots where you can leave your car before boarding a shuttle. Alternatively, if you are staying at a Springdale hotel, you will be able to park your car there before boarding the Springdale shuttle.

    During peak season, there are two free shuttles available.

    Springdale is the site of the first shuttle route. This shuttle is free and stops at nine different spots throughout town. Visitors are picked up and dropped off at the Zion National Park Pedestrian/Bike Entrance.

    The second shuttle route is in Zion National Park.  This shuttle takes you on It  the Scenic Drive from the Visitor Center to places like the Zion Lodge and trailheads like the Emerald Pools, West Rim Trail, Angel’s Landing,  and the Temple of Sinawava, where hikers depart for the Narrows. The shuttles can be reserved online at the National Park Service website.

    The shuttle season lasts virtually the entire year. Shuttles often run from March to November, on weekends in February and March, and during the last week of December. Check out the current and upcoming schedules by clicking here.

    Again, we were lucky enough to visit during a time when the shuttle wasn’t running, and we were able to do the entire scenic drive on our own, and if you get the opportunity to visit during a time where the shuttle isn’t running, I couldn't recommend it enough. It’s one of the best scenic drives I've ever done. 

    Best Hikes In Zion National Park

    There are tons of great hikes in Zion National Park. Trails like the Watchman Overlook Trail, which was closed when we went but is an easy hike with beautiful vistas. The track is three miles roundtrip and has about 500 feet in elevation gain. It’s a hike that is moderately challenging, but suitable for most people and the trailhead is really close to the Visitor Center. 

    There's also the Emerald Pools Trail, which provides hikers with some variety. We planned on doing this one but couldn’t get around to it. But I'd definitely recommend it for hikers of all abilities. You have the option of taking a short half-mile route to the Lower Emerald Pools falls or continuing to the top of the falls at Middle Emerald Pools. For those seeking a little more adventure, climb the stairs to Upper Emerald Pools.

    The three hikes we did were the Riverside walk, Angels Landing, and Canyon Overlook.

    Riverside Walk & The Narrows

    The Riverside Walk is the most straightforward hike in Zion National Park. It's a two-mile walk that starts at the Temple of Sinawava and takes you along a riverbank trail with stunning views. The riverside walk takes you right to the start of the Iconic Narrows hike.

    The Narrows is 16miles in entirety and can get very strenuous. The water can get more than waist high at times and even higher if you're shorter in height. Most people who embark on the Narrows do a short out and back route just to get a feel for the hike.

    While it is certainly possible to hike the Narrows in the winter, and many others were doing so right in front of us, we decided to skip it this time because we didn’t want to be cold or wet. Everyone we encountered on the hike rented proper equipment, like a wetsuit and boots, which is essential to keep warm in the narrows during the winter months.

    This could be considered a downside of traveling to Zion in the winter, especially if you intended to do this specific hike. On a hot summer day, I imagine the Narrows would be the best hike to do in the park.

    Angels Landing

    Angels Landing is undoubtedly Zion's most iconic hike, but it's also the most challenging and dangerous. This 4 ½ mile hike is no joke, and you should only attempt it if you are confident in your fitness and hiking abilities. Several people have died on this trail over the years, it's incredibly steep (with over 1600 feet of elevation gain), and there isn't a paved trail at the end of the climb, so you're only able to get up and down with the help of a metal chain. 

    My friend Mithu completed Angels Landing in October of last year. Ironically, he now has a knee issue from his many hiking trips. Despite his determination to finish the hike on this occasion, he opted to turn back halfway due to his knee.

    This was fantastic news for me because I didn't want to complete the whole thing. I was really proud of the distance I hiked, which according to Mithu, was around halfway. The views from where we ended up were already breathtaking, and I felt accomplished. I was nervous about the chain portion, but I was even more concerned about my fitness level and lack of hydration. I packed only one plastic 500ml water bottle with me on the hike, and it was empty by the midway mark. I didn’t feel comfortable with that or my physical fitness to complete the hike.    

    My other friend Akib, on the other hand, was determined to complete the entire thing, as he had done a few years before, and when Mithu and I headed down, he continued on and finished it.

    All in all it took him about 4hrs to hike the whole thing, which is the average time that it takes for most people to do the entirety of Angels landing.

    Canyon Overlook

    Canyon Overlook was our final hike of the day. This one-mile trip has relatively little elevation gain and is straightforward from start to finish. Some describe it as an intermediate hike, but if I can do it, chances are most of you reading this can as well. In fact, when we walked up to see the sunset on this particular day, there was a couple taking wedding photos at the top, and the bride was wearing a full-on wedding dress, which she effortlessly hiked back down in.

    Canyon Overlook is one of the best hikes in Zion to see a magnificent sunset, and while we were a few minutes late and didn't see the sun fall behind the rocks, we did get some amazing views and snapped some very scenic photos.

    Where To Eat In Zion

    While exploring Zion National Park, there are two main places to dine. The closest choice for anyone within the Park's scenic route would be Zion Lodge. The lodge serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so you won't have to leave the park to eat.

