The Beginner’s Guide to Zion National Park

Zion National Park October 2020-01461

If you are planning on visiting Zion National Park for the first time, this guide is for you! Find here all the information you need to plan your trip to this bucket list destination in Utah, including how to get here, the best hotels nearby, places to eat, and top things to do.

About the park

Zion National Park is one of the five National Parks in Utah, the Mighty Five. The park boasts a unique landscape with impressive cliffs that provide a stunning backdrop for many hikes. There’s a lot to do here, and even though you could spend only one day exploring it, I recommend spending at least two days to see its main features and to truly experience the area.

View of The Watchman and Virgin River in Zion National Park

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Where is Zion National Park

Zion is located in the Southwest part of Utah, near the city of Springdale. The closest major airports are located in Las Vegas, approximately 170 miles away, and Salt Lake City, around 300 miles away.

If you are on a road trip, then you can easily get to the park from the other National Parks in Utah and/or major cities in the Southwest.

Getting to Zion National Park

The closest town to Zion is Springdale, Utah. The nearest major airports to Springdale are Las Vegas (170 miles) and Salt Lake City (300 miles).

You can also add Zion National Park to your Mighty Five road trip itinerary.

The Watchman trail in Zion

Here are the main distances to Zion National Park from other major places in the Southwest:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park: 75 miles
  • Horseshoe Bend, AZ: 120 miles
  • Arches National Park: 310 miles
  • Grand Canyon National Park: 100 miles
  • Capitol Reef National Park: 170 miles
  • Phoenix, AZ: 380 miles

Once you arrive in Springdale, you can either drive your car to the park’s Visitor Center or take the town shuttle that has 9 stops in Springdale and drop off visitors at the park’s entrance.

Entrance Fee

The entrance fee to Zion National Park is US$ 35 per vehicle, US$ 20 per person, and US$ 30 per motorcycle and is valid for 7 consecutive days.

Also, if you want to visit the park multiple times throughout the year, you can purchase the Zion Annual Pass which costs U$ 70 and is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.

And remember, if you are planning on visiting other national parks in Utah or the United States, you should consider purchasing the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass costs US$ 80 and allows you to visit all the national parks you want for 12 months (starting from the date of purchase).

In addition, Zion National Park now requires hikers to obtain permits to hike Angels Landing. Visitors can access and apply for the lottery online, and it costs US$ 6 per group (non-refundable) plus US$ 3 per person if a permit is issued.

And if you miss the lottery window, you can also apply for a permit the day before your planned hike. On and after March 31, the lottery will open every day at 12:01 am (MT) and close at 3 pm (MT). For this option, there will be fee a US$ 6 non-refundable fee.

PS: the online lottery is only for Angels Landing (the trail part with chains). If you want to hike to Scout Lookout, a permit is not required.

Zion Canyon Overlook Trail

Getting Around the Park

For most of the year, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed for private vehicles, being accessible only by the park’s shuttle. Because of this, many popular hikes (including Angels Landing and The Narrows) can only be reachable by shuttlebus during the shuttle season.

The Zion shuttle is free, and advanced reservation isn’t required. Also, the buses usually operate from March to November, but be sure to check the park’s shuttle schedule when planning your visit.

Hotels near Zion National Park

If you are like me, you probably love the outdoors but are not very much into camping. While many visiting Zion National Park like to camp, there are very comfortable hotels near the park, in Springdale.

If you want to hike the whole day and have a comfy bed to sleep in at night, here are the best hotels near Zion:


  • Under Canvas – for a glamping experience under the stars
  • Zion Lodge – the only hotel inside the park itself; great to have an early start

Need more places to stay close to the park? Then head on to my guide with the best hotels near Zion National Park.

Restaurants around the park

There are many restaurants in Springdale. You can choose the best one for you while driving through town, but here are a few to consider:


  • Bit & Spur Restaurant & Saloon – Southwestern cuisine and contemporary Mexican food. Craft Beers and Margaritas are also big on this place
  • King’s Landing Bistro – American menu with outdoor seating and picture-perfect views
  • Switchback Grille – a modern steakhouse in a nice setting with mountain views

Weather and best time to visit the park

Zion National Park is open year-round. However, with winters recording temperatures from 300 F to 500 F, and summer from 700 F to 1000 F, spring and fall are the best seasons to visit the park.

Ideally, the best time to visit Zion is from April to May and October to November, when the temperatures are mild and the park isn’t very crowded.

Pa'rus Trail Zion National Park

The best things to do in Zion National Park

There are plenty of things to do in Zion – hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling in either Pa’rus Trail or Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are just a few of them. For adventurous, canyoneering and climbing are also available in Zion National Park (permit required).


If you are looking for an easy hike with gorgeous views, consider Pa’rus Trail. If you want to walk through the Virgin River, then The Narrows is your best bet. Want a longer hike with cliff exposure? Angels Landing (or Scout Lookout) is the one for you!

If you want a detailed hike guide, read my post on the best hikes in Zion National Park.

Where to go from Zion National Park

If you are on a road trip visiting the National Parks in Utah, then from Zion, you can continue onward to Bryce Canyon National Park and then to Capitol Reef.

If you’ve been to other National Parks in Utah and Zion is your last stop, then you can also visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, one of the most unique State Parks in Utah that is 45 miles away.

Or you can continue your road trip by visiting Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, which is only 120 miles away from Zion.



Read more US National Parks posts


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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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