This Zion National Park itinerary is designed to help visitors plan an adventure filled trip in a short period of time. Read on to discover how to navigate the park, things to do, learn about the main attractions, hikes, restaurants and places to stay. Feel free to substitute any of the recommendations listed below on this itinerary to suit your personal situation.

Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah is an other-worldly region, almost mystical. The landscape here is one of the most unique in the world, carved out largely by millions of years of erosion courtesy of the now sporadically flowing Virgin River. Zion sits at substantial elevation, with the lowest point in the canyon resting at 3,666ft. The highest point in the park is found at Horse Ranch Mountain, which sits at 8,726ft.

Zion National Park Itinerary, Hiking | Things to do in Zion National Park

Zion National Park gets its unique red, orange, pink, white and black rock colors from a variety of minerals. However, it’s the dominant presence of iron that gives the sandstone in the region its signature red and pink hue.

The region is said to have been settled as far back as 8,000 years ago by nomadic native tribes, and more recently by the Paiute Indians. Many of the trails and park areas are named after Paiute words and phrases. There is also an abundance of wildlife and a diverse array of plant species in the area. If you visit, keep your eyes to the sky for eagles, hawks, owls and dozens of species of bats. On the ground, look for deer grazing along the scenic roads and trails, gray foxes, and at higher elevation, big horn sheep.

You should be here, and I’m going to help you make it happen. On a budget or not, this place is accessible and any discerning travel enthusiast should visit it in his or her lifetime.

Itinerary for Zion National Park

Day 1 – Getting to Zion National Park

Today you’ll be doing a bit of traveling. Whether you’re coming from across the pond or taking a domestic flight, Zion isn’t too far from one relatively large international airport and famous city — Las Vegas (LAS – McCarran International Airport). This airport is hands down your best bet in terms of proximity and cost-effectiveness, but it also offers a beautiful drive to the park.




I recommend utilizing a credit card rewards portal or travel booking service to book your flight, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards (credit card required) or Expedia. This will ensure you’re not only getting the best price, but also can help you accrue, or spend rewards points. Click here to view and apply for some of the best credit card signup bonuses on the market.

In terms of ideal airlines, domestic carriers like JetBlue & Southwest offer some of the most cost effective one-way and round trip routes to get to Zion National Park.

Once you’ve landed, the easiest, and most fun way to get to Zion National Park is by rental car. You’ll be flying into Las Vegas, and the choice is yours as to whether or not you want to take this opportunity to hit the strip while you’re there.

Getting to Zion National Park from McCarran International Airport (LAS) | Rental Car Companies at McCarran International AirportI recommend Thrifty as a rental car service, only because they’ve most recently offered the best rates on SUVs out of LAS. Their loyalty program (BlueChip) offers expedited service including having your car ready in the lot. Renting a car through Thrifty’s BlueChip program also lets you accrue American, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines points.

Just note that the rental car center at McCarran is offsite, so you’ll need to take a shuttle to pickup your car. Other car companies include but are not limited to Budget, Alamo, Hertz, Dollar, Enterprise and National. See a map of the Rental Car Center just outside McCarran International Airport to the right.

All in all, it will take about 2 and 1/2 hours from the time you leave the airport to the time you enter Springdale, the town right next to Zion National Park. There are a plethora of accommodation options you can utilize, and we’ll get into that further on in this article.

Zion National Park Itinerary and Hikes to Do | Zion National Park Emerald Pools

Day 2 – First Day Exploring Zion National Park

Depending what time of day you arrive in Las Vegas on Day 1, you can substitute some of these “Day 2” activities where you see fit. Day 2, for the most part, is designed to get you acclimated to Zion and the town of Springdale. You’ll have an opportunity to drive around, get the lay of the land, try out some restaurants and participate in some of the easier, more convenient hikes.

