How to Visit Zion
Elements took eons to create the varied wonders of Zion National Park. Visitors who rush through Utah’s most popular national park will only get a small taste of the power of the place. Plan time to appreciate all that makes up Zion, not just the main destinations on the park map.
Pro tip: Consider planning more than a long weekend for a visit. Make an effort to take in other special places around the national park.
Guided tours will show you plenty, but it’s also good to come up with your own ideas about what you want to see on your journey. Whether you’re into photography or canyoneering, there’s something here for everyone.
Quiet Reflection of Life, Texture and Sound
Grandeur is easy to behold, but the real spirit of Zion is the subtle wonders. Marvel at delicate flowers growing in the cracks of Utah’s famous red sandstone. Ponder the striations and funky patterns on the sandstone in places like Checkerboard Mesa. Find a unique feature and study it intently over time; observe how the ever-changing light of Zion changes the mood of the formation — and perhaps your own.
Life is all around. Watch for mule deer walking through the cottonwood trees along the Virgin River and try to figure out how they came about their name. Study the photo-worthy sandstone mesa country on the east side of the park and you may see moving rocks, also known as bighorn sheep. Keep an eye to the skies for winged wonder like California condors, peregrine falcon and other raptors. Songbirds are common along the Virgin River and wild turkeys are often spotted walking in Zion Canyon. Some birds are rarely spotted, but their presence is often known. Take the distinctive descending whistle call of the canyon wren. Few bird songs symbolize the canyon country of southern Utah so well.
Water always provides an intriguing sound, but there is something extra soothing about a river in desert country. Find a spot along the Virgin River and tune in. An equally mesmerizing soundscape is wind flapping the leaves of cottonwood trees or whispering through the needles of a pine tree. These sounds can only be heard if visitors to the park respect the experience of others and refrain from yelling, loud noises and artificial sound pollution like radios or iPhones.
Honor the Human Past
During these times of quiet reflection it can be easy to contemplate what the first known people of the area may have felt while looking at the massive red walls in what is now Zion National Park. It is believed people have resided in or visited Zion Canyon for lengthy stays as many as 10,000 years ago. Archeologists have identified more recent items left by prehistoric people dating back to 300 B.C. The peoples represented by these artifacts include Ancestral Puebloan (also known as Anasazi), Fremont and Southern Paiute. Mormon pioneers were the most recent culture to have an impact on Zion Canyon.
None of those previous cultures could have imagined the number of people visiting the area now. Zion was the fifth most visited national park in America in 2016 with nearly 4.3 million visitors.
Getting Around and Where to Stay
To accommodate those staggering numbers and in an effort to keep the visitor experience as “wild” as possible, the National Park Service provides a free, and also mandatory, shuttle service available within the park during the most popular months in Zion Canyon — from mid-March to late November. Visitors can drive personal vehicles into Zion Canyon if they have reservations at Zion Lodge and when the shuttles are not running on a daily basis. Personal vehicles are allowed to travel various routes through the park — state Route 9 throughout the year and also in the Kolob Canyons area of the park accessed on Interstate 15, between St. George and Cedar City.
Springdale, the closest town to Zion just outside of the west entrance, also has a shuttle system to transport people from accommodations in town to the walk-in park entrance near the visitors center. Learn more about Zion shuttles, traffic and fees.
Learn more about Where to Stay within Zion National Park, whether you book a room at the lodge, camp at the campground or stay or in nearby gateway communities just miles from the park.
Visiting With Respect
Be patient when visiting Zion and be respectful of other visitors by cleaning up after yourself and family members when on the shuttles or the trails and being mindful of other travelers’ experiences by respectfully sharing Zion viewsheds and soundscapes. Always use a bathroom before departing on a hike to prevent having to find a spot off the trail.
The National Park service sees Zion as a "forever place" where the splendor of today should be preserved for generations to come.
For the latest information, visitors may follow Zion National park on Twitter and Facebook, check the latest park alerts and interact with the Zion National Park Chatbot, which can help with current conditions, traffic and park recommendations.