    Springdale, on the other hand, is a better option if you want more variety than what the lodge has to offer. Springdale boasts a diverse choice of restaurants, ranging from fast food to sports bars to hidden gems.

    While Mithu and I waited for Akib to finish his hike, we drove to a sports bar named Jack’s Sports Grill and ordered burgers and fries. The quantities were enormous and satisfied us after a long morning of hiking.

    After we caught up with Akib after he finished Angel's Landing, we proceeded to Pizza & Noodle Co for dinner. He had chicken alfredo pasta from here, and he said it was delicious and light. We liked the overall vibe of this specific restaurant so much that we returned for dinner following our Canyon Overlook trek. 

    We arrived at 9 p.m., exactly when they, and almost every other restaurant in town, had started to close, but the very nice people working at Pizza & Noodles still accommodated us. We shared a BBQ chicken pizza, which, like the pasta before it, was fantastic!

    If you're in Zion, I can't recommend Pizza & Noodle Co enough.

    Where To Stay The Night In Or Near Zion

    Similarly to your dining selections, your primary lodging options will be twofold: within the park's scenic route and Springdale. If you choose to remain inside the park, you have two options: the Zion Lodge or the campground. The campgrounds were closed while we were there, and the Zion Lodge was too expensive for our budget, so we opted for the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale and it did not disappoint.

    This campground by the visitor center is usually closed between November and March. The cost of an electric campground is $18.00 per night. The cost of a Riverside electric camping is $20.00 per night. The cost of a tent-only campsite is $16.00 per night.

    We could have stayed at the Zion Lodge for the two nights we were there, but one room would have cost us around $230 per night, whereas the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale only cost us $184 for two nights.

    I should also mention that we received some additional hotel discounts with our GAFFL Unlimited Memberships. As a GAFFL Unlimited member you can save up to 60% of select hotels around the world. These rates are private for GAFFL Unlimited members and not available to the general public. Click here to learn more about a GAFFL Unlimited Membership. 

    The Holiday Inn Express was a fantastic hotel that I would strongly recommend to anyone visiting Springdale. The accommodations were spotless, the staff was polite and helpful, and the extra amenities were wonderful. On our first night, we took advantage of the hotel's outdoor fire pits. And, after a long day of hiking, we spent our second night in the jacuzzi with other hikers who had just returned from Zion. We were provided a hot breakfast buffet both mornings we were there, and the food was delicious both times.

    Overall, I had a great time staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale.

    What To Wear & Safety Tips

    Bring A Lot Of Water- You don’t want to be like me on Angel’s Landing. 

    Wear Proper Footwear - I thought I could get away doing hikes on this trip with my worn out running shoes, Thankfully my friends advised me against doing that, so I bought a new pair of hiking shoes, and it was the best decision I made. I can't imagine doing some of the hikes we did without proper footwear. 

    Wear A Hat & Sunscreen - I'm super sensitive to the sun, and my bucket hat was essential for hiking.

    Layer Your Clothing - I wore a heavy winter coat, but if I were to do this trip again, I would leave it at home. Instead, I would layer my clothing. As the day warmed up, I could simply remove layers and stuff them into a backpack. On this trip, my jacket became quite heavy to carry around at times.

    Rent Equipment - if you are doing the Narrows, especially in the winter, be sure to rent proper equipment like a wetsuit and the proper footwear. 

    Wear Spikes - Spikes for the last half mile of angels landing are recommended in the winter. Akib told us that the last bit of Angels Landing was icy, and although he didn't have spikes, he wish he had them, 

    Know Yourself - Know your own fitness and skill level. It is great to push yourself to reach new heights, but you should also be very mindful of your limitations as well. Again. Like me on Angels Landing :) 

    Cost Breakdown

    • Usually you need to pay a $35 fee to enter Zion National Park, but we had a national park pass so we were able to get into the park for free.

    • We rented a car for the entire trip so we had it for 12 days which came to about $42 per day for the rental car.  For the duration of our Zion trip, we spent $126 in total for the car rental.

    • We rented a Toyota Camry so we were really efficient on gas. We prepaid $40 for gas in Vegas and then pumped another $37 after Zion, so we spent $77 total for gas

    • Our hotel in Springdale was $184 for two nights.

    • Our total shareable costs $387. 

    • Split by the 3 of us, we spent $129 each

    • My flight to Vegas from Toronto was $180

    • On this trip, I spent $309 total.

    I was only able to do this trip because I had two friends with me to split most of the costs with. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. 

    If you’re someone who’s dying to travel, but don’t think you can afford it alone, you can use GAFFL to find like-minded travel companions to share costs & experiences with. Simply click the link here and start connecting with travelers and locals from over 190 countries.

    Thanks for reading, and if you liked this post make sure to catch our next one.  I’ll be taking you on the next leg of our epic road trip, and I’ll be sharing the best tips for exploring Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and Moab.

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