If you are traveling out to the South West area of the US, Utah is at your fingertips, waiting to be discovered. Zion National Park lives in the southern part of the state, not far from Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and many other amazing bucket list stops. So why would you plan a trip to Zion? Let me tell you!
The Virgin River begins at the Navajo reservation and flows through Zion, all the way down to Lake Mead just 40 miles from Vegas. Southwestern Utah is located at the intersection of three diverse regions: the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert. This southwestern moving river is home to many endangered species unique to the area, including, woundfin, Virgin River chub, Virgin spinedace, flannelmouth sucker, desert sucker, speckled dace, and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. While these wild life spotting’s are rare, what is immediately viewable are the dramatic scenic landscapes created by the red cliffs and the powerful virgin river contrasting dry red dessert with rushing water. The beauty created by the merging of red steep rock and green vegetation growing because of this river can not be captured by photos.
Zion Canyon is 15 miles long and almost 3000 feet deep. There are over 800 native plant species and much of the park is wilderness. More flowers are found here than anywhere else in Utah. Angels Landing, a famous 2.5 mile hike features a drastic plateau 1500 feet above the rim. It is so named because the settlers who first discovered Zion stated, “surely this is where the angels would land”. While Zion has many hikes through varying topography and levels from ease to extremely difficult, there is truly something for everyone here.
Zion was so named by Mormon pioneers that were so enamored with the parks majesty they called it after the Old Testament name for the City of Jerusalem. Now there are typically over 4.5 million visitors a year. The entrance fee is $30 per car. Of course if you have an America the beautiful pass purchased for $80 a year you can hit multiple parks and save money over time.
The shuttle - rules changed on July 1, 2020
There are two shuttle lines. One that makes nine stops through the town of Springdale and brings visitors to the inside the park to the visitor center. This is still free. It begins running daily at 7 AM and the last bus into town is at 7:15 PM. Shuttles run every 15 minutes. It is difficult to find parking in the Springdale area, and as a gateway village there is much to see and do just outside of Zion.
The second shuttle inside of Zion now requires a $1.00 ticket purchased in advance to ride. Go to: https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/300016 To purchase.
You may purchase tickets either 2+ weeks in advance, or one day in advance. Tickets do sell out very quickly. There is always the possibility for afternoon walk up tickets which may be available between 2 and 4 PM on a first come first serve basis. These are not guaranteed. Each recreation.gov user can purchase up to eight shuttle tickets per day. A printed or digital copy of the ticket must be presented when entering the shuttle line. The ticket purchaser must be president with a photo ID. Tickets are non-transferable. Please plan ahead to ensure you are able to board and ride. The park is very big and the shuttle serves as a tour guide, narrating the different stops within the park. They highlight park history and also give up to date weather/info you may find necessary. This shuttle stops at Zion Lodge, the Grotto, (which is the beginning of the Angels Landing hike), weeping rock, and the Temple of Sinawava, the last and farthest point of the shuttle (which is the beginning of the hanging gardens trail leading to the Narrows hike). Shuttles run regularly and you may use your ticket to hop on and off at will.
The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel – taking the scenic route to ensure you live your best life! Driving up route 9 will give you access to an engineering marvel. The Mount Carmel highway cuts through a 1.1 mile tunnel through the middle of a sandstone cliff. The road features zigzag switchbacks creating huge monumental views. Once inside of the tunnel there are window arches carved into the rock allowing more viewing. They were carved during building for ventilation and easier access of supplies, and now they create picturesque window arches overlooking the cliffs. No bikes or pedestrians are allowed to go through this tunnel and cars travel very slowly at 20 miles an hour or less. Any vehicle over 7‘10” must have a permit to enter, and larger vehicles not permitted at all. Many refer to this as the most scenic drive, and there are several places along the road to pull over for pictures and nature appreciation. If you are driving out to Bryce this is the perfect route. This road is a part of the National Park and you do have to pay entry even if you are just passing through. However, I again encourage the America the beautiful pass as it is unlimited use for one year.
Inside Zion a whole world awaits. When we entered, I immediately said “I feel like we are on a different planet”. I later learned parts of Star Wars were filmed there! The entire trip there, my family of five was mesmerized by the colors and the swirling sandstone spires. Having just come from Bryce, we expected something similar – and found something entirely unique. The places we were able to whole heartedly explore and enjoy are listed and described here.
The Hanging Gardens: This trail is a paved hike following alongside the Virgin River. If you are a water lover this is the view you’ve been waiting for. Take the shuttle to stop 9, get off and take this walk where there are deep green pools you can stop and sit by. My sons stepped rocks into the middle of the river and even played in the cold water, of course this was a warm summer day. Wonderfully lush hanging gardens and trees bordered by tall weeping walls line your walkway offering shade. Flowers grow right out of the rocks. The natural arches in the rock walls and boulders along the walk create an experience unlike any other. At the end of the just over a mile walk is the beginning of the hike into the river itself: The Narrows. This famous hike listed in many explorer bucket lists, goes through the river into the canyon where the steep narrowing walls make a hallway for the hiker to navigate through. On our day here, the water was considered too rough for this option to be open. It was hard to be disappointed when surrounded by natures intense beauty.
Emerald Pools: While this trail starts off the beaten track, it is a fairly easy hike and has a wonderful ending point.
Lower Emerald Pools: In less than half a mile, the vegetation becomes more lush and the trail makes its way along a tall alcove under two tall waterfalls and the pools below. If you are fortunate enough to have the Middle and Upper Pools open when you visit, the hike gets harder as you climb up. The middle "pools" are the streams that form the waterfalls.
Upper Emerald Pools: The final stretch is hot and sandy for a quarter mile, but worth the effort to get to the top pool at the base of the 300-foot cliffs above. The upper pool area offers shaded boulders to relax and have a picnic lunch, or sit and drink your water enjoying your view. Most of the time, you can see a faint waterfall coming from the mouth of Heaps Canyon far above. For the return trip, you can either retrace your path back down or take the optional loop back to the Lodge. For a longer hike, include the Kayenta Trail and the Grotto Trail to make a loop that starts and ends at the Zion Lodge.
There are also the Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, and Observation Trails that many people enjoy. These are ALL an experience highly recommended by my family who have been on a mission to see the most beautiful sites across this country, and visit National Parks.
I do hope that if you are in the area you are able to take advantage of Zion regardless if your visit is a few hours, or a few days. You will be awakened to the beauty of the land in an inspiriting way hard to describe. Our trip originated from the Grand Canyon, and grew as people made recommendations and I researched the area. I will link to our itinerary here:
And our entire 18 day/ 300 mile trip here: Vegas/ Grand Canyon north and south rims/ Zion/ Bryce/ Monument Valley and more...
And I do wish you well in ALL of your travels where ever the road leads.
Enjoy the people in all the places and Live present in the beauty!