Right in the southwestern corner of Utah, the Zion National Park offers a wide range of things to do and see. Perhaps, unknown to many, it has a long history dating back to the Anasazi period, with multiple Native American tribes settling in it over the centuries. More recently, Mormons settled in it, and it was constituted as a National Park in 1909 (back then it was named Mukuntuweap National Monument). Unfortunately, not much endure but the spectacular natural environment.
Nowadays, the Zion National Park possesses a rich flora thanks to its extreme variety of environmental conditions. Deserts, River lands, coniferous forests, and woodlands alternate within the national park area. The park hosts a rich and diverse fauna, especially rich with reptiles (32 different species), mammals, birds, and even 19 species of bats.
Despite its natural beauty, there are many things to do in Zion National Park. Must see places are plenty in this park. To facilitate the visit, we picked up seven best things to do in Zion National Park. This guide will make sure you won’t miss anything important. So let’s see them one by one.
1. Explore the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
The main attraction of Zion National Park is undoubtedly the Zion Canyon. It is genuinely worth the first spot in our top 7 things to do in Zion National Park.
Dug by the Virgin River right through the center of the park, the Scenic Drive goes roughly in a north-south direction. It will lead you to some of the best views and must-see places in Zion National Park. They are the Angels Landing, the Weeping Rock, and the Narrows.
You can follow the drive privately or riding bicycles through it is a great way to see the entire relaxation and the respect of nature. If not, there is also a shuttle bus that will take you along the trail. It can even carry your bikes, as it has a bike rack on the back. The shuttle bus doesn’t operate in winter so bring your own car/bike if you’re in the cold season at the park.
Going through the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is a great starting point for hiking, and you can explore more hidden areas of the park on your own. Stop when you need and enjoy the park at your pace.
2. The Weeping Rock
On the northernmost end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a paved trail will lead you to the Weeping Rock. It is a rock formation that “weeps” when there’s enough water coming from the vegetation above it, which is like a mini-waterfall. The water pours down right next to you when passing close to the rock wall. The Weeping Rock is an amazing thing to do in Zion National Park, definitely a place not to be missed.
The shuttle bus stops at the beginning of the half a mile trail to reach the Weeping Rock. It may be a bit slippery at times, so watch your steps. Otherwise, it is not a difficult path to follow. It will allow you to admire the vastness of the park and the canyon below.
3. Angels Landing
Probably the most challenging yet spectacular trail you can take from the Zion Canyon Scenic drive is the one leading to the Angels Landing. A flat rock overlooking the river below, it offers a fantastic view of the area. It is high enough to let you see both the western and the eastern sides of the Virgin River.
It is one of the top attractions in the Zion National Park for sure, yet many would prefer not to hike to the top of it. 4-5 miles trail leads to the top, and for the most part, it is a paved, winding, path. But the last part requires you to walk very close to the cliff’s border, with no pavement and only a chain to grab. It is a scary path for many visitors. Due to the length and the difficulty, reaching the Angels Landing may require a full day. It would be a great loss to miss one of the primary Zion activities and a top attraction of the national park.
4. Riverside Walk
One of the must-see places in the Zion National Park is undoubtedly the Riverside Walk. Its’ beginning point is the Temple of Sinawava, a natural amphitheatre of tall sandstone. The “temple” forces the Virgin River to slice straight down, creating a natural gorge.
Since it is the destination of the shuttle bus, you have to proceed with the journey by foot. It is a natural, mostly horizontal trail along the river. On both sides, it is bordered by tall cliffs that reflect the sunlight, creating different coloured areas on the rock surface. You can spot waterfalls, especially on the opposite side of the trail. Wildlife is very present in this area, so get ready to watch animals popping out from here and there.
Some of the must-see places in the Zion National Park are located along the Riverside Walk. For example, The Narrows: a narrowing of the rivers’ gorge, where the rocks of each side nearly touch each other.
5. Checkerboard Mesa and the East Side of The Zion National Park
When entering the Zion National Park from the east side, you can explore the eastern side of the park, which is an elevated zone, with a mesa-like environment. The environment is much drier than the central and western areas. Here you’ll see fewer rivers and pools, instead of more cliffs, whiter stones, and picture picturesque forests. The animals here are those who used to live at higher elevations in desert-like conditions: the desert bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, condors, and even cougars.
Pine trees dot the horizon, with a white rock area on the easternmost part of the mesa. The whiteness slowly leaves place to a red redness of a typical mesa rock formation when going westward.
It is a must-see place in the Zion National Park not only for its beauty but also the direct contrast with the more humid, dense lower area of the park is stunning. It provides a different experience that completes the visit. And it is not difficult to reach as there is a road going straight through it. There’s also a small parking area in the middle (places may fill up quickly during peak season).
6. Hiking, Riding, Climbing, and Canyoneering
In a vast park, like the Zion National Park, there is no lack of exiting, fun activities. One of the best and the most fun thing to do in Zion National Park is hiking. Whether you go by foot or prefer exploring with a bike, the best way to fully discover the wonders of the park is following its paths and trails.
For animal spotting, the trails that lead far away from the few paved roads crossing the park is the quickest and best way to encounter the wildlife that populates the Zion National Park. Throughout the most touristic season, usually March-October, walking guides are available. They’ll guide you through the most scenic areas of the park, mostly around the Virgin River. It is also possible to book a horse riding tour. Needlessly to say, it can be an excellent alternative to walking for long periods. Quite long trips are also possible for experienced riders.
If you prefer a tour, it is advised to book it well in advance, as they have limited spots. Authorized concessioners from the National Park Services operate all these tours.
Another of the fun thing to do in Zion National Park is rock climbing. There are plenty of alluring cliffs all around the park to climb on. Outfitters at Springdale arrange the tours, as well as selling the necessary equipment.
Same for canyoneering through the rivers crossing the park. In Springdale, you can book tours or simply buy the equipment and go on your own if needed beginners can also book courses.
If you have more time or want to immerse yourself in nature fully, camping is one of the best Zion National Park activities. The Watchman Campground and The South Campground are the two main camping areas in the park. They’re close to the western entrance to the park and Springdale town, so you are not entirely isolated from the world. It is also possible to camp outside the park and pop in when you want.
Lava Point is instead a much more primitive and isolated camping ground, located on the northernmost part of the Zion National Park. Not as easily accessible, it doesn’t provide much in terms of services though it is the perfect choice for those who are looking to merge with nature during their stay completely.
Where to stay
Springdale town is the base for all activities around the Zion National Park. Thus it only makes sense when you stay there to explore the park over multiple days. Most of the accommodation options are on the mid-high range; studios, villas, and hotels are all geared towards visitors looking for comfort and excellent services. It is also possible to book a few more budget-oriented hotels and private accommodation. Most of the more budget-aware tourists will probably prefer camping or visiting the zion national park on a day trip. Then there’s no need to book any place to stay.