Top Reasons to Put Zion National Park on Your United States Bucket List
A spectacular network of colorful canyons, forested mesas, and striking deserts, Zion National Park is often considered a true gem of the National Park system. Hiking trails follow the same paths of the ancient native people while slot canyons form an exquisite labyrinth of wilderness areas to explore. These natural elements of the park make it a must-visit destination for camping and hiking adventures. Whether you are looking for a scenic drive to view the highlights of the park or considering a multi-day adventure, Zion National Park is loaded with opportunities that will not let you down.
Here are some of the highlights that should not be missed when visiting Utah’s first national park...
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
This beautiful road runs along the Zion Canyon and provides access to most of the park’s main attractions. As you travel along this road you will be amazed by the towering cliffs on both sides and views of the Virgin River that have cut the canyon over time. The road is closed to public vehicle traffic from April through October, but regularly scheduled shuttles provide access to visitors who can hop on and off at hiking trailheads and scenic spots. You can also choose to bike this road if you are up for an adventure.
With a vast network of slot canyons and routes available for any ability, Zion National Park has become a sought after destination for canyoneers. But not just anybody can descend the park’s narrow canyons, as a permit is required and specialized gear is a must. Luckily, professional outfitters nearby can get you on the right track to experience an adventure of a lifetime.
Trails within the park range from simple, less than a mile walk to challenging, multi-day backpacking routes, providing lots of options for hikers of varying abilities. As stated earlier, most of these trails can be accessed via the shuttle along the Canyon Scenic Drive. Angel’s Landing, one of the more popular destinations, is a strenuous trail with steep drop-offs and narrow sections. Emerald Pools, another Zion classic, is more of a casual walk that combines a series of shorter trails meandering along a stream through a variety of scenery. To maintain best practices, always inform the park rangers at the visitor center of the trails you plan to explore.
Read our Top 8 Hikes in Zion National Park to find the best trail for you.
Similar to Joshua Tree National Park, the night skies at Zion opens up to a canopy of endless stars when the sun drops below the canyon walls. With little light pollution, you may even have a chance to see some shooting stars. The campgrounds are a great place to see this amazing night display, so bring a sleeping bag along and pitch a tent for an unforgettable experience.
With it towering sheer rock walls on amazing sandstone, Zion National Park is a true adventure climbing arena. Just as with canyoning, a permit is required to climb inside the park’s boundaries and specialized gear is a must. There are plenty of good entry-level routes, though it's most heralded for the long, multi-pitch routes of challenging difficulty. Unfortunately, guided climbing is not allowed inside the park due to federal park regulations but outfitters offer a range of courses to nearby destinations of comparable beauty.
If your legs are tired from all the hiking, then opt for a horseback riding tour. The main routes follow the Virgin River and take riders through some of the most scenic areas of the park. Multiple tour options depending on your riding experience are available and it’s advised that you reserve a spot in advance. All tours are operated by an authorized outfitter approved by the National Park Service.
Must visit destinations inside Zion National Park
You may not have time to explore every corner of this amazing national park, so if you are limited on time, be sure to check out these iconic spots:
- The Narrows: Perhaps Zion’s most iconic hike is by wading through the Virgin River in a slot canyon known as The Narrows. This hike is seasonal and will be shut down during high-risk times such as flash floods and high river currents. Be sure to check with the visitor center for up-to-date information.
- Riverside Walk Trail: If you are looking for a nice, relaxing stroll along the Virgin River, then the 2.2-mile Riverside Walk trail is perfect for you. During the spring season, look across the river for waterfalls pouring off the cliff wall.
- Checkerboard Mesa: Be sure to stop at the pull-off for Checkerboard Mesa when driving along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Byway. The light grayish, checkerboard lined pattern mesa stands out amongst the other orange layers of sandstone.
Zion National Park is one of the more unique national parks in the United States and should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie looking for an epic adventure or simply looking for a nice drive through a picturesque desert, you will definitely find your expectations met. For those of you who are looking to combine two popular National Parks in one road trip, Bryce Canyon National Park is located nearby.
Check out Under30Experiences multi-day adventure to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon!
Thinking about camping during your visit to Zion National Park, read our Camping Tips article.
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