Why Go To Zion National Park
Named for the Hebrew word “refuge,” Zion National Park – nestled in Utah’s southwest corner – is no longer the quiet sanctuary it once was. The park is now one of the most visited in the country, welcoming more than 4 million visitors per year. It’s as if travelers stumbled upon a secret and can’t get enough of the apricot-colored Zion Canyon, which they can view wading through its Virgin River or ascending Angels Landing, with each bend in the river or turn in the trail affording an even more breathtaking view. Plus, the blanket of stars that illuminates the night sky is a welcome nightcap to a day filled with active pursuits. And when it’s time to come back from the refuge to reality, the 166-mile drive from Las Vegas or the 308-mile drive from Salt Lake City is just about the right amount of time to process all the beauty you just experienced.
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Zion National Park is between the months of April and November when the park’s free shuttles are running and the weather is comfortable. December through February constitutes the park’s low season, but although there will be fewer crowds, some attractions, such as the Narrows and Angels Landing, might be too cold to fully enjoy. The park is open to the public 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It’s important to know that because of Zion’s immense popularity, crowds are common year-round.
What to Eat
Zion National Park isn’t known for its plethora of dining options. Inside the park, travelers can enjoy lunch or dinner at the Red Rock Grill, or coffee, snacks and french fries at the Castle Dome Café. Both are located within Zion Lodge.
In neighboring Springdale, there are a few more options. Deep Creek Coffee Co., which serves coffee, as well as breakfast and lunch, is a favorite spot. Recent travelers also highlight breakfast joints like Café Soleil Zion and the Spotted Dog Café.
For more options, consider making the drive west to St. George. The Painted Pony – which serves up fine dining plates in a Southwestern-style, art-filled space – and Cliffside Restaurant – where panoramic views of the city and surrounding canyons are served alongside upscale American fare – are two of St. George’s more popular restaurants.
If you want to pick up snacks for the hiking trails, you might want to stock up in places like Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or St. George – depending on where you’re traveling from – since there aren’t any major chain grocery stores in this part of rural Utah. However, the town of Springdale does boast a local supermarket, Sol Foods.
As with other national parks, Zion National Park is filled with awe-inspiring sights – from its Zion Canyon to its Virgin River – that can also pose as safety hazards if not approached appropriately. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and avoid hiking during thunderstorms, especially on trails such as the Narrows, which are predisposed to flash floods. Also, remember that summertime’s high travel season – especially July through September – are particularly prone to heavy precipitation.
Temperatures during the peak season reach into triple digits, which means that staying hydrated and wearing hats and sunscreen is very important. The National Park Service recommends carrying one gallon of water per person (per day) and bringing snacks. Do not drink any untreated water and avoid swimming in any of Zion’s bodies of water. The reason for this has to do with possible cyanotoxin exposure; ingesting and exposing the skin to this toxin can lead to sickness and even death.
If any of your hiking companions become disoriented or confused – perhaps even have seizures – it’s important to cool them down and seek medical attention immediately, as they could be experiencing heatstroke. Headaches, fatigue, clammy skin, nausea and vomiting are all symptoms of heat exhaustion and should be treated with food and fluids.
Some of the hiking trails feature narrow areas with steep drop-offs – take your time, stay on the trails, keep away from the cliff edges, observe any posted warnings and keep a close eye on any children. For more information on staying safe in Zion National Park, visit the park service website.
Getting Around Zion National Park
The best way to get around Zion National Park is on the park’s free shuttle during the nine months of the year that it runs. Between December and February, your only option is a car since the shuttle pauses service during the winter months. If you choose to drive into the park, you’ll have to pay a $35 entrance fee, which is valid for seven days. If you enter as a pedestrian or bicyclist (or via the free shuttle from the neighboring town of Springdale), you’ll be required to pay $20.
The closest major airport is Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. It’s about 172 miles (or about a three-hour drive) southwest of the park. There are also two regional airports in St. George and Cedar City, Utah, but their flight options are limited.
Not only does the shuttle save travelers the hassle of dealing with directions and parking, it also helps them enjoy the park without the concern of maneuvering the hairpin turns and steep switchbacks found within the park. There are two free shuttles that shuffle travelers around Zion National Park and the gateway city of Springdale, Utah, where most of the area’s hotels and accommodations are located. Shuttles typically run from March to November. The Springdale shuttle stops at nine locations in town, and picks up and drops off visitors at the park’s pedestrian/bike entrance. Meanwhile, the park shuttle makes drops at the top attractions and trailheads throughout the park. It also wheels passengers along the park’s breathtaking portion of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is closed to private vehicles when the shuttle is operating. The average wait time for a shuttle is usually less than 10 minutes. The park shuttle offers service from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. The last shuttle back to the visitor center is at 8:15 p.m.
It’s important to know that you can get around Zion National Park via a personal vehicle all year. However, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles during shuttle season (March to November). From December to February, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive opens up to personal vehicles, but there is no shuttle service available. That means that if you drive to Zion and all the parking spaces in the park are full (which usually occurs between 8 and 9 a.m. year-round), you cannot enter the park with your car. If you are able to get in with your car, keep in mind that the park features some winding roads that have steep drop-offs. You can rent vehicles from various companies at Harry Reid International Airport or the park’s neighboring town of Springdale. You can also leave your car in Springdale and ride the free shuttle into the park (from March to November). If no speed limits are posted, the official speed limit is 35 mph.
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