An Insider's Guide to Visiting East Zion
Experience Zion National Park atop its thousand-foot cliffs on the park’s quiet eastern side.
Zion National Park’s mighty red rock spires and vermillion canyon towers have inspired wonder and delight in visitors for generations. But the Instagram era propelled this southwestern Utah gem to fame, with Zion welcoming a record-breaking 4.5 million visitors in 2019. Now one of the nation’s most popular national parks, Zion visitors often wait in Disneyland-esque lines to hike up Angels Landing or catch a ride on a shuttle bus. (Read: "How to Visit Zion")
But just beyond the park’s iconic Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, there’s a place where solitude and silence amid this kaleidoscope of colors still reign supreme: East Zion. Known as Zion’s quieter side, East Zion is a year-round destination accessible through the park on Utah State Route 9. From Salt Lake City, reach East Zion via U.S. Highway 89 — a scenic byway connecting the area to Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and the desert town of Kanab. (Read: “5 Road Trip-Worthy Restaurants in Kanab”)
In addition to fewer visitors, this area boasts cooler temperatures than the bustling west end, thanks to its 5,200-to-6,500-foot elevation range. Whether you visit in summer’s heat or on a crisp fall day, this East Zion insider’s guide showcases the area’s best bucket-list attractions.
"Sit back, give your hiked-out legs a rest and let your steed climb through the pines to distant overlooks of Zion’s vermillion cliffs."
Saddle up to explore Zion like a cowpoke — from atop a horse. Sit back, give your hiked-out legs a rest and let your steed climb through the pines to distant overlooks of Zion’s vermillion cliffs. Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort was once home to a pioneer logging camp, and these old logging paths take on new life as scenic horseback trails. While you can’t go chasing Butch Cassidy on a speedy gallop through the forest, leisurely sunset rides offer an old-fashioned escape through Rocky Mountain high country. (Read: “Butch Cassidy’s West.”)
Experience the enormity of Zion National Park on a Jurassic Park-style Jeep tour along bumpy dirt roads — minus the hungry dinosaurs chasing you. During the drive, your guide offers a geology lesson on how ancient seas and volcanoes created these otherworldly landscapes. End at Top of the World: a private radio tower site 8,100 feet above sea level with faraway vistas of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Cedar Mountain and Zion.
Zion is home to the greatest treasure trove of slot canyons in the world, and intrepid explorers come to wedge, wiggle and wade their way through these river-formed rock arteries. While you can freely climb some without technical gear, others require how-to-not-die-rappelling skills and a backpack full of climbing rope.
If you don’t possess both, book a canyoneering trip beyond the park boundaries with East Zion Adventures. Guiding is allowed only outside the national park, so you’ll load up in a Utility Terrain Vehicle, and travel to semi-secret Crimson Canyon — a brilliant red, non-technical slot bearing Native American petroglyphs and high, winding canyon walls. Thanks to the private-land access required to reach it, you’ll likely have this red rock wonder all to yourself.
Bundle under a blanket, grab a steaming cup of hot cocoa and ponder the universe on a stargazing tour under Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort’s famously dark skies. Set on a plateau above Zion National Park at 6,500 feet, this secluded location far from city lights recalls the ancients’ skies — with shooting stars and Milky Way views on clear nights. Knowledgeable guides armed with laser pointers share the mythology behind constellations and point out planets and satellites dotting the heavens. For an extra adventure dose, grab a headlamp and take a nighttime walk for striking starscapes. (Read: “Capturing the Milky Way: Kodachrome Basin by Night.”)
Hiking Observation Point
Think Angels Landing is Zion’s best overlook? If you’re willing to put in the miles, it’s East Zion’s Observation Point that awards trekkers with astonishing canyon vistas. With a massive rockfall closing the park’s Weeping Rock Trail to Observation Point indefinitely, Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort’s East Mesa Trail is the only option for catching this view — and it rarely gathers a crowd.
Hike through the plateau’s ponderosas to peep Zion’s red and white sandstone before reaching the lookout after 3.2 miles. Seated safely on the rim, take in a commanding view of Angels Landing and the Three Patriarchs — towering rock monoliths carved by eons of wind and water erosion.
"Zion is home to the greatest treasure trove of slot canyons in the world."
Where To Stay
Skip crowded hotels and cold nights spent in pitched tents. Instead, stake your claim at a private cabin at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Boasting more on-property adventures than any resort west of the Mississippi, Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort is a one-and-done lodging and recreation destination. This 4,000-acre retreat stretches along Zion’s eastern boundary for five linear miles and is 10 minutes from the eastern gate. Every compact cabin features a mini kitchen, plush beds, a private fire pit, daily breakfast and affordable on-site recreation.
Book an affordable Cowboy Cabin if you don’t mind an outdoor bathroom, or choose a full cabin with all of home’s amenities. Onsite activities include a climbing wall, mini golf, paintball, skeet shooting, zip line and double-decker swimming pool and hot tubs.
