Zion National Park

6 Days   •   419 Miles

The Complete Zion Trip

Discover a less crowded Zion by visiting during the shoulder season

Exploring The Zion Region
Tucked into the southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park is the centerpiece for a 6-day red-rock vacation that includes a little bit of everything that makes the state such a marvel to experience. Whether you’re flying into Salt Lake, Las Vegas, or nearby St. George, most visitors will enter the park through Springdale, a growing town that’s equipped to offer plenty of creature comforts in this otherwise wild region.

The Zion region exists at the intersection of many different ecosystems, each with their own treasures to uncover. From the red sands of the Mojave desert to the west, to the high alpine forests to the north, to the narrow slot canyons to the south, no matter where you turn, the classic red rock vacation you may have in mind will end up being more diverse than you’d ever expect. 

Because of this region’s close proximity to I-15, you’re never too far away from a city or town full of knowledgeable locals happy to help you get the most out of your vacation. This itinerary is full of suggestions that aren’t quite on the radar of the average visitor, but nonetheless offer memorable moments that rival a scramble up Angel’s Landing. For certain experiences we recommend taking advantage of guides that can help you explore like a local and find views rarely found in brochures or Instagram feeds, as well as make as little an impact on the fragile ecosystem as possible. This is a region that rewards taking the path less traveled, sure to leave you feeling like that one overlook was made just for you.

Prepare for your trip with these how-to visit Zion tips

  • Start: From Salt Lake City drive roughly five hours south west to Springdale
  • End: From Kanab head back to Salt Lake City or extend your trip by visiting the Bryce Canyon region
  • Hours of Driving: 21+ hours, including travel between the region and Salt Lake City

Day 1

Zion Canyon From A Different Point Of View

75 Miles

Though Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country, the decision to restrict car traffic within Zion Canyon has kept it a picturesque place to explore. From March through November and during the holidays in December, daily shuttles run through the Zion Canyon Drive, giving visitors front-door access to all the “must-see” spots. The park entrance and first shuttle stop are within walking distance from anywhere in Springdale, so leave your car where it is and stretch your legs before the main event. First-time visitors will inevitably want to check out the Emerald Pools or the vertigo-inducing Angel’s Landing trails, but we suggest you stay flexible, hopping off the shuttle wherever others choose to stay on to find a trail or experience that offers a degree of solitude. You really can’t go wrong, no matter where you decide to roam.

Where to Stay
Spend the night in Springdale before a second day of exploring Zion.

Tips for Prepared Travelers
Soil Sleuth: Protecting Utah's Living Landscapes

Day 2

Exploring the Perimeter of Zion

20 Miles

Day two is all about going against the flow. From mountain bike trails on the perimeter of the park, to literal ghost towns, there’s plenty to experience in the Zion region that still feels wild and unexplored. You’ll immediately notice the change of pace as you drive south against the flow of traffic heading into the park. 

Those already familiar with Utah know that Moab is a mecca for singletrack riding, but the area south of Zion National Park is also home to some seriously epic lines. Whether you’re bringing your own bike or renting from one of the local outfitters, there are trails suited for any experience level. 

After your two-wheeled adventures, return to Springdale for your last night in the shadow of the canyon walls. The sunsets in Springdale are worth lingering on a patio with a cold drink in hand as the night climbs its way up the eastern face of the nearby cliffs.

Where to Stay
Make up for a day spent outside of the national park’s borders by reserving a camping spot within Zion, either at the Watchman or South campgrounds.

Tips for Prepared Travelers
Hiking Southern Utah with Younger Children: Tips for Family-Friendly Adventure

Day 3

St. George and Snow Canyon State Park

73 Miles

It’s time to hit the road to nearby St. George, a city experiencing remarkable growth. Before you hit the town, you’ll detour to Snow Canyon State Park, a natural wonder that exists at the intersection of three different geologic zones — the Mojave desert, Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. Due to the confluence of forces shaping this land, you’ll marvel at the diverse landscape before you.

Rock climbers of all skill levels have learned to call these canyons home, with bolted routes scattered about, and cyclists that prefer tarmac to singletrack will find plenty to enjoy on the park’s scenic drive.

In St. George, summer visitors will have the opportunity to take in a show at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre. This stage is nestled within a red rock canyon, offering concertgoers a once-in-a-lifetime open air show under the clear desert sky. (Read: Exploring the Arts in St. George)

Where to Stay
Spend the night in luxury digs at one of St. George’s resorts, or camping in the nearby Red Cliffs Recreation area.

Day 4

Red Cliffs Recreation Area and Cedar City

76 Miles

After a relaxing night of culture, it’s time to get dirty! Depending on your tolerance for thrill-seeking, your morning can be spent riding ATVs and OHVs across the red dunes of Sand Hollow State Park, or floating across Quail Creek Reservoir on rented stand-up paddle boards. 

No matter your choice of morning activity, save plenty of time to explore the Red Cliffs Recreation Area for the remainder of the day. Again, you have a choice between the red-rock rimmed Upland area, and the fragile desert ecosystem of the Lowland zone. Visitors interested in ecotourism can carefully explore the Lowland area with a guide to learn about the sensitive species and microbiomes that hold this transition zone together. Those with kids in tow are welcome to comfortably explore the City Creek area (or the red rock playground of Pioneer Park) just north of St. George.

Where to Stay
After a day spent ripping around Sand Hollow State Park, reserve a room in Cedar City for some well-deserved pampering (Read: 24 Hours in Cedar City).

Tips for Prepared Travelers
Things to know about Off-Road Vehicle Use

Day 5

Brian Head to Dixie National Forest

100 Miles

Now for something completely unexpected: a lush, green high alpine forest in the middle of red rock country. Dixie National Forest never fails to surprise travelers driving through the Zion region. One moment you’re looking out at mesas and buttes straight out of classic westerns, then you turn a corner to find yourself in an entirely different world. Because this area doesn’t fit with the “classic” national park vacation many visitors have in mind, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That makes it a perfect place to explore for anyone who loves actually “getting away” during a vacation. The centerpiece of the day’s activities is Cedar Breaks National Monument, another hidden gem that is often overlooked. Geologically similar to Bryce Canyon National Park, this natural amphitheater is a few million years older and slightly more weathered than its national park doppelganger. That said, it still scratches that itch to sample Utah’s iconic hoodoo spires in a more laid back, remote location — though at 10,000 feet above sea level can require taking your time to acclimate.

Where to Stay
Camping under the crystal clear Milky Way in Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Day 6

Slot Canyon Adventures Near Kanab

75 Miles

Spend the final day of your journey heading south for the border — with Arizona, that is — in search of slot canyons to explore. These canyons on the Utah-Arizona border range in difficulty from leisurely strolls to technical multi-day expeditions. No matter your comfort level with the claustrophobic walls of Utah’s slot canyons, they are always more enjoyable with the aid of a local guide. After enjoying breakfast in Kanab, join up with a tour operator to get the most out of the nearby slot canyons such as the family-friendly Peekaboo Canyon or a multi-day trek through Buckskin Gulch, the longest navigated slot canyon in the state.

Tips for Prepared Travelers
Expert Tips for Your Next Canyoneering Adventure

Extend Your Stay
Once you’ve reemerged into the desert sun, you can return to St. George for your flight home, or call in sick for a few more days and extend your vacation nearby at Lake Powell.

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