Zion National Park Itinerary | Map of Zion National Park Shuttle Bus Stops

This map, courtesy of Zion National Park Motel, offers a straight-forward view of much of the core of Zion. As mentioned, your hotel will most likely reside within Springdale, at the bottom of the map. You’ll catch a bus in Springdale and proceed North to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. From there, you’ll enter the park. You’ll only need to pay the $30 vehicle fee once every 7 days. Once at the Visitor Center, head through the entrance and go Northeast to board the park shuttle. The first stop on this shuttle is the Zion Human History Museum, and the shuttle will continue 8 further stops to the Temple of Sinawava.

Navigating Zion Nation Park – Understanding the Shuttle System and Getting into the Park

You might be asking yourself why you need to take a shuttle when you have a car. Firstly, it’s more efficient. Bus stops just outside the park and within Springdale (where you’ll be staying), dot the main road almost every quarter mile.

Secondly, you’ll need to take a shuttle to access the main attractions, hikes and main canyon road. Personal vehicles are not permitted on the bus route within the park.

To get access to the park, hop on one of the shuttles that stop at any number of the hotels along the main road within Springdale. They come and go in both directions about every 10 minutes. Ride this shuttle to the Visitor’s Center. Exit the bus and proceed straight to the park entrance, where you’ll be purchasing your park pass.

Note that you can also drive your rental car directly to the Visitor’s Center and park there at no charge. Keep in mind that the lot fills up quickly.

Personal vehicle and park entrance passes last for a full 7 days and cost $30. If you don’t want to purchase a vehicle pass, individual passes cost $12 and last for 7 days as well. Purchase your pass at the entrance and keep it on you at all times in a secure spot in your bag.

Once you’ve got your park pass, proceed past the entry point and begin to head left. You’ll soon be jumping on another shuttle bus which takes visitors to and from all of the 9 shuttle stops within the park.

Note that the buses within the park arrive at the Visitor’s Center and all of the parks 9 main stops about every 4 minutes. They seat about 60 people. Don’t be intimidated if the line to board the shuttle is long. Zion is a popular National Park, but given the frequency at which the buses arrive and how many people they hold, even very long lines typically don’t last for over 10 minutes. In order to beat the crowds, however, it’s recommended you get an early start to your day, between 6:00am and 8:00am, preferably.

Embarking on Your First Hike through Zion National Park

Lower Emerald Pools: .6 miles one-way | 30 minutes | 69ft uphill climb
Middle Emerald Pools: 1 mile one-way | 1 hour | 150ft uphill climb
Upper Emerald Pools: 1.5 miles one-way | 1 1/2 hours | 350ft uphill climb
Entry Point: Zion Lodge (Shuttle Stop 5)

Zion National Park Itinerary | Zion National Park Beginner Hikes

Zion National Park map depicting the Emerald Pools and Grotto hiking trails. Courtesy AmericanSouthwest.net.

In theory, you could begin with any hike that your heart desires on Day 2. However, we opted for one of the easier and less strenuous, yet quite beautiful hikes that Zion offers. Essentially allowing us to get our feet wet. That hike begins with the Lower Emerald Pools trailhead.

Easily accessible from Shuttle Stop Number 5 — Zion Lodge — the Lower Emerald Pools trail begins across the street and over the bridge from where you’re let off.

This hike is suitable for families, couples and or children. It’s roughly a 70 foot elevation gain to the Lower Emerald Pools. Once you’ve reached that point, another short distance with an additional gradient of 150ft will lead to the Middle Emerald Pools. Continue past this spot and gain another 200ft of elevation and you’ll arrive at the Upper Emerald Pools. If you proceed all the way to the Upper Emerald Pools, it’s about a 3 mile round-trip hike to make it back down to the bottom.

Note that both the Middle and Upper trails have a steeper gradient and are slightly more difficult than the lower trail. The round-trip hiking time for this trail is roughly 3 hours depending on your pace.

Hike The Grotto

If time permits, or you simply have nothing else to do, we highly recommend continuing onto The Grotto trail from the Emerald Pools. As you can see, the Lower Emerald Pools trail connects with The Grotto. The difficulty on this trail is rated as easy, and it’s a short 1 mile round-trip largely shaded hike.

Less than halfway through, if you look South, you’ll be presented with a beautiful view of the lower Zion Canyon.