Is D-I-Y more your scene? Try East Zion Resort. This collection of cabins, tiny homes and even a treehouse in Orderville along Highway 89 offers contactless check-in, pool and hot tub access and modern design.
Where To Eat
What East Zion’s gateway towns lack in population, they make up for with character. Home to eclectic gems like the Rock Stop coffee shop/stone emporium and Thunderbird Restaurant, pause here for a spell instead of blowing by on U.S. 89.
Rock Stop’s unpredictable hours and literal rock shape add to its charm, and owner Don Davis’ foamy cappuccinos are the best you’ll find along this byway. Enjoy one in a real mug on the outdoor patio while considering an impressive array of Utah-sourced stones. Down the road in Mt. Carmel Junction, Thunderbird’s “ho-made pies” have attracted guests since 1931 (Read: "Utah’s Pie-Ala-Road: A Sweeter Way to Explore the State"). That unusual spelling resulted from the owner’s attempt to fit "house-made" on a too-small sign. Stop in for "ho-made" potato chips or a slice of hot apple pie smothered in rum sauce.
La Verkin’s River Rock Roasting Company is home to inventive pizzas and the wildly flavorful, Morrocan-inspired Amerikesh salad. In Springdale, eat where locals do: Oscar’s Cafe. From hearty Mexican cuisine to the locally famous Murder Burger, go splitsies if you’re a light eater — but don’t miss the housemade chips and salsa. If eclectic’s your jam, try Anthera inside Cliffrose Springdale. With hip, inventive takes on American fare and strong Old Fashioneds, it’s a newer contender in the local dining scene.
If you’re not straying far from Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, enjoy homestyle cuisine on property at Ray’s Restaurant. A hearty buffet breakfast is included daily with some room types and a full dinner menu is available for dine-in or takeout. Rather dash and dine? Takeout is widely available.
Bryce Canyon National Park
An alpine forest with as many red rock hoodoos as trees. At dawn and dusk, mule deer graze the forested plateau along the road into Bryce Canyon.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Hidden within the mountains above Cedar City is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding environs are home to cool hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.”
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes are open for hiking and kid-friendly playing. About 90-percent of the dunes are open for OHV riders, an attraction for which this state park has become ever popular.
The allure of the Grand Staircase region — the bulk of which is contained in the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument — is phenomenal. Sun-drenched Utah backcountry spreads out well beyond the visible horizon from the road, whether you’re traveling along the The All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12, or on Highway 89.
Zion National Park
Whether you are trying to catch your breath while climbing the trail to Angel's Landing or watching the shadows constantly change the mood of the Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park is always ready to quench your appetite for outdoor wonder.
24 Hours in Cedar City
A unique small town, Cedar City is a perfect place to stop on your journey to natural wonders such as Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Basecamp St. George
Get to know the biggest city in Greater Zion, close-by to Zion National Park, four state parks and more.
Best Restaurants In Cedar City
From woodfire-grilled pizzas to authentic southwestern Mexican cuisine, Cedar City has plenty of great restaurants for treating yourself after a day on the trails.
Cedar City Scene: Centro Woodfired Pizza and The Grind
Right downtown on Center Street, just off Main Street in Cedar City, Utah, and within walking distance to everything, lies the famed Centro Woodfired Pizzeria. (The Grind Coffee House is just around the corner.)
Cedar City to Cedar City 90-Mile Cycling Loop
The 90-mile Cedar City loop is one of Utah’s most challenging and scenic bike routes. Learn all about the route and plan your ride today!
Cycling Zion: Earning the Descent
Watch Utah cyclist TJ Eisenhart climb Zion National Park’s Kolob Terrace Road. It’s a one-of-a-kind ride that transitions from red rock desert to green valley plateaus.
Escape Crowds on a Quiet Winter Visit to East Zion
See Zion dusted in snow on a winter escape to the east side — where you’ll likely have the whole place to yourself.
How to Experience the Thriving Arts & Culture of St. George
St. George, Utah has transformed from gateway town to booming art hub. And whether you visit for theater amidst the red rocks or the galleries of Kayenta, you’ll find a big-city scene coupled with small-town charm.
Sunny Skies, Epic Wildflowers and Hoodoos: Summertime in Cedar Breaks National Monument
A summertime trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument is candy for the eyes. A panache of color explodes here during the first weeks of July when the 260 species of wildflowers are in full bloom.
Where to Eat and Drink in St. George
As you explore St. George and Greater Zion seeking excellent food, coffee and drinks, you’ll want to add these top restaurants to your list.
Why You Should Ditch I-15 on Your Way to Zion
If you’re not in a rush to get to Zion National Park from Northern Utah, consider taking a long, meandering route that features historic sites, adventure breaks and out-of-this-world scenery. Hop off I-15 and take Highway 89 and four nearby scenic byways to see and do as much as you possibly can on your way to Zion.
Winter in Southeastern Utah: Arches and Canyonlands
Want to avoid the Utah national park crowds? Plan a winter Southeastern Utah trip. Experience more peace, quiet and solitude.