As one of the country’s most popular parks, it should come as no surprise that Zion National Park in southern Utah is literally overflowing with amazing things to do— but unlike other destinations that can be checked off a bucket list after a few days, Zion is the kind of place that takes a lifetime to explore, and another lifetime to truly know.
There’s spirited debate among road-trippers as to which of Utah’s 5 incredible national parks is the best, but in my mind, there’s simply no question. For climbers, hikers, bikers, canyoneers, and all brands of adventure enthusiast, Zion is mecca.
You can fall in love with Zion’s towering sandstone cliffs and lush riverside oases without ever leaving a paved trail, wild scenery from the shuttle window more than enough to wow you, but the true magic of the park lies in the sheer variety of adventures to be had. This guide showcases some of the absolute best ways to experience Zion National Park, from amazing hiking trails and scenic drives to the thrill of biking, climbing, or canyoneering in and around the park.
Of all Zion’s seemingly infinite adventure opportunities, hiking is the absolute pinnacle; not because it’s better than climbing or more adventurous than canyoneering, but simply because it’s largely non-technical (and therefore accessible to everyone), free (aside from the fee to enter the park), and completely AMAZING.
If you only do one thing in Zion, it had better be a hike!
Many of what I’d consider to be the best hikes in Utah are located inside Zion National Park or tucked away in remote corners of the Zion Wilderness, ranging from widely popular trails (which are popular for a reason) to more obscure routes (which showcase the best of Zion without the crowds). There’s hardly a bad view of the park, and truly the only challenge will be choosing from so many incredible options.
Best hikes in Zion National Park
The Subway (bottom-up; 9.1mi / 1305ft elevation gain / 7hrs): Zion’s BEST hike along the river and into a hollowed-out cylindrical slot canyon dotted with natural rock pools
Angel’s Landing (5.4mi / 1490ft elevation gain / 3hrs): Steep, exposed, and incredibly fun hike to the top of a sandstone tower overlooking Zion Canyon
Observation Point (6.7mi / 700ft elevation gain / 2.5hrs): An awesome alternative to Angel’s Landing that offers even better views of the canyon without the crowds or the exposure
Watchman Trail (3.3mi / 370ft elevation gain / 1hr): Excellent short trail under the park’s iconic Watchman Peak
The Narrows (9.4mi / 330ft elevation gain / 6hrs): Amazingly unique hike directly through the narrow canyon walls of the Virgin River
Northgate Peaks (6mi / 1120ft elevation gain / 2hrs): Off-the-beaten-path summit of East and West Northgate Peaks overlooking Pine Valley in West Zion
Hop Valley to Kolob Arch (14.3mi / 1790ft elevation gain / 7hrs): Practically undiscovered trail into Zion’s quiet Kolob Canyons annex to see the world’s second-largest natural rock arch
Pa’rus Trail (3.4mi / negligible elevation gain / 1hr): Beautiful walk and cycle trail along the sparkling Virgin River
From March to November, Zion Canyon is entirely closed to private vehicles, meaning thousands of people hopping on the park shuttle every single day to reach popular trailheads like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
The lines are absurdly long (it’s often a 2hr wait to get back on the shuttle after you finish your hike!), the bus is packed, and I hardly saw anything from the window as we rumbled along to the end of the road, a real shame considering this is one of the most beautiful stretches of scenery in the entire park.
With tickets completely sold out during my spring visit to Zion, we ended up hiring bikes and peddling all the way to The Narrows out of pure necessity— only to discover that bikes are the absolute BEST way to experience Zion Canyon!
Not only do you dodge the massive queues and avoid the crowds while biking, but you’re also free to explore the entirety of breathtaking Zion Canyon at your own pace, stopping to admire beautiful viewpoints that the shuttle breezes right past. And with no private cars on the road, there’s extremely limited traffic to contend with, making this a safe, fun way to experience Zion National Park.
Where to hire bikes in Zion
There are several bike rental shops just outside the South Entrance (Zion Outfitter is the closest, mere feet from the Visitor Centre) where you can grab bikes ($39/day) and cruise along the Scenic Drive.
The bike ride from the Visitor Centre all the way to the end of Zion Canyon Road (Temple of Sinawava, where The Narrows begins) is just 7.5mi / 12.4km (15mi return) on a relatively flat paved road and doesn’t take much more than 1hr at a leisurely pace.
You can also explore the beautiful Pa’rus Trail along the Virgin River (3.5mi / 5.6km) for a shorter outing. No matter the destination, biking Zion National Park is incredible and one of my top recommendations!
3 | Rock climbing in Zion National Park
The towering canyon walls of Zion National Park boast what are arguably southern Utah’s most spectacular trad and multi-pitch climbing routes, drawing experts from around the world to its red sandstone towers. You can often watch the microscopic progress of these rock climbers all the way from the valley floor, marvelling at what it would be like to see Zion from the side of a 500ft cliff.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional climber to experience the incredible rock around Zion— although many of the most popular climbing routes in the park are well beyond the grasp of mere mortals, there are just as many intermediate sport climbing routes in the surrounding areas offering fantastic 5.7-5.12s.
Best climbing tour in Zion
If you’re new to the sport, you’ve flown to Utah without your climbing gear, or even if you just want to benefit from extensive local experience, hiring a climbing guide for the day is a great way to make the most of your time in Zion.
Rock Odysseys offers amazing half-day (4-5hrs; $330 for 2 climbers) or full-day climbing tours (7-8hrs; $430 for 2 climbers) in the areas surrounding Zion.
The price includes climbing gear (if you need it) and expert supervision from one of the awesome Rock Odyssey guides, and the activities of the day will be tailored to your own experience and interests.
We joined an awesome half-day climbing tour with Rock Odysseys and spent a phenomenal afternoon climbing at Lambs Knoll, a gorgeous BLM site located just outside the western boundary of Zion National Park. These guys are amazing and we would absolutely recommend giving them a call when you’re in Zion!
*Note that NO climbing guides or tour companies are permitted to operate within the Zion Wilderness, and therefore climbing tours “in Zion” are actually just outside the park boundary.
Canyoneering is the quintessential Utah experience, an intriguing blend of hiking, scrambling, climbing, and rappelling that takes you deep inside narrow desert canyons and demands just as much mental energy as it does physical exertion. And for a sport pioneered right here, you truly haven’t experienced Zion until you’ve been through one of her canyons.
It’s no easy task, but canyoneering is also one of the most incredible, adrenaline-inducing, mentally-demanding, insanely exciting outdoor adventures I’ve ever experienced!
As one of our guides described it to us, it’s as much the thrill of problem solving along a route, using judgement and experience to set anchors in unlikely places and move safely through a canyon, as it is the genuine adrenaline that makes canyoneering such an addictive hobby— we couldn’t agree more!
And make no mistake, canyoneering is highly technical— every year, people fall hundreds of feet to the canyon floor thanks to poor anchors or misused equipment. A guided tour is the best way to get some time in the canyon and learn the ropes (literally) without serious risk.
Best canyoneering tour in Zion
East Zion Experiencesoffers amazing half-day (4hr) UTV/Rappelling Slot Canyoneering tours for $159USD and truly epic full-day (7-9hr) Backcountry Canyoneering tours for $225USD.
The price includes transport to the canyon, all technical canyoneering gear, cold water, and the absolute best guides, who live and breathe Zion’s canyons!
Over the course of several weeks in Zion, I joined both a full-day and half-day canyoneering tours with EZE and seriously have nothing but wonderful things to say about all the staff, guides, equipment, and canyons. We even learned enough on these two tours to confidently tackle some easier canyons on our own!
*Note that NO canyoneering guides or tour companies are permitted to operate within the Zion Wilderness, which comprises 84% of the park and basically all of the canyons you’d possibly need a guide for (e.g. Subway top-down), and therefore any canyoneering tour “in Zion” is actually just outside the park boundary.
In a national park overflowing with stunning landscapes and incredible vistas, of course there are also miles and miles of scenic drives to enjoy throughout Zion.
The crown jewel of these is Zion Canyon Road, accessible by private car only during the winter and otherwise best enjoyed on a bike (or the shuttle), but there are a couple other roads within the park open year-round for sightseeing!
Best scenic drives in Zion National Park
Zion Canyon Road (15mi return from the Visitor Centre to Temple of Sinawava): Accessible to private vehicles from December to February ONLY and otherwise accessible on the park shuttle or by bike, this is a staggeringly beautiful stretch of road that really showcases the scale and grandeur of the park’s sandstone cliffs
Zion-Mt Carmel Highway (12mi one-way from the East Entrance to the Visitor Centre): An awesome stretch of highway open to private vehicles year-round, offering heaps of viewpoints and impressive roadside scenery, like Checkerboard Mesa, Great Arch, and the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel
Kolob Canyon (10mi return from the KC Visitor Centre to Kolob Canyons Viewpoint): A spectacular drive through rarely-visited and incredibly scenic Kolob Canyons (the small NW-Zion annex), accessible via a separate entrance approximately 45min from the main park of the park
The most direct way to reach Zion National Park is from Las Vegas (3hrs) or Salt Lake City (5hrs), both of which have major airports.
The park is also 1hr from Bryce Canyon and 30min from Kanab, Utah (via the east entrance).
Entrance fees for Zion National Park
In order to enjoy most of the activities on this list, you’ll need to purchase a 7-day access pass to Zion National Park for $35USD at either the east or west entrance station.
Alternatively, grab an annual NPS pass for $80USD, which will get you into all 63 national parks and thousands of other national monuments and forests around the country! These can be purchased from the visitor centre, Recreation.gov, and from outdoor retailers like REI.
Getting around Zion National Park
Many of the activities and hikes on this list begin in Zion Canyon, which is accessible by shuttle bus from March to November or by private car during the winter. For more info about the shuttle, check out this section of my Zion guide.
Can’t get shuttle tickets? There are other options, the best of which is hiring a bike and riding along Zion Canyon Road to various trailheads— this is an incredibly fun activity in its own right, hence why it’s featured in this post. Seriously, biking Zion is the best!