How to Spend 2 Days at Zion National Park
August 14, 2020
Table of Contents
At Zion National Park you’ll find orange sandstone cliffs, expansive canyons, archaeological sites and an assortment of wildlife like bighorn sheep and mule deers. While visiting the southern Utah park, you can participate in rock climbing, incredible hiking and breathtaking views no matter where you are. A visit to Zion should be on everyone’s USA bucket list!
I visited in August 2020. If you are going anytime soon, here is what you need to know regarding Covid-19:
- They are selling tickets to their park shuttles in advance at a limited capacity. They are only $1 and some go on sale weeks in advance, while other times are released the day before. Be sure to check their website for the most up to date details.
- You can’t drive your car very far into the park, you can only take a shuttle. If you don’t manage to purchase shuttle tickets from the park, there are private companies that also offer transportation up into the park. These are a lot more expensive, so I recommend planning ahead and purchasing the official shuttle tickets.
- They have taken half of the seats out of the shuttles, kept windows open and required masks. I felt very safe! I was worried that it would be a long wait with the limited capacity, but I never waited more than 20 minutes. They are running a lot of shuttles very efficiently, I was impressed!
There are two main sections of the park - the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons. The Kolob Canyon portion was closed when I visited due to Covid, but has since reopened. The Zion Canyon portion is the more popular area with the most well known hikes. I hear Kolob Canyon has some equally amazing views with fewer people, so visit both areas if you have time!
I flew into Las Vegas and made the three hour drive to Zion. I can usually find great flight deals into Las Vegas from Dallas (I paid less than $100 for the flight). However, the closest airport to Zion is St George. The airport is a lot smaller but it’s only an hour from the park.
The summer months are the most popular time of year to visit Zion. I visited in August and felt it was a great time to visit, despite experiencing hot weather and crowds. If you are planning on hiking the Narrows, I’d recommend coming in the summer so that the water isn’t too cold. Spring and Fall are nice times to visit for cooler weather and slightly less crowds. It sometimes snows in the winter and usually has below freezing temperatures for most of December and January.
One of the great things about Zion is the proximity of the town of Springdale. You can walk, drive or take a free shuttle from your hotel in Springdale into the park. There are also a variety of restaurants and shops in easy walking distance. I stayed at the La Quinta in Springdale and it had great views and a good value. There are plenty of other hotels in Springdale depending on your price range. There is also a lodge inside of Zion National Park if you want to be right in the middle of everything. The lodge is a bit expensive, so keep in mind that staying in Springdale is still very close to everything.
As a result of Covid, I am generally only eating takeout from restaurants. So I was really surprised to find that several restaurants in Springdale wouldn’t even accept takeout orders. (we were turned away from 3 places!). We successfully got takeout from Whiptail Grill (had to order in person because they didn’t answer the phone) and it was delicious! Whiptail Grill serves Mexican food and has multiple vegetarian options. I really enjoyed the spaghetti squash enchiladas! Zion Pizza & Noodle Co is located in a former Mormon Church and serves pizza to-go, but make sure to get there well before closing because we arrived too close to closing to get an order in. For coffee and breakfast, check out Feel Good Coffee! They are located right outside the park and serve a variety of coffee options. They even have vegan ice cream!
Angel’s Landing is one of most famous trails in the park. It is also known to be dangerous. Multiple publications have listed it to be among the most dangerous hikes in the world, so come prepared. The hike includes a steep climb through multiple switchbacks leading to incredible views of the Zion Canyon. The trail is 5.4 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,488 feet. On your way up, you’ll hike through Walter’s Wiggle, a section featuring 21 switchbacks in quick succession. The final portion of the hike has chains with steep drop offs on both sides. Be sure to come prepared with plenty of water for this hike, but the views are absolutely worth the climb!
The chain portion of the hike was closed due to Covid when I visited. I wasn’t too disappointed because I was a bit fearful of climbing the chains. After reaching the chain portion, hike a bit further up the West Rim Trail to experience astonishing views that are similar.
Take your time driving the Zion -Mount Carmel Highway and stop at some of the scenic viewpoints along the way. You’ll have perfect views of the Great Arch, a giant arch on the walls of the canyon. Then drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This 1.1 mile long vehicle tunnel was built in 1930 and is the longest tunnel of its kind in the United States. It's so tight that they shut down the entire tunnel when larger vehicles travel through so that they can drive in the middle of the road!
On the other side of the tunnel, the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook trail is immediately on the left. This short trail offers amazing canyon views and is perfect for a quick hike! The trail is 1 mile round trip and has a lot of steep drop offs but also railings throughout. The entire trail has great views but at the end you’ll be gifted with an expansive look at the Zion Canyon. The final overlook is right above the Great Arch.
The Narrows are another very popular and unique hike in the park. The hike takes you along the North Fork Virgin River with canyon walls towering above. Here are some things to know about hiking The Narrows:
- You can hike the Narrows from the Bottom-Up or the Top-Down. I hiked the Bottom-Up - you need to obtain a permit to hike the Top-Down.
- Come prepared with the right gear. You’ll definitely want a trekking pole or walking stick. My partner and I split trekking poles using one each and that was enough.
- Some people rent canyoneering boots. We just wore old tennis shoes and felt that it worked well. We did buy neoprene socks beforehand that kept our feet warmer but I wouldn’t say they were necessary. Rent the gear if you really want some extra support but I recommend just wearing old tennis shoes. Some people were wearing sandals and I would advise against that as the river is very rocky.
- Flash Floods are common and dangerous. Be sure to check the weather and conditions before going.
- It’s an out and back trail, so you can go as far as you like. I hiked to ‘Wall Street’ - an area with monumental canyon walls surrounding both sides of the river. Wall Street is an incredible part of the hike. The walls are 1500 feet tall while the river is only 22 feet wide.
- While it’s only a couple of miles, allow 6 to 8 hours to hike to Wall Street and back. Walking through the water means slow traveling.
- There were so many people hiking the Narrows while I was there. It made me a little nervous in regards to Covid. Start early and the further out you hike, the more the crowd will thin out.
- The water level when I visited was about a foot deep for the most part. A couple parts involved getting waist deep. You may want to wear a bathing suit or bring a dry bag, but it’s not strictly necessary! It will depend on the water level and your height.
I had never hiked through a river before, so hiking the Narrows was an incredible experience. The only downside was that I had to look down almost the entire time, carefully plotting every step between the rocks. It was hard to find time to look up and admire the walls of the canyon. Even if you don’t go very far, I highly recommend trying it out. Walking beneath the magnificent canyon walls was something I’ll never forget.
On your way back to Las Vegas, consider stopping in St George and exploring Pioneer Park. The park offers views of St George and includes a beautiful desert garden and a narrow slot canyon. The Red Hills Desert Garden is 5 acres and has a wide variety of desert life to admire on paved trails. A bit deeper into the park, you’ll find a tiny slot canyon that you can crawl through. There is also an arch to enjoy. This is a quick and fun spot if you are traveling through St George.
The slot canyon is more child size, adults will have a bit of tough time fitting through!
The Kolob Canyons portion of Zion National Park is located about 45 minutes from the Springdale. This portion of park sees much less visitors, so its the perfect way to avoid crowds! I did the South Fork Taylor Creek Trail (2.7 miles) and walked through pink sand with canyon walls towering up around me. It was an incredible trail, especially near sunset. Another great short trail is the 1.1 mile Timber Creek Overlook Trail which has wonderful views.
In addition to the Kolob Canyons area, Bryce Canyon National Park is only about an hour and a half from Zion. I definitely recommend combining these two in one trip if you have time! That was my original plan but time did not allow. I can’t wait to go back to Utah and continue to explore more of the incredible parks and nature it has to offer.
Thanks for Reading!
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