- Park Size: 146,600 acres
- Elevation: 3,666 feet
Drive into Zion through the East Entrance, which is jaw-droppingly scenic. A long, dark tunnel gives way to this national park in all its glory. Hairpin turns lead into the valley and to the main entrance, so be sure to time your arrival when it’s still light. Those who plan ahead and are lucky enough to get a coveted spot at the Zion Lodge
will pick up their Red Pass at the Visitor’s Center, which allows them to drive in the park up to the Lodge. Everyone else will check into their B&Bs in the town of Springdale just outside the park or at the Zion Mountain Ranch
, outside the East Gate. Unless you are staying at the Zion Lodge
, you have to take a shuttle system to get into the park.
Zion is one of the state's most visited national parks, so planning your hikes around the crowds is crucial. If you can, avoid the busy months of June and July, visiting in the spring or fall instead. Hikes like the vertiginous Angels Landing and slot-canyon Narrows will be less busy then. Several of the Zion hikes are challenging (physically and mentally for those afraid of heights), but all reward with vistas that are humbling in their grandeur and beauty (a favorite for impressive expanses is Observation Point).
The Lodge rests like a funky college campus at the center of the park, and its restaurants and facilities draw hikers throughout the day. The lucky ones checked into one of the cabins here can wave the day-trippers good-bye at the end of the day and enjoy the starlit skies from inside this wonderful place.
Compared with Bryce, Zion offers a lot more hiking options, especially for easy and moderate hikes. The bragging-rights hike is the beautifully named Angel's Landing
, a challenging 5.4 mile trek that culminates in a long, narrow ridge with spectacular views (children and those suffering from vertigo should not attempt this hike). Less scary, though climbing even higher, is Observation Point
, an 8-mile hike that traverses a canyon before meandering up to Zion Point with expansive views. In the late spring and summer, the Narrows
is a great option, as it leads partially through the Virgin River (this hike requires some gear, including a walking stick since you're wading through water across slippery rocks).
Who Should Go
Zion is one of those special places that are on "Best of" lists for a reason. The nature here is beautiful and the hiking varied. It's a great spot for children, since you stay in the valley. Serious hikers have lots of backcountry options to explore.