Hike Weeping Rock

If you’ve completed both The Emerald Pools and Grotto hikes, Weeping rock is one short shuttle ride Northeast. This hike is about as easy as it gets, and it’s a short half mile round-trip.

Weeping Rock offers hikers an opportunity to see hanging gardens and a large rock face that appears to ‘weep’ at all times throughout the year. The water from the spring seeping through the sandstone is ancient, and took around 1000 years to traverse the porous rock. Hikers can sit beneath the falling water droplets and gaze South, down the canyon. It’s really a very peaceful and therapeutic scene and vibe.

Once any of the above hikes are completed, simply walk back across the main Zion Canyon road and catch a shuttle from Zion Lodge, The Grotto or Weeping Rock to head back to the Visitor’s Center.

From the Visitor’s Center, you can either walk back to your hotel (many are within half a mile), or catch the free town shuttle back to your stop in Springdale. Scroll down for our recommended eateries.

Zion National Park Itinerary | Angel's Landing Hike & View

Day 3 – Hiking Angel’s Landing

Trail Distance: 5 miles round trip
Hiking Time: 5 hours (avg)
Entry Point: The Grotto (Shuttle Stop 6)

Warning: This hike is NOT for those who are out of shape, have balance issues or a serious fear of heights. People have died.

4 Day Itinerary for Zion National Park | Hiking Angel's Landing

Some brave souls climbed onto this rock structure not far from the summit of Angel’s Landing. Only attempt this if you’re in great shape and are fearless. There is nothing to prevent you from falling a mile down here.

I’m going to preface this hike with my personal experience. After 5 of the scariest but most rewarding hours of my life, we finally made it to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion. This hike was no joke. At 5,790+ feet, it’s well over a mile high with an incredibly steep gradient. Climbing the rock formations towards the end to get to this point were in some cases slimmer than the length of my foot. One misstep or misplaced hand, you die. But if you brave it to the top, you get rewarded with this view… (above and right)

You’ll be starting this trail from The Grotto (Stop 6 via Zion Shuttle Bus). It will take you about 2 miles to get to the first summit.

Angel’s Landing is rated one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in the world. That’s because after a strenuous 2 mile uphill climb (though mostly paved), you now have less than a half a mile to the “summit”. It’s not until this point that the hike begins to get difficult. If you made it this far, you’re sitting on a sandy plateau catching your breath and drinking some water.

But you’re not done. Now, you get to traverse sandstone rock structures that will make your hair stand on end. And they should. For the next half mile, your conditioning, foot placement and hand placement may determine whether or not your survive the next hour of your life. You’re going to have to leave behind the well manicured, paved trail and trade it for sheer cliff.

Luckily, much of the remaining trail now has well-positioned chains that allow for an easier climb through the difficult and dangerous junctures. A signifiant number of people were dying on a yearly basis until these were put in place. Now that the chains are there, it’s been over 5 years since there’s been a death. Note, however, that you are NOT tethered, so your safety really relies on how much you “grab, grab, grab.” Try not to look down, and take it one step at a time.

Itinerary for Zion National Park 4 Days - Driving Around Zion

Take a Scenic Drive

So you’ve just finished Angel’s Landing. You’re either feeling elated, tired or racked with fear. Possibly a combination of all three. In any case, you’re probably in the mood to take it down a notch and digest everything you just went through. A good way to go about this is to explore outside the main canyon road by car.

A short drive up from Canyon Junction (Shuttle Stop 2) lies Zion Mount Carmel Highway. Proceed up the highway East along the winding roads. Eventually, you’ll hit your first tunnel carved directly through the sandstone. Drivers are required to turn their headlights on as there is no lighting inside the tunnel. It takes about 2 minutes to go through. When you come out, you’ll soon go through one last dark, but much shorter tunnel. At the end you’ll pass a ranger post that doesn’t require a stop.

Now, get ready to experience a true feeling of freedom. This is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take. The roads will continue to wind in switchback style through the pink canyons and rock structures. There are plenty of small alcoves where you can park your car on the side of the road to get out and explore by foot (highly recommended!). One highlight includes Checkboard Mesa near the park exit. You’ll understand the name once you see it.

Zion National Park Itinerary - Hiking the Narrows

Day 4 – Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park

Trail Distance: 4-10 miles
Hiking Time: 
4-10 hours
Entry Point: Temple of Sinawava (Shuttle Stop 9)

This was the highlight of my trip. The Narrows is one of the most unique and beautiful hikes you could ever hope to embark on. This hike really doesn’t occur on a “trail,” you actually navigate the Virgin River herself.

Head upstream as much as 10 miles and you’ll be exposed to dramatic canyon walls and glistening water caressing the smooth and colorful stones. Just be sure you watch your footing. This hike isn’t too difficult, though at some points where the water is high it can certainly knock you over if you don’t watch your footing.

Zion National Park Itinerary and Things to do in Zion National ParkDuring the Spring, the water level here can be somewhat elevated due to melt water coming down from higher elevations. It changes day by day, so be sure to check the water levels and ensure they aren’t over 150CFS as the trail will be closed if it is. Note that during the Summer, flash floods can occur and it’s important you don’t get caught in the middle of one.

You can hike The Narrows at any time of year, though late spring and throughout the summer tend to bring the most crowds (April – November is peak season).

Note that if you do hike The Narrows during the Winter or Spring months, the water can get quite cold. In late March, it was only 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The water level can also come up as high as your waist. That being said, you’ll definitely need waterproof hiking shoes, neoprene socks, dry pants and a walking stick. Some hikers even prefer wearing a dry suit. These items can purchased before your trip, or you can rent them at a number of stores just outside the park entrance. We used Zion Adventure Company and they were incredibly knowledgeable. We rented the dry pants “package” for around $43. The package includes neoprene socks, fantastic waterproof hiking shoes, dry pants and a walking stick. Other packages are available, including dry suits and dry bags, among other gear.

Hike Hidden Canyon

Trail Distance: 2 miles round trip
Hiking Time: 
3 hours
Entry Point: Weeping Rock (Shuttle Stop 7)

If you’ve completed The Narrows and still have some time to kill, hop back on the bus at The Temple of Sinawava and get off again at Weeping Rock. From here, you can take the fork right and proceed to Hidden Canyon.

This hike is relatively strenuous, beginning with steep uphill switchbacks. Eventually the paved trail will end and you can begin the trek through the final dirt portion. The trail gets a bit more difficult here as you’ll be walking along cliff faces. While this part can be intimidating, there are chains you can grab hold of as you continue up the trail.

There are some areas throughout the Hidden Canyon trail where you can leave the main trail and explore some less-blazed routes with few to no people. Note that some portions of this trail can be dangerous, reminiscent of Angel’s Landing with steep ledges. If you fall you won’t survive. Keep this in mind and don’t overdo it if you’re tired, out of shape or have a fear of heights.

When To Visit Zion National Park

Zion National Park is open to the public year round. Autumn and late Spring are some of the best seasons to visit the park as they offer cooler temperatures and beautiful colors. However, they can also be relatively popular seasons.

Personally, I’d avoid visiting Zion in the Summer because it can be oppressively hot. I wouldn’t want to hike Angel’s Landing with more people and sweat dripping down my eyes.

If you’re a fan of cooler temperatures, Winter is a beautiful season to visit the park. The weather can be a bit more unpredictable, so you’ll want to be prepared with an SUV. Make sure you pack plenty of layers.

Again, the largest crowds will be present in Zion between April and November.

What to Pack for Zion National Park

This varies dependent upon season. See below for suggested items to pack. Items marked with (R) can be rented at Zion Adventure Company, which we recommend unless you already own these items. Any items rented from Zion Adventure Co must be returned by 7 in order to avoid a late fee. Note, these are the bare necessities, pack anything else you think you may want or need — especially a camera!

Side note: I carry a durable Camelbak Hydration Backpack with at least a 3 liter water bladder with me at all times when I’m out in the wild. It’s the perfect companion for housing my camera equipment and other essentials while keeping me hydrated all day.

What to pack for Zion National Park in WinterSpring:

  • Insulated, light jacket or fleece for the mornings and evenings
  • Gloves
  • Warm hat
  • T shirts
  • Pair of shorts
  • Pairs of pants
  • Long sleeve shirts (to layer if needed)
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking Boots
  • Sneakers
  • Water shoes / sandals (R)
  • Neoprene socks (R)
  • Dry pants (R)
  • Walking stick (R)
  • Dry bag (R)
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle (R)

What to Pack for Zion National ParkSummer:


Fall:

Winter:

  • What to Pack for Zion National Park SpringWinter coat
  • Gloves
  • Wool hat
  • Long johns
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Bathing suit
  • Wool socks
  • Hiking shoes
  • Water hiking shoes (R)
  • Pairs of pants
  • T Shirt
  • Neoprene turtle neck
  • Walking stick (R)
  • Dry suit (R)
  • Dry bag (R)
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle (R)

Where to Eat in Zion National Park

There are several highly rated restaurants you should checkout during your visit to Zion. Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch or dinner, good food is easy to come by and not too pricy. The service was exceptional while we were at these joints. The majority of these restaurants are in Springdale, just outside the Southern entrance to the park grounds.

Utah Drinking and Eating Fact: In order to drink alcohol at a restaurant, you’ll need to order food. It’s a real law. You’re unfortunately not able to walk into a place and buy a beer or order a glass of wine without ordering some form of food. If everyone is on the same tab, you can cheat the system and just order an appetizer. If you’re on individual tabs, each person will need to order something to eat if they want to also drink.

Breakfast

MeMe’s Cafe

MeMe’s takes the cake for best breakfast spot in Zion National Park. The atmosphere was inspired by various European creperies, and MeMe’s serves up some of the best tasting crepes, omelette’s, sandwiches and panini’s in all of Springdale. The wait staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating, and prices are more than modest. A must try!

Blondie’s Diner

This place has something for everyone. From incredible Apple Pie to Elk Burger’s (yes, I said Elk Burger) to milk shakes and tacos. Blondie’s has a laid-back, homey atmosphere with friendly service and fair prices. Just make sure you don’t go at peak times as it can be difficult to find a seat.

Oscar’s Cafe

I’m mentioning this restaurant twice because their breakfast food is delicious and the portions are quite large. Stop by Oscar’s before your morning hike and grab the “Lean Hikers Burrito” or the “Pork Verde Burrito.” The coffee and pancakes are also great and the prices are cheap.

Lunch and Dinner

Bit & Spur Restaurant & Saloon

This was our favorite place to have dinner. We ate here on two separate occasions. A unique combination of Southwestern cuisine and Mexican style dishes, the portions here are large and the food is fantastic. Try the Pork Carnitas Burrito or mix and match your favorite Taco’s & Enchiladas. The service is also stellar, though keep in mind between 7 and 8:30pm it can get quite crowded. Seats can sometimes be found in the bar area if you don’t want to wait for a table. The wine list changes periodically, though they had some nice Syrah and red blends while we were there. Bottles in some cases were under $ 30. Take a virtual tour!

Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon

Done in a Western style aesthetically but also from a culinary perspective, this place is a great option to grab a beer and a burger. Good service, great tasting and hearty meals. Click the link above to take a look at the menu.

Zion Pizza & Noodle Co

This is one of the most highly rated, and ironically enough, most popular / crowded restaurants in Springdale. If you’re going to make an attempt at the Pizza & Noodle Co, go right after it opens around 4:00pm, or after 9:00pm.

Oscar’s Cafe

Oscar’s is a great breakfast and lunch spot. They offer great dinner food as well, but unfortunately the place closes by 9pm so we had difficulty making it here some days. The breakfast burritos and omelette’s are fantastic, but it’s their burgers that stand out for me. The fish tacos, avocado burger, blue bacon burger and murder burger will make you miss Zion National Park almost as much as the landscape.

Grocery Items

If you’re eating breakfast at your hotel and want to supplement the continental buffet, there are a number of markets just outside the park entrance in Springdale that sell groceries and other essentials. We used Sol Foods Groceries & Hardware. They sell a variety of groceries and produce (some even organic) and also have a deli where you can design your own sandwich. We picked up some sandos from Sol’s and brought them with us on The Narrows hike.

Where to Stay in Zion

Accommodation is easy to come by around Zion, even during some of the peak seasons. The Quality Inn Montclair (Choice Hotels) was our hotel of choice and offered good sized, well kept rooms with free breakfast, WiFI, and access to the pool and hot tub. The staff throughout the hotel were friendly and efficient. I’ll be staying here again.

If you prefer a more rugged experience, many visitors opt to camp in Zion. The best campground to stay at is Watchman. It’s conveniently located near the Southern canyon entrance to the park and is within walking distance of the Visitor’s Center. It’s also a stones throw away from the shuttle buses.

If neither of these suit your fancy, take a look at some of the top 10 hotels to stay at in Zion National Park for as little as $50 a night.

Trail distances, timing and additional information courtesy Zion National Park.

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15 Comments

  • Ah! This just reminded us of our visit to Southern Utah and Page, AZ last Sept. A very fulfilling post on anyone planning to visit Zion NP.
    We had spent two days in Zion as we explored Bryce plus a day in Page to visit the Antelope Canyons. Besides Emerald Pools, we did the Canyon Overlook trail hike which was spectacular, but we chickened out on the Angels Landing hike due to time constraints.
    Adding two cents from the blog we wrote:
    1. If you are short of time (like we were), we also found it convenient to fly into Saint George Municipal Airport (SGU) which made it a quick drive to reach Zion. It also helps escape the traffic which you might encounter getting off at Las Vegas.
    2. We highly recommended eating at Thai Sapa right outside the park – the food was delicious 🙂

    • Thanks guys! Lucky you guys got to visit Bryce. We had that on our list as well but we got so wrapped up in Zion we couldn’t make it on our last trip. Now the need is really there to get the “top down” experience from Bryce. Also, good call on SGU, definitely a shorter drive and sans the craziness of Vegas. Unfortunately that airport required numerous stops and over 12 hours of travel time when flying out of FLL, so we opted for the longer scenic drive. But it’s a great choice if your origination has better flight options. Thanks for the tip on Thai Sapa, wish we could have made it there!

  • Great information. Love all the transportation information and I’ll bookmark this for my plan to visit Zion.

  • Gorgeous pictures! Zion national park looks amazing and I hope I get to hike it one day. We have thrifty blue chip too and it’s been really helpful.

  • Great photos! And a lot of really good information. I love how people have taken advantage of the park to rent bulky specialized gear so that you don’t have to traipse it all around. Would love to hike the narrows.

  • Very comprehensive information about Zion. It has been about 23 years since I visited the Utah National Parks and I am due to re-visit.

    • Thanks Charles for the feedback. Highly recommend getting out there now as the logistics of navigating the park have improved substantially. Also, trails like Angel’s Landing are safer than they used to be.

  • Alan

    Great information and photos, thanks for that piece of work. I hope to visit Zion after my business trip to Vegas in mid September this year.

  • Veronica Ruiz

    How early do the shuttle start on during summer? I want to try The Narrows while possibly catching a sunrise?

    • Hey Veronica,

      Zion Canyon shuttle service begins from the visitors center during Summer at 6a.m. That’s about 10 minutes before sunrise at this time of year. Keep in mind that it will take 20 minutes or so just to arrive at the Narrows and then you’ll need to walk to the River.

  • Hi Greig, I’m so glad that I came across this site. Thank you for sharing your photos with us. Zion National Park is on of the place me and my friends wished to visit. I really feel the excitement while reading your post and it seems like you have the great experience while taking up photos . You gave me inspiration again. Thank you so much. Your photos are so nice and beautiful. It is the best picture and views I ever see. “See you soon Zion!!” Please keep on sharing. Good luck. 🙂

  • Wow! What an incredible post – I am saving this for later. I have wanted to go here for forever!!! 🙂

  • Heather

    For those afraid of Angels Landing, Observation Point – while a much longer and steeper climb – is not as dangerous and from the top you actually look (WAY) down over Angels Landing for the most dramatic view of the entire Canyon!

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