Unquestionably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, visiting Zion National Park was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve wanted to visit this massive park for quite a few years and it did not disappoint. Zion rivaled my all-time two favorite places – Montana and Norway – something hard to achieve. This is because the beauty of Zion begins almost instantly. Not far from the entrance, enormous rock walls shoot straight up hundreds of feet into the air, which soon begin to surround you from virtually every angle as you drive through the 2-lane highway. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous and unfathomably large. If Gods walked among the Earth, they would call Zion National Park home.
Located in the southwest corner of Utah, Zion sits dead center in the American Southwest. It’s approximately 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, 4 hours from Salt Lake City, 5.5 hours from Phoenix, 6 hours from Los Angeles, and 8 hours from Albuquerque. For us, it was a quick, less than 2-hour drive, since we stayed in Page, Arizona the night before — which I recommend doing. You can’t start off any further than a 2-hour drive and expect to see Zion in the same day. This is a colossal park, with 12 miles between the east and west entrance. There are countless trails, alcoves, and areas to explore, with many of the hikes taking 4+ hours to complete. It’s a place you could dedicate multiple hours to, or even multiple days.
We took off for Zion around 9:30am, due to visiting Horseshoe Bend first (highly recommend – Horseshoe Bend: Incredible and Magnificent.). We arrived right around noon and the place was PACKED. Admission is $35 per vehicle (veterans are free) and is valid for 7 days. Getting into the park wasn’t too difficult, but it soon became very apparent how many people were truly there. Every single turnout in the entire 12 miles was completely full, aside from some spots near the entrance. Once arriving at the Visitors Center on the western side, we were greeted by a completely full parking lot there too and a flashing sign saying, “parking lot full, park in town”.
We eventually gave up and followed the sign’s advice and parked in town. Zion sits right outside Springdale, Utah, which begins mere feet from the western entrance. We were extremely lucky and snagged a spot almost immediately. I’m adding this part for those who may think they can arrive to a National Park at 12pm, on a Sunday, and not expect to find hordes of people or experience parking issues (like us 🤪). It was very crowded, with everyone from ladies in high heels to experienced hikers with water resistant pants and hiking poles. But – luckily the grandness of the place more than made up for it all.
Important note: Zion limits the amount of traffic through the park during “peak season”, which is from March to November. There are two main roads inside Zion, kind of shaped like a giant Y. The small, top-left section is the restricted, shuttle-bus-only Scenic Drive, and the right side is the road that takes you between the entrances. Only from December to February can you drive your own vehicle on the Scenic Drive. This is due to the overwhelming number of visitors, plus it limits accidents and mishaps, as people ride bikes and walk along the road. To access any of the magnificent (and popular) areas along the Scenic Drive, you must ride the shuttle.
The shuttle bus is included in the entrance fee and runs periodically every 15 or so minutes. Also, you must wear a mask while on the shuttle (I’m not sure if this is still true, as we visited 5 months ago). The bus driver will stop the bus and embarrass you if you don’t wear one or wear it improperly – we watched it happen.
Some of the main trails and points of interest in Zion are Angels Landing, Court of the Patriarchs, Watchman, Pa’rus, Sand Bench, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Echo Canyon, Big Bend Viewpoint, Virgin River, Temple of Sinawava, Riverside Walk, and the Virgin River Narrows.
We visited two: Temple of Sinawava and Court of the Patriarchs.
We decided on Temple of Sinawava because 1) it offers some of the best views of the canyon and 2) it’s an easy, enjoyable walk. It’s the 12th and final stop on the shuttle bus route, so you will have to sit through every single stop along the way. It’s normally a very popular and heavily trafficked trail, which rang true while we were there. It’s 4.4 miles, out and back, around 2.4 miles each way. It’s popular because it’s very doable, easy, mostly flat, and follows a lovely stream.
The paved trail officially ends in the stream; however, you could continue along through the canyon via the stream if you wanted (into the Virgin River Narrows). You can do this in regular hiking clothes and shoes, but I wouldn’t encourage it. We passed countless groups of hikers decked out in full water-trekking and hiking gear, complete with water-resistant pants and hiking poles, and heard one tell a fellow hiker that “the water gets up to your chest at some points”.
As for the canyon, the epicenes begins almost as soon as you step off the shuttle bus. There are unfathomably large canyon walls that almost immediately begin to shoot up all around you, encompassing you like a big hug as you walk through the canyon. A small stream runs along the trail, and you can easily make your way to it, either to romp in it or walk beside.
You can either stay on the nice, paved, main trail or venture off the beaten path to cross the stream and explore the other side. Or, you can climb on some rocks and take a little break. That’s exactly what we did, taking in the beauty and peacefulness of the canyon. Overall, the canyon of Temple of Sinawava reminded me of Jurassic Park. While sitting on this massive rock alongside the trail, I half expected a Pterodactyl to come shooting out from a cave high above, just to causally soar above us.
After finishing Temple of Sinawava, we hopped off the shuttle bus at the Court of the Patriarchs, which I found to be just as impressive. The 4th stop on the shuttle bus route, it’s considered to be the shortest trail in Zion. In fact, it can barely be called a trail. From where the shuttle bus drops you off to the viewpoint, it’s probably .10 miles, if even that. You will likely walk more around the entrance, going between shops and the bathroom, than you will on this “trail”.
However, the “hike” is necessary, because it elevates you just enough to get a wonderful view of the patriarchs, which are three massive peaks named after Old Testament Biblical figures; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not shockingly, they were named by a Methodist minister named Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916, who took it upon himself to name many of the major points in Zion. I’m not sure how many other names of his stuck, but the names for the “patriarchs” certainly did.
The tallest is Abraham Peak, coming in at 6,890 feet. Isaac Peak and Jacob Peak are not that much smaller, coming in at 6,825 feet and 6,831 feet, respectfully.
These three guys aren’t the only prominent and famous points at this stop. There is also The Sentinel and Mount Moroni. Mount Moroni sits right next to Jacob Peak, while The Sentinel is its own mountain/peak, sitting to the left of the three peaks that make up the Court. It comes to 7,120 feet, much larger than the patriarchs and is part of the Towers of the Virgin (can you tell that this park is in Utah yet???).
Overall, I wanted to visit this majestic place for years and it did not disappoint. I’ve been to a few National and State Parks, which are all typically very wonderful, but Zion National Park is truly one of the best. That’s not to say that these other places aren’t beautiful or impressive; it’s that Zion is that beautiful and that impressive. It hits you before you even pass the park entrance, and it continues the entire length of the park. I’ve been to many places around the United States and the world, and I was still in awe and taken aback by Zion National Park. So, the last thing I’ll say – if you ever get the opportunity to visit this colossal and stunning National Park in southwest Utah, DON’T PASS IT UP!!! 🙌🏼
P.s. Zion is approximately only 15 minutes from Grafton Ghost Town, somewhere I also highly recommend visiting if you are in the area! Grafton, Utah: “The most photographed ghost town in the West”.