If you have only a day or two at the park, head first to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for the orientation video, and then talk with a ranger about the amount of time you have, your abilities, and interests. Because Zion offers such a variety of landscapes and activities, you can easily create your own itinerary. If your goal is to see as much of the park as possible in 1 day, consider the following:
After a quick stop at the visitor center, hop on the free shuttle bus, which runs during the high season and takes you to the major roadside viewpoints. You can get off, look at the formations, take a short walk if you like, and then catch the next shuttle for a ride to the next stop.
You can get off the shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava and take the easy 2-mile round-trip Riverside Walk, which follows the Virgin River through a narrow canyon past hanging gardens. Then take the shuttle back to Zion Lodge (total time: 2–4 hr.).
Near the lodge is the trailhead for the Emerald Pools. Especially pleasant on hot days, this easy walk through a forest of oak, maple, fir, and cottonwood trees leads to a waterfall, hanging garden, and the shimmering lower pool. This part of the walk should take about an hour round-trip, but those with a bit more time may want to add another hour and another mile to the loop by taking the moderately strenuous hike on a rocky, steeper trail to the upper pool. Or head back to the south park en-trance and stop at Watchman (east of Watchman Campground), for the 2-mile, 2-hour round-trip, moderately strenuous hike to a plateau with beautiful views of several rock formations and the town of Springdale. In the evening, try to take in a campground amphitheater program.
EXPLORING ZION BY SHUTTLE OR CAR
If you enter Zion from the east, along the steep Zion–Mt. Carmel Highway, you’ll travel 13 miles through the park to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, passing Checkerboard Mesa, a massive sandstone rock formation covered with horizontal and vertical lines that make it look like a huge fishing net. A fairyland of fantastically shaped rocks of red, or-ange, tan, and white, as well as the Great Arch of Zion, carved high in a stone cliff, will come into view.
A shuttle-bus system has been implemented in the main section of the park to reduce traffic congestion and the resultant problems of pollution, noise, and damage to park resources. The shuttle system consists of two loops: one in the town of Springdale and the other along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, with the loops connecting at the visitor center. From April through October, access to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (above Utah 9) is limited to shuttle buses, hikers, and bikers. The only exception: overnight Zion Lodge guests and tour buses connected with the lodge, which have access as far as the lodge. Shuttles run frequently—about every 6 minutes at peak times—and have room for packs, coolers, strollers, and two bicycles. In winter, when the fewest number of visitors are here, you are permitted to drive the full length of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own vehicle.
Those driving into the park at the northwest corner will find a short scenic drive open year-round. The Kolob Canyons Road (about 45 min. from Zion Canyon Visitor Center at I-15, exit 40) runs 5 miles among spectacular red and orange rocks, ending at a high vista. Allow about 45 minutes round-trip, and get a copy of the “Kolob Canyons Road Guide” at the Kolob Visitor Center. Here’s what you’ll pass along the way:
Leaving Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, drive along the Hurricane Fault to Hurricane Cliffs, a series of tall, gray cliffs composed of limestone, and onward to Taylor Creek, where a piñon-juniper forest clings to the rocky hillside, providing a home to the bright blue—and noisy—scrub jay. Horse Ranch Mountain, at 8,726 feet, is the national park’s highest point. Passing a series of colorful rock layers, where you might be lucky enough to spot a golden eagle, your next stop is Box Canyon, along the south fork of Taylor Creek, with sheer rock walls soaring over 1,500 feet high.
Continue until you reach a canyon, which exposes a rock wall that likely began as a sand dune before being covered by an early sea and cemented into stone. Next stop is a side canyon, with large, arched alcoves crowned with delicate curved ceilings. Head on to a view of Timber Top Mountain, which has a sagebrush-blanketed desert at its base but is covered with stately fir and ponderosa pine at its peak. Watch for mule deer on the brushy hillsides, especially between October and March, when they might be spotted just after sunrise or before sunset.
From here, continue to Rockfall Overlook; a large scar on the mountainside marks the spot where a 1,000-foot chunk of stone crashed to the earth in July 1983, the victim of erosion. Yes, geology never stops working. And finally, stop to see the canyon walls themselves, colored orange-red by iron oxide and striped black by mineral-laden water running down the cliff faces.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.