16 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Zion
Visiting a national park for the first time can be very overwhelming. There is so much to know about weather, must-see spots, travel conditions, where to stay etc. Growing up 30 minutes from Zion National Park and working with clients who are often first-time visitors to Zion means I get asked a lot of questions about visiting Zion.
I love helping people plan their trip to Zion, and I am always happy to help, so I have put together a list of all the questions I get asked most.
Here is my list of the 16 things you should know before visiting Zion.
1 - CAN WE DRIVE TO CANYON OVERLOOK?
The Zion shuttle runs from early March through November. Outside of those times (it does run again over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays), you can drive your car into Zion Canyon. CHECK OUT THE SHUTTLE SCHEDULE HERE.
The Zion shuttle ONLY runs to Zion Canyon. Everywhere outside Zion Canyon is accessible via car. Canyon Overlook is located in the East Zion section of the park and is only accessible via car.
The shuttle is free, and no reservation is needed. In the summer, when the park is the busiest, mornings are crowded with long lines. Afternoons are less busy and usually have no line.
2 - WHAT DO WE DO IF IT IS STORMY IN ZION?
If you are visiting Zion in the summer from July through September you need to know that there is a big chance of encountering evening storms. This is monsoon season in Zion.
Prevailing winds over the desert southwest shift to bring more moisture up from the Gulf of California. This leads to thunderstorms regulary rolling in during the afternoons.
The monsoon rains can cause flash flooding, so if you are in a slot canyon like The Narrows or hiking along a stream, river, or dry streambed, there is a chance of flash flooding. Always check the weather.
Things to do if it's a stormy day in Zion
Take a drive up Kolob Terrace road.
Head to Snow Canyon State Park 1 hour away
Grab an umbrella and walk the Pa'Rus trail
Go to the Zion Human history museum. Sit under the viewing deck and watch the clouds come and go around Tower Of the Virgins.
Put on your raincoat and hike to Scouts Landing of Angels Landing.
Take the shuttle to The Zion Lodge and Temple of Sinewava. Both have great waterfalls to watch from there.
Get a coffee at Deep Creek and then walk across the road and visit the art galleries in Springdale.
3 - HOW HOT DOES IT GET IN ZION?
In the summer the heat can reach up to 115 degrees. If you are visiting in the summer be prepared. Heat illness is the cause of many medical emergencies in Zion every summer.
Carry and drink at least one gallon of water per person per day. Pace yourself, wear sun protection, and hike in the early or later parts of the day.
Tips to beat the heat
Early mornings are always the best time of day to start hiking if you want your best shot at beating the heat. Evenings are also great.
Chose water hikes like The Narrows, Riverside Walk, Lower Pine Creek Falls or Taylor Creek.
Ice cream is always the great way to cool off, right?!? We love getting a soft serve cone at Castle Dome Cafe at the Zion Lodge and eating it while sitting on the grassy field in front of the lodge. It is about as good as it gets.
Finding spots to splash and play along the Virgin River is a great way to cool off from the summer sun. A few of our favorite spots include, the many paths down to the river along the Pa'rus trail, anywhere along Riverside Walk, Canyon Junction has a fun spot to slide down the rocks and into the river, and Springdale Park.
4 - WHAT ARE THE PARK HOURS?
The park never closes. The entrance station is only open at certain times of the day but the park never closes. If you drive into the park early in the day or later in the evening and the entrance station is closed, that just means that you don't need to show your park pass or pay the entrance fee.
5 - WHERE SHOULD WE GO IN ZION?
Zion National Park is made up of 229 square miles of land and is comprised of four main sections.
ZION (MAIN) CANYON
This is the busiest section of Zion and is only accessible via shuttle for the majority of the year (see below for details on navigating the shuttle). Zion Canyon is where you go for iconic hikes like Angels Landing and the Narrows.
