Zion Travel Tips
Zion National Park Logistics
- 3 hours northeast of Las Vegas
- 5 hours southwest of Salt Lake City
Zion has two park entrances, both on Utah state Route 9. One is 33 miles east of Interstate 15 and the other is 12 miles west of U.S. 89. If you're driving down from Salt Lake City, consider taking the Heritage Highway 89.
The jaw-dropping geography of Zion National Park is a result of the Virgin River slicing through thousands of feet of layered Navajo sandstone to create dramatic and steep-walled Zion Canyon. Originating from snow-drifts atop the 9,000-foot-high Markagunt Plateau, the Virgin River flows through a spectacular landscape of high plateaus, sheer canyons, and monolithic cliffs. Zion Canyon itself is like a desert oasis, with the Virgin River’s cobbled banks are lined with groves of box elder, willow, cottonwood, and ash trees. Wide alcoves in the cliff faces hide dripping springs that nourish ferns and wildflowers in lush hanging gardens. In its upper canyon, the river dashes through an abrupt defile called The Narrows, a deep, narrow slot canyon with a gradient as steep as 80 feet per mile.
South Entrance (Zion Canyon), Northwest Entrance (Kolob Canyon), East Entrance. Learn more about overnight options in Zion.
Climate and weather
The weather at Zion National Park can be characterized in a word—diverse. During the hot summer season, temperatures over 100 degrees are common, so people venturing out for a hike should stick to the early morning and late evening. Spring and fall have the more moderate weather and might be the best time to visit Zion. April and May and September and October are usually warm and sunny with highs between 60 and 90 degrees on average. However, expect occasional cool and even rainy spells during these months. During springtime expect the water levels in the canyons to be higher—some of these hikes may be off limits. Autumn is an ideal time for a Zion visit, with clear days, mild nights, and low water levels that make hiking and exploring safer and more enjoyable. Fall colors in Zion Canyon are usually best viewed in late October.
When to visit
Zion National Park is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day. The most popular months to visit are April through October, when the shuttle busses are running in Zion Canyon. Spring, summer and fall will be more crowded than winter. Because spring runoff can make canyon hiking difficult or impossible, and summer temperatures can make hiking at midday uncomfortable or worse, fall is the best time to visit Zion if you're a serious hiker. Simply put, though, there really isn’t a bad time of year to visit Zion National Park. It largely depends on your preferences for activities and crowds.
7-day entrance passes to Zion National Park cost $25 for vehicles and $12 per person for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The shuttle busses that run in Zion Canyon from April through October are free.
Expert Travel Tips
Tips for Hiking in Arid Lands
Hiking in Zion National Park and surrounding areas poses challenges that are encountered nowhere else. Much of southwestern Utah’s public land is free of conventional trails, and hikers may have to rely on their map and compass skills to find their way. The defining feature of the region is “slickrock,” in which vast expanses of sculpted sandstone have been scoured bare by wind and water.
As its name suggests, slickrock can be very slippery when it gets wet. Trails and routes that cross slickrock will be marked only with cairns, if they are marked at all. Hikers who travel through canyons should remain constantly aware that it is much easier to climb up a slickrock face than it is to descend one. Local Search and Rescue teams are routinely called to rescue hikers who ventured up onto ledges from which it was impossible to descend.
Be Aware of the Weather
Perhaps the most obvious challenge in desert hiking is the extreme weather. During the hottest parts of the day, the temperature can reach 120°F several feet above the floor of the low desert. Summer hikers should wear broad-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and baggy pants to protect themselves from the intensity of the desert sun. Cover exposed skin with sunscreen lotion. Take a lesson from the local wildlife and hike in the cool of the mornings and evenings, and rest in the shade during the heat of the day.
Drink Plenty of Water
Perhaps one of the most important Zion National Park tips is to drink lots of water. The desert air wicks moisture away from the body at an amazing rate, and active hikers should plan to drink about a gallon of water per day during their trip. Desert water sources may run dry for part of the year and often contain exotic microbes that can cause intestinal disorders. Always carry enough water to meet your daily needs, and filter all surface water to remove the harmful microbes.
Avoid Stings and Bites
Many desert-dwelling animals have evolved poisons, and they may bite or sting when provoked. The rattlesnake is the most notorious of these, although its reputation for aggressiveness is undeserved. This nocturnal predator will flee when given a chance, and it rarely bites unless it is surprised or cornered. To avoid snakebites always watch where you put your hands and feet and avoid reaching into dark places or overturning boulders. This practice will also help you avoid scorpions, most of which have painful stings. Scorpions like to hide in dark, moist places; hikers who leave their boots outside overnight may be in for a nasty surprise in the morning.
Travel with Care
Desert hikers must be particularly careful not to upset the ecological balance of desert communities. Learn more about how to visit Zion responsibly and the principles of Forever Mighty.