East Zion is located on the east side of the Mt. Carmel Tunnel. It is at a higher elevation, just above Zion Canyon, and temps run 5-10 degrees cooler. Great hikes include Canyon Overlook, Many Pools, and off-the-beaten-path exploring along Clear Creek.
One of Zion's best-kept secrets, Kolob Canyon is tucked into the northwest corner of Zion National Park. Soaring cliffs of red Navajo Sandstone and breathtaking views are the highlight along a stunning 5-mile scenic drive. The canyons are easily accessed from Interstate 15.
Our favorite family-friendly hikes in Kolob Canyons are Taylor Creek and Timber Creek Overlook.
Kolob Terrace is a section of Zion that begins with a 15 minute drive west of Springdale and leads you to great Zion hikes like The Subway, Northgate Peaks trail and Lambs Knoll. It is a stunning scenic drive and perfect for rainy days.
6 - WHAT'S THIS ABOUT A TOXIN IN THE VIRGIN RIVER?
In July 2020 a puppy died 20 minutes after coming into contact with a toxic algae bloom in the Virgin River. Since that happened, the park has been monitoring toxin levels in the park’s streams and rivers.
As of November 4, 2022 toxin-producing cyanobacteria have been detected in the North Fork of the Virgin River. The North Fork of the Virgin River runs through Zion Canyon and is at a Warning Advisory level.
During warning advisories, the park recommends that recreators avoid swimming or submerging their head in the river because toxins can enter the body by swallowing water or through the nose, eyes, or open wounds.
Drinking water from the Virgin River is not advised. Toxins cannot be filtered out by standard hiking filtration methods. Dogs must be kept on a leash. If pets get into the river, remove them from the water immediately, rinse off their fur thoroughly, and monitor for symptoms of toxin poisoning. A dog can die in as little as 15 minutes from anatoxin-a poisoning.
INFO FROM A LOCAL
Since July 2020 there have been thousands of people hiking The Narrows and swimming in the Virgin River. I have hiked The Narrows and swam in the Virgin River. I have not gotten sick or heard of anyone getting sick.
7 - HOW DO WE WORK AROUND THE CROWDS IN THE SUMMER
Visiting Zion during the busiest times of the year means you may experience extended wait times at the entrance station, wait times to get on the shuttle, and heavy traffic getting around the park.
Tips to avoid the crowds
Go early to get parking at the Visitor Center and avoid long shuttle lines.
Walk the Pa'Rus Trail and follow the paths leading down to the river.
Go into the park later in the day, up to 2-3 hours before sunset but don't miss the last shuttle out.
Hike along Clear Creek in East Zion.
Drive the Kolob Terrace road.
Get off at the Court Of the Patriarchs stop and explore along the river and hike Sand Bench Loop trail.
8 - CAN WE DRIVE THROUGH THE ZION-MOUNT CARMEL TUNNEL? WHAT ARE THE HOURS?
Vehicles sized 11'4" in height or 7'10" in width, or larger, are required to have an escort, or traffic control, through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
A $15 dollar tunnel permit fee is charged, and the tunnel is open to large vehicles on a regular schedule when rangers are present to manage traffic. Those hours are:
November 6 to March 31: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
April 1 to September 30: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Regular cars can drive through the tunnel any time day or night.
9 - CAN WE PET THE CUTE SQUIRRELS?
Keep at least 50 feet away from small wildlife like squirrels, birds, and reptiles. As animals become used to humans and dependent on them as a food source, they become a nuisance and aggressive. If you are watching an animal and it notices you or changes its behavior, you are too close.
Human food is hard for animals to digest, and feeding them has led to several fatalities. Animals stay happier and healthier without human food.
10 - WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP TAKE CARE OF ZION?
We all need to do our part to take care of Zion. Being a good steward of that park means you are doing your part to be courteous to other visitors, protect the wildlife, and respecting the precious ecosystem in Zion. The park has put together this list, and I hope you will all read it and follow it.
Plan ahead and prepare by reading and following the information in the park newspaper.
Keep personal food away from all wildlife, and never approach or touch a wild animal.
Protect the canyon walls, rocks, and trees from graffiti and vandalism.
Preserve the park scenery by not collecting wildflowers, rocks, or plants.
Never enter a narrow canyon when there is a potential for flash flooding.
Be ready to pack out my human waste, toilet paper, and diapers from trails and river corridors.
Stay on established trails to protect vegetation and fragile cryptobiotic soils.
Leave rocks as you find them, and do not stack rock cairns or build river dams.
Protect the natural sounds of the canyon by talking softly and using headphones for music.
Recycle and dispose of trash and food appropriately.
Park in designated areas and avoid blocking traffic.
Share these stewardship principals with others.
11 - HOW DO WE AVOID A FLASH FLOOD?
Flash floods can happen even if there are blue skies overhead. Your safety is your responsibility. While the park service can give you information on weather, flash flood potential, and risks, it is ultimatly up to you to make the best choice for yourself.
Keep a close eye on the weather and do not go into slot canyons or hang out near rivers or streams before, after, or during a rainstorm.
12 - CAN WE BRING OUR DOG HIKING IN ZION?
There is only one trail in Zion where dogs are permitted and that's the Pa'Rus trail. National Parks aren't usually the best place to bring pets.
If you can't leave Fido at home make sur to follow these guidelines for dog owners visiting Zion
Bag your pet's poop
Pet owners are responsible for removing pet waste from all areas in the park including campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots, roads, pet-friendly trails, and other developed areas.
Always wear a leash
Pets must be restrained on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
Pets can harass or harm wildlife by making noise or scaring wildlife away.
Know where you can go
The only trail that allows pets is the Pa’rus Trail, which begins at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
Pets are not permitted - on any other trails, wilderness areas, on shuttle buses, or in public buildings in Zion.
Additionally, properly restrained pets are welcome along public roads and parking areas, in the developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on the grounds of the Zion Lodge.
13 - CAN WE HIKE ANGELS LANDING WITHOUT A PERMIT?
The first portion of Angels Landing, up to Scouts Lookout, can be hiked without a permit. After Scouts Lookout is when the chain section of the hike starts, and this is the section that requires a permit.
To get a permit you can apply quarterly or from 12am - 3pm the day before. Visit the National Park website for more info CLICK HERE
14 - WHERE DO WE FIND OUT ABOUT ROAD CLOSURES OR HIKE CLOSURES?
The Zion National Park website is your friend. They keep everything up to date so check it for rock falls, hikes closures and roads closures. CLICK HERE FOR LINK
15 - WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO HIKE THE NARROWS?
Summer is generally the best time the hike The Narrows. The water is a nice temperature and it is an excellent respite from the desert heat. Summer is also when it is most crowded so make sure to get on the first shuttle out in the morning.
July through August, The Narrows will often close due to flash flooding from the monsoon storms.
Spring runoff often causes The Narrows to close much or April and May. The Narrows closures occur when the river is running above 150CFS. Some years if the mountains of Southern Utah don't get much snow The Narrows may not close at all.
Winter can be a great time to hike The Narrows to avoid crowds, but you will have to have all the right gear to stay warm and prevent frostbite.
***Cliffrose Lodge in Springdale
16 - WHERE SHOULD WE STAY WHEN VISITING ZION?
If you plan to spend most of your time hiking Zion Canyon and East Zion, Springdale will be the most convenient place to stay.
Springdale is a touristy town with touristy prices, but it also has charm and a ton of great restaurants and lodging options.
Other good options close to the park include Hurricane, Virgin, La Verkin, Orderville, Kanab, or St George.
I hope you find this list of 16 things you need to know when visiting Zion, helpful when you are planning your trip. I love where I live so much and I want everyone to have a fabulous time when visiting my favorite place